The choreography of food

For fine dining The Red Tavern approaches perfection

CRIMSON INTENSITY Chef Craig Thomas and wife Maria Venturino await the deluge of diners at The Red Tavern.

CRIMSON INTENSITY Chef Craig Thomas and wife Maria Venturino await the deluge of diners at The Red Tavern.

Photo By Tom Angel

More info:
The Red Tavern, 1250 The Esplanade, opens for dinner at 5:30 p.m. Closed Sundays. For reservations: 894-3463.

Is it possible for a dinner restaurant in Chico to approximate perfection? After dining recently at The Red Tavern, I had to believe that la dolce vita had never been more readily attainable—and for a very reasonable price, as well.

And the notable aspect of The Tavern’s “perfection” is this: It’s consistent. Unlike some other finer restaurants in town, where perfection can be a hit-or-miss proposition, you can count on The Tavern to deliver a superior meal.

Our most recent dining foray at The Tavern started because my dinner companion had been away on an archaeological excavation in the Mojave for 10 days. While that little sojourn certainly wasn’t as challenging as Jesus’ wanderings in the desert, we nevertheless madly desired a superb—and romantic—dinner together when he returned.

We had not eaten at The Tavern for some time, and we quickly agreed we were due for a visit. We couldn’t have made a better decision, for we discovered the food, the service and the atmosphere all splendidly choreographed into a memorable and luxurious gestalt.

Chef-owner Craig Thomas, along with wife Maria Venturino (who handles the fine wines for the Tavern), now in their seventh year, continue to out-do themselves in providing customers with a venue where dining arrives at a new plateau. The menu is not only high on quality, but on excitement as well.

“What was most memorable to me,” my dining partner mused after our superb meal, “was the explosion of flavors in each course.” Every item that arrives on your table embodies the careful study of and broad experience with well-prepared food that Thomas, who attended the Culinary Institute in New York, brings to The Tavern’s kitchen.

What is the truly winning feature of The Tavern’s menu? It’s never static; it changes every few weeks, so even if you dine there often, you will continually discover new dining pleasures. We perused a menu offering about eight small plates ($6-$10) and the same number of large plates ($14.50-$22.50). We quickly agreed to share a small plate of oven-roasted prawns and manila clams ($9.50), zestfully punctuated with tasso ham, cornbread croutons and toasted fennel seed garlic butter, along with a large plate of apple-wood-smoked New York steak ($22.50), which included herb-roasted fingerling potatoes with cippollini onions, broccoli rabe and red-wine butter. Both of these dishes presented us with exquisite flavors not previously included in our repertoire of taste experiences; we relished every bite.

The steak came exactly as we had ordered it (medium), and it easily qualified as the best steak we’ve had around town lately (although we ate a quite admirable one at 5th Street Steakhouse a few weeks ago).

Along with our small and large plates, we had some greens: the Comanche Creek market greens, which came served with piquant toasted-walnut bread spread with onion jam and a bit of goat cheese. These unexpected combinations of flavors are what make the meals at The Tavern so irrepressibly brilliant—and so unforgettable.

The Tavern’s service aligns with the superb gastronomical offerings. Our server offered professional, polite, cordial and attentive but not overbearing service. As always, the casual-elegant atmosphere (with cozy lighting and classy music) had us feeling special but comfortable—royal but not stuffy. If there was a slight faux pas to the evening, it was that when I requested a recommendation for a sweet wine, the one the server pointed out proved to be palatable but, alas, not sweet. I easily forgave him.

The grand finale of this extraordinary evening had to be a Comice pear crisp with Meyer lemon curd ice cream, which we agonizingly selected from the four mouth-watering items on the dessert menu. We hope to return and try the warm chocolate truffle tart before it disappears from the rotating list.

Our bill? A modest $52.

The value of an evening at The Red Tavern? Priceless!