Romance in mind

Henri goes to the upscale J.P.'s for his first date in Chico, but…

ARTFUL PRESENTATION J.P.'s head chef, Patrick Marsh, shows off the new establishment’s pork chop and mahi mahi entrées.

ARTFUL PRESENTATION J.P.'s head chef, Patrick Marsh, shows off the new establishment’s pork chop and mahi mahi entrées.

Photo By Tom Angel

I suppose that, even though things didn’t go as planned, just the fact that Henri had arranged a social rendezvous at all is a good sign.

That’s right, Henri might finally be starting to get over it. Nearly two years after being mercilessly dumped—and fleeing the East Coast in a vain attempt to put his past behind him and to salvage some degree of dignity—he’s beginning to venture out again into social waters. Yes, yours truly, Henri Bourride, he of so many lonely Saturday nights with old movies and ice cream, had a date.

And I so wanted it to go well!

I put on my new black cotton trousers by Dunhill, an adorably light little Calvin Klein cashmere sweater and my new leather boots by John Varvatos and told Miss Marilyn I might be late. Then I headed downtown for our 7:30 meeting at J.P.'s Fish, Chops & Fine Wine, which though open only six months has already earned a reputation as one of the classiest restaurants in town.

I was 15 minutes early, so I sat down at the wine bar and was greeted warmly by a tall, extremely personable and handsome young bartender (Italian?), who handed me the wine list: French, Italian and Australian in addition to some 30 California wines, from Napa, the Alexander Valley and the Central Coast. Prices range from $26 for a bottle of the house chardonnay ($6.50 a glass) to $160 for a bottle of French champagne (Perrier Jouet or Veuve Cliquot).

I ordered a glass of pinot grigio from Veneto, took a couple of sips (très bien!) and tried not to watch the door.

J.P.'s is divided up into five or six smaller rooms: a narrow front room with seven booths, a back room dominated by a large-windowed wine “cellar,” and several other small rooms, including one little alcove with a single table that seats eight.

My date hadn’t arrived by 7:45, so I ordered another glass of wine and some crab cakes for appetizers ($16). Delicious! Other first courses include oysters in the half-shell ($20, $10 for a half order), steamed mussels in a curry-and-coconut-and-basil broth ($12), carpaccio with watercress and capers ($10), ahi with sesame soy and ginger vinaigrette ($9); a dish of assorted smoked fish ($10); and Alaskan king crab legs ($28, or $14).

Eight o’clock, still no date, and I was starting to feel a bit self-conscious. I ordered a bottle of Bordeaux, asked the waiter to seat me and looked over the menu. Très bien! A wonderful assortment of fish and meat dishes, including seared mahi mahi with bok choy and ginger-mango chutney ($19), salmon Dijonnaise with spinach and a cucumber-dill crème fraiche ($18), bouillabaisse ($17), rack of lamb ($22), vegetable risotto ($14), marinated pork chop with caramelized onions ($17) and beef tenderloin ($24). All entrees include a dinner salad of field greens and grated carrots, as well as fresh bread from Tin Roof Bakery.

Eight forty-five. Still tout seul. I poured another glass of the Bordeaux and ordered the Peking duck breast, which was served with baby carrots, a braised endive, spinach in a tangerine sauce and whipped potatoes ($19).

The dinner was fabulous, as was the service and the overall ambience. If Henri has one small complaint, it’s that the menu could use more variety. While the fish and meat dishes are prepared in various and innovative ways, I’d like to see a fettuccini or angel-hair pasta, perhaps with a pesto or light cream topping. Another salad or two would also be nice (in addition to the Caesar on the first-course list), particularly on warm summer evenings when a lighter meal is so appealing. Still, J.P’s. is a wonderful choice for a special occasion or, I imagine, a first date.

When I got home, Miss Marilyn was especially affectionate—I think she sensed my disappointment. We lay down on the couch and shared a pint of Häagen Dazs Vanilla Swiss Almond and then fell asleep watching Pillow Talk.