Serve me, please

Getting in touch with her ‘inner princess’ at The Albatross

JAZZ AL FRESCO One of the added pleasures offered by The Albatross Restaurant is patio dining, including on some weekend evenings light jazz music, as seen here.

JAZZ AL FRESCO One of the added pleasures offered by The Albatross Restaurant is patio dining, including on some weekend evenings light jazz music, as seen here.

Photo By Tom Angel

The Albatross Restaurant, 3312 The Esplanade. Opens for dinner at 5:30 p.m. Closed Mondays. For reservations: 345-6037.

I had just gotten myself thoroughly glamorized by my new stylist, Alison McCoey, of Tonsorial Hair Studio, who’s an absolute goddess with the highlighting brush. I needed a venue.

“Daaaaahling,” I purred to my dining partner in my most cosmopolitan voice, flipping my freshly blonded tresses. “Isn’t it time for a little fine dining?”

“How about The Albatross?” he replied.

The Albatross Restaurant is practically iconic as one of Chico’s most sought-after locations for a superior meal. As we entered the tastefully decorated house-turned-restaurant at the north end of The Esplanade, we were pleasantly greeted by a cherubic-faced hostess. One of the hallmarks of good hospitality is suitable greeting.

I’d been studying up on the nuances of fine dining with a waiter friend who’d explained a number of expectations one should have of the server in a higher-end restaurant. For example, “He should never set the menus down on the table when seating you—he should hand them to you, starting with ladies first.”

Our cheerful waitress had done exactly that; we were off to a good start. I also happily noticed we had linen instead of paper napkins, which my friend said you really shouldn’t encounter in an upscale dinner house.

We ordered the famous Albatross mai tai, which comes in a huge hurricane glass with one of those adorable little paper umbrellas in it. If you like colorful specialty drinks ("girlie” drinks), as I do, there’s a nice array of them.

The Albatross provides tasty appetizers for those who like to nibble on something while waiting—notably, the baked brie wrapped in a puff pastry and served with red grapes and crackers ($7.95). I ordered the petite-cut prime rib (7-8 ounces, $17.95), while my partner ordered the sirloin steak (11-12 oz., $17.95).

Our waitress then invited us to head to the salad bar, which might be the best salad bar in town, with its varied, fresh ingredients, including bamboo hearts. But one has to ask whether a salad bar is appropriate in a restaurant that purports to offer fine dining. It is slightly annoying, when you’re enjoying an expensive steak and a memorable wine, to have people traipsing by your table on their way to fill their salad plates. Still, the salad bar at the Albatross is noteworthy, and a basket of delightful breads, both sourdough and squaw, awaited us when we returned.

When our main course arrived, I was chagrined to discover that, while I’d requested my meat “medium,” it arrived decidedly “blood rare.” When I sent it back to the chef, the situation was promptly rectified, but the meat then appeared a bit over-doused with steak sauce. It was edible, but when you pay well for a dinner, the chef should understand the difference between “medium” and “rare.” My partner’s steak was as he had ordered it, rare, but it lacked seasoning.

For our side dishes, I had the wild rice (a tad boring), and he tried the garlic mashed potatoes (rich but tantalizing).

For dessert, my dear-heart took on the “Island Pie,” which he described as so sensuous it resembled (to quote him) “sex on a little plate.” A huge glacier of ice cream rested on a crunchy chocolate cookie with a magnificent mound of whipped cream on top; he ate it all.

I asked for a cup of decaf with cream, and it was delivered without a spoon. I ended up having to stir my coffee with a fork.

As my waiter friend insists, service people in better establishments pay attention to the minutiae—because, as he says, “It’s not Denny’s.”

The Albatross offers mouth-watering dishes, including a broad array of seafood plates, and I will certainly go there again to try the coconut crusted halibut ($22.50) and (from the generous wine list) the Francis Coppola claret ($27). Perhaps The Albatross will fine-tune its service.

Then again, maybe I’m just spoiled. But when we’re out for an evening of fine dining, we should all be in touch with our inner princess.