Music on the menu

Spice Creek Café is like good jazz— intriguing, adventurous and fresh

SPICY ART <br>Chicoans Steve and Lisa Catterall enjoy their third meal at Spice Creek Café. Lisa had this to say about Chef Rebecca Stewart: “The woman is an artist with the food.”

Chicoans Steve and Lisa Catterall enjoy their third meal at Spice Creek Café. Lisa had this to say about Chef Rebecca Stewart: “The woman is an artist with the food.”

Photo By Tom Angel

Where and when: Spice Creek Café is located at 230 W. Third St. in downtown Chico, phone 891-9951. Summer hours are Wed.-Sat., “6 p.m. to close.”

Living up to its name, Spice Creek Café continues to infuse a little spice into the lives of its patrons with an elegant yet adventurous alchemy of pleasing atmosphere, smooth service and zingy entrees.

After numerous Butte College colleagues had asked me, “When are you going to write about Spice Creek Cafà? It’s fabulous!”, I decided I was missing out on something big by not having tried dinner there.

I actually had written about Spice Creek Cafà shortly after it opened, enthusiastically pointing out the interesting menu and the impressive credentials of chef Rebecca Stewart, who, along with husband Brian, owns Spice Creek. I had only lunch on that occasion, however, and while it had been pleasant enough, it wasn’t quite what my colleagues had been sampling at Spice Creek. Every time another one of them approached me about reviewing the place, he or she would end up raving about the food to the point where I was reminded of the movie When Harry Met Sally, where, in the restaurant scene, a patron looks over at Sally (Meg Ryan) and says, “I’ll have what she’s having.”

With my anticipation massively built up, I decided to hold a “girls’ night” at Spice Creek. I e-mailed an invite to my best women friends, none of whom had eaten at this coveted Chico dining destination, and one of whom is quite a connoisseur of Asian food, Spice Creek’s specialty.

Although the greeting at the door was a little less than what we might have liked, we chalked it up to the intensely busy night the place was having. And that’s a point to ponder: If you want to get in at Spice Creek, make sure you make a reservation, because it’s a smaller-sized establishment with a limited number of tables.

Once seated at the perfect table—a round one—for our session of feasting and girl-talk, we indulged in a bit of vino suggested to us by our server: the Arbor Crest (Washington) Pinot Gris. How agreeable it was finally to go to a Chico restaurant and try a wine suggested by the server that turned out to be superb. At that point, we sat back and began to unwind and talk about serious issues, such as, oh, shoes (and our favorite shoe store: Gigi’s).

As we conversed, one of us remarked on the well-chosen interior dàcor of Spice Creek, where colors, ambient lighting, glassware and art all swirl together in a delicious dose of casual luxury.

My friend Claudia and I both went for the specials, which, on that particular night, were the tuna and the halibut. Both arrived with Rebecca’s trademark artistry apparent on the plate, and if my halibut had tasted any better, I probably would have ascended to a higher plane of existence.

Claudia gave high ratings to the tuna, which came with tempura zucchini, asparagus, artichokes, cukes, onions and grilled papaya (and she’s the one who’s traveled and dined in Asia). “Not only was it enjoyable,” she commented, “it was fun!” She noted Spice Creek offers a blending of cuisines you can’t get elsewhere in Chico—a touch of Indonesian here, a touch of Indian there.

One of the lovely aspects of Spice Creek is that you can customize your order by letting the cooks know the degree of spiciness you prefer. Also, the servers know the menu well and can suggest dishes that are either fiery or mild.

Susan raved over the basil- and fennel-spiced lasagna, saying the experience of eating it made her feel she was “in the movie Chocolat, having something akin to one of those sensual chocolate treats that the protagonist makes for her friends.”

Marcia, who loved the winter salad, observed, “It’s not the place to go if you like your basic meat-and-potatoes, country-western type of dinner. Spice Creek is the avant-garde jazz of dining.”

Jazz, indeed—Spice Creek is part of the triumvirate of fine Chico dining: Spice Creek, Red Tavern and Sicilian Cafà.