Pull up a chair

Henri raves about ‘affordable and charming new little bistro’

Roasted root vegetables.

Roasted root vegetables.

Photo By melanie mactavish

The Kitchen Table
1250 East Ave., Ste. 30
Hours: Wed., Th. & Sun., 5-9 p.m.; Fri. & Sat., 5-10 p.m.

As big fans of both Wine Time and Sicilian Café, Colette and I were delighted to learn about a newly opened little bistro whose owner/chef, Nate Johnson, had cooked at both. The Kitchen Table, located at the corner of East and Floral avenues, emphasizes seasonal and local ingredients, including cheese from Pedrozo Dairy & Cheese Co. (Orland) and bread from Miller’s Bake House (18 years at the Chico Farmers’ Market). The simply appointed little restaurant (think Ikea on pastels) has one large dining room with 10 or so tables and a small bar, with a smaller room off to the side—perfect for combining tables for large parties.

The Kitchen Table’s menu is divided into three parts. “Let’s Begin…” (appetizers) includes three salads ($7-$8) and a sampler plate made mostly from local ingredients ($10 for two; $14 for four), as well as oysters on the half-shell (market price).

“Big Plates” (entrees) run $9-$18 and include braised beef short-ribs in red wine with plums, skirt steak, grilled tofu, and the seafood special (market price), which always features items included on Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch “Best Choice” list.

Finally, there’s the “For the Table” section ($6-$9), featuring dishes ideal for sharing, including quinoa with roasted vegetables and a mint-dill dressing, and roasted root vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams and carrots) with a honey-sage dressing.

Colette and I first stopped by for dinner in mid-July and were very impressed—the service was first-rate, despite their having been open only a couple of weeks (they didn’t have their wine-and-beer license yet). We started with steamed pork-belly buns (three to an order), filled with Llano Seco organic pork belly, hoisin sauce, and pickled cucumbers. Delicious.

For our entrees, we ordered house-made pork sausages (three), the sautéed peppers on top pairing perfectly with the lightly spiced meat.

The highlight, though, was from “For the Table”—the creamy wild-mushroom polenta, swirled with mushrooms and a rich cheese from Pedrozo. So good, I was accused of not “sharing” properly.

We went back last week—coincidentally the day after they started serving wine and beer. As of mid-August, however, the drink selection was very limited; our waitress assured us that they will soon be offering a wide variety of wines and beers, including local products.

The highlight this time was the Local Starter Plate, with a gorgeous sliced fig surrounded by three soft cheeses, including a delicious bleu from Pedrozo, and three cured meats—the best, a cabernet salami. Even better: Our waitress kept surprising us with items not on the menu, including a refreshing cucumber salad and a creamy gazpacho. Turns out, since it was Sunday night, the chef was “experimenting,” the waitress told us, with ingredients that wouldn’t still be good when they re-opened three days later. (Note to selves: Sunday … good night to go.)

We also split a delicious arugula and grilled-peach salad, with bleu cheese and prosciutto, and I had the seafood special (outstanding grilled albacore), Colette the jerk-spice chicken thighs.

Our only complaint was that this time there were a few rough spots in the service, suggesting the restaurant was still working some bugs out. While very friendly, our waitress was unable to answer questions we had about some menu items and seemed unsure of herself while describing and serving wine (understandable, given that they’d had the license only a day).

But by all appearances, they’ll figure it out soon, especially with Johnson’s track record. And we wish them success, as we plan to be regulars at this affordable and charming new little bistro, which looks to be wonderful addition to Chico dining.