Toast of Chico
New Red Tavern owners stick with same recipe for success
Chico, CA 95926
“I think you’d better sit down,” Colette said. I was standing at the kitchen counter mincing garlic for my favorite oxtail stew and listening to Édith Piaf. Little did I know that her news was about to rock my monde.
“You OK?” I said.
She nodded, poured me another glass of zinfandel, and led me to the dining table. She took a breath. “The Red Tavern’s been sold.”
“No!” I said. “That can’t be.”
“I’m afraid it’s true.”
I shot the wine and held up my glass for a refill.
She walked back into the kitchen, returning with the zin and a glass of chardonnay for herself.
I went to the stereo and turned Edith up.
“La voix d’un chagrin tout neuf.”
“How appropriate,” I said, sipping my wine and staring out the rain-spattered window at the autumn leaves swirling in the street. “The voice of a brand-new sadness.”
“You know,” she said. “It might not be that bad. Maybe the new owners won’t change it much.”
“One can only hope,” I said, though I was doubtful. After all, the Red Tavern was one of our favorite restaurants in Chico—in the last five years, we’ve eaten there at least 20 times, never disappointed. Additionally, the little neighborhood bistro regularly places high on the Chico News & Review’s Best of Chico lists, this year taking third in both the Fine Dining and the Date-Night Dining categories. It has also been lauded in Sunset Magazine.
“I say we try it,” she said. “Go in with open minds and give it a fair shot.”
Sans piti” j'"crase mes larmes. “I wipe my tears without pity,” I said.
She scowled. “I think you’re being just a little over-dramatic.”
Three days later, we headed over to the “new” Red Tavern, by then two months into its new ownership, and Henri is thrilled to report that little if anything has changed. Oliver, our favorite bus boy—and ice-cream maker par excellence—was still charming guests; Laurie was still managing to keep the kitchen, bar, and dining rooms running smoothly; John the bartender was still telling jokes and doing magic tricks; and best of all the menu, which changes seasonally, included a wide variety of delicious-looking appetizers and entrees made with fresh, locally grown ingredients, and was prepared by the same chefs as before.
We started at the bar (full bar service available), where I sipped a glass of Haraszthy zinfandel and John suggested that Colette taste a couple of whites—she went with the Carmenet chardonnay. Then we shared two appetizers: the duck-confit-and-arugula salad ($12), dressed with a citrus vinaigrette, goat cheese and local peaches; and the prawns (three, $9), smoked on a skewer, wrapped in bacon and brushed with a pomegranate vinaigrette. Both were absolutely divine, and we were impressed by the size of the prawns and large mound of rich, dark duck meat on the salad.
“Well?” Colette said. “I don’t exactly see you wiping away any tears.”
“I know,” I said. “This is really good. Let’s see what they do with entrees. Shall we eat at the bar?”
We ordered couple more glasses of wine, and then Colette ordered the grilled pork chop ($23), with roasted apples and creamy spinach over polenta. Delicious.
We both agreed, though, that I made the better call that night: The swordfish special ($26), with pilaf and green beans and moistened with pomegranate beurre blanc (emulsified butter in white wine) was sumptuous.
“Satisfied?” Colette said.
“Not quite.” I motioned to John. “Can we see the dessert menu?”
There was no question. It had to be the bread pudding with Oliver’s local Spoons brand of ice cream—the cinnamon- and cardamom-spiced vanilla variety ($8). Incredible—sweet and rich and just a bit tangy, the perfect coda to an amazing evening of fine dining.
It turns out the new Red Tavern owners—Michael and Kelly Vadney (Michael grew up in Vina, and the couple recently relocated from Huntington Beach)—are committed to keeping things pretty much the same—the seasonal menu with local ingredients, the quality service and the overall ambience. And we’re delighted about that. We look forward to stopping in from time to time this winter and then enjoying spring and summer evenings on the lovely outdoor patio.