Sunday, November 25, 2007

CR Gibbs American Grille - Guest Review

Best food in Redding!


by Cindy Martinusen author of The Salt Garden

Last summer there was a banner claiming Voted Best Food in Redding Again. I'll sign me up to do such eating and judging, even though I'd find it hard to settle on a Number 1 when it comes to food.

“Best Food in Redding” or not, there are weeks when I must get myself to C.R. Gibbs American Grille for their fish tacos and a pint of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

Though the restaurant has a menu full of excellent dishes, gourmet creations that make the mouth water, it’s these fish tacos that mostly call me back. It’s usually during moments of intense writing, when I’m wrestling or strangling in a story, but it also happens when I’m just plain hungry.

The location isn’t some funky hole-in-the-wall – which tend to be my usual favorites. Attached to the Best Western Hotel, C.R. Gibbs American Grille is located on a main street of Redding among a strip of hotels, restaurants, shops and further down, the lone mall in the city.

There are three choices of seating: dining area, the center bar and the outside patio. The main dining room, divided by the bar in the center, can be noisy for such culinary savoring. But if I sit at one of the tall little tables in the bar area, the noise is somehow expected and desired, why, I’m not sure. But the best dining is outside, ah, the outside patio.

All summer long – and we have long hot summers in Redding (mid-May to mid-October) -- the patio area is open for dining. On Friday and Saturday nights, live music from jazz to swing fills the nights, and sitting there with someone I love (husband, kids, family, friends), while savoring food and drink, well, maybe I’m getting more simple as I head toward my forties, but such moments rank among some of my happiest.

The service has its inconsistencies - one waitress, nice as she may be, never fails to look panicked if we want separate bills – even if there’s two of us.

So what’s so special about the fish tacos and pale ale? It’s a somewhat basic choice considering the comparison to a mélange of dishes that tempt me:

  • Pecan Porkloin with Sweet Carmel Onions
  • Almond Encrusted Halibut with Apricot-Horseradish
  • Seared Ahi Tuna
  • Spit-Roasted Chicken in a Honey Citrus Glaze
  • For kids (and adults too), there’s an appetizer called Crunchy Chicken Strips with a secret special “crunchy” ingredient. They roll the chicken in Corn Flakes -- my sleuthing skills revealed that mystery, or rather my friend Becci who once knew a waitress who worked there (thanks Becci).

Those are just the beginning of the choices. So you see my quandary.

But now to the tacos.

Grilled cod, shredded purple cabbage, some special spicy ranch sauce wrapped in a grilled corn tortilla and overloaded with provolone cheese. It’s served with black beans and a delicious, light and aromatic rice with a cup of fresh salsa. So okay, even with that description, they’re just tacos. But somehow, it blends with the taste of beer to be as perfect a meal as can be found most anywhere.

A little message about beer. I was a late bloomer to liking it, and I still don’t care for most kinds. But beer can be very much like a good wine. It can compliment the meal, accentuate the flavor, and add something essential sort of like butter and salt add to a dish (I’m not exaggerating here). When I have pasta and red meat, I want a red wine. When it’s tacos, pizza, and a few other dishes, I want my beer.

Sierra Nevada is my favorite brewery with their Pale Ale never failing to satisfy (it’s a nearby brewery that’s gained national attention – I’ll write more about it some time). But during different seasons, the pale ale is rivaled by the even bolder Celebration Ale, Harvest Ale or the newly released Anniversary Ale. It you like a milder beer, they offer a golden and wheat as well.

But back to the restaurant.

January and February are free shrimp bowl months. For every entrée ordered, you get a dozen plump peel-n-eat shrimp arriving on a bed of ice to keep them babies cold. Let’s just say, I keep it marked on my mental calendar every year.

Before the entrée arrives, a small loaf of sourdough bread arrives with a dipping sauce of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and crushed pistachios poured over the top. It’s bread and dipping sauce that tempts me to gorge myself right here and ask for a takeout box when my meal arrives.

A few weeks ago, my sister and I decided to share a meal. It was painful to be there, sitting at one of the tall bar tables with a Celebration Ale and to not order the fish tacos. Since she’s having marital troubles, I let her order what she wanted, and that was the Tomato-Pesto Shrimp Pizza. Here’s the description: “A thin crust pizza with pesto sauce, fresh Mozzarella cheese, grilled shrimp, fresh spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts and red onion. Finished with pine nuts and Parmesan cheese.” Can you guess that I quickly got over my disappointment? It was the kind of excellence you think about for days afterwards.

But then days after that, I started thinking about the fish tacos, so I easily convinced my husband to take me last week.

The best arrangement is to go with someone who is willing to share two entrees and who wants one of those to be the tacos. My husband was willing – I knew I married a good one. Corey was our waiter and gave us great service (as usual – I’ve had him before) and told us the restaurant has been there since the early 80’s.

We ordered my usual and then the chef special of swordfish and mahi-mahi with mushroom caps, wild rice and some kind of yummy flavored butter with lime rind – I think. Whatever it was, this arrangement was the best. I should note that my husband’s favorite beer is Lost Coast’s Great White (a very good beer from a nice brewery on the California coast).

The city of Redding, with a population of 80,000+ is the largest city north of Sacramento in Northern California. It’s a different kind of California up here with our quaint culture, the volcanoes, lake sports, hiking, wilderness areas and other summer and winter recreational and outdoor activities. Many small towns dot the mountains and valleys and thankfully some fine cuisine can be found even though we’re far from the famous restaurants of San Francisco, the Bay Area, and Sacramento.

If you’re driving on Interstate 5 going north to Oregon and Washington or south to Sac, the Bay or down to L.A., plan a stop in Redding and C.R. Gibbs American Grille. You won’t be disappointed, and maybe I’ll be there as well.

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