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Fine Dining Fresno Area

I'm working with a non-profit putting together a prize package, and I'm wondering if you would mind giving me some of your opinions on fine dining establishments in and around Fresno. I've got a list of about 7 already, but there could be some new ones out there I'm not aware of yet. I was out at the Fig Festival yesterday at the Farmer's Market on Shaw and Blackstone and sampled some amazing food. Just want to get a grip on what other people are thinking. So far my list consists of... Erna's Elderberry House in Oakhurst, Vintage Press in Visalia, Campagna's, Trelio's in Clovis (new owner as of June and it was great), Chef's Table, Slates, Awhanee, Ripe Tomato.... that's about it. Like I said, there are some new ones that stood out at the Festival. Has anyone been to Lantana's (Friant and Fort Washington), Upstairs Downtown or Bentley's?

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  1. Upstairs/Downtown is now lunch only, no dinners.

    You might add Limelight on Shaw Ave. to your list. Parma at Marks and Herndon is pretty special for Italian fare.

    Not familiar with Bentley's.

    1. I'm not impressed by Campagna's, but I suppose you should include them on the list since people seem enthralled by them. I've been there at least four times for dinner, and found the food to be inconsistent and overpriced.

      I would second the suggestion of Parma. Their homemade pastas are out of this world, and the ambiance and service elevate it from a strip mall restaurant.

      Also, perhaps consider Manhattan on Bullard. They are very popular, and their tangerine martini is sublime. The food can also be inconsistent, IMHO, but the desserts, drinks, and appetizers are not.

      1. I would add a couple of others.

        In Visalia also add Tommy's. I was impressed and would put it on a par with Vintage Press.

        And The Vintage at the Chukchansi casino. We've done 3 meals there with very good food and service.

        1. Bentley's is not open yet. My understanding is it will be a market - similar to Whole Foods, not a restaurant. I don't know if they make dishes though, like you can buy at Whole Foods.

          My husband claims the food at Lantana's was not all that good but I have not tried it. Cracked Pepper Bistro is new and has gotten good reviews. (I believe they were at Fig Fest - I just kept trying the next sample and can't remember everyone who was there.)

          1. I was at Lantana's last Saturday. The food was average and the service too slow; the ambience was really nice with a piano playing throughtout the dinner.

            Parma is the best in Italian food; everything there is made from scratch with authentic Italian ingredients. Besides it, the service is absolutely outstanding begining with the owner: Helena.

            Bentley's is an upgrade version of the old Christensen World Food on Fig Garden (closed several years ago); it has rumors that the place will have a delicatessen area to die for.

            Another consieration would be Max's on Bullard. It has good food and good service.

            1. Lantana is a beautiful restaurant in a great location. If Tahoe Joes is your idea of fine dining you will undoubtedly be impressed. If you have dined at The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton, Michael Mina, or Gary Danko in San Francisco it will come up WAY short.
              Food: The best way to test a restaurant is to order an array of appetizers. We had the following:
              Seared Ahi- good
              Lobster crab cakes- overcooked
              Comprese Salad- good
              Mussels- lacked flavor and too small
              Quail- overcooked
              Banana souffle - good but only 4 spoonfuls
              Wine: Decent selection, however, if you have your own cellar, you will not be impressed. Corkage Fee $25.00
              We Brought a 1997 Chappellet Prichard Hill Cab. We asked that the sommelier decant the wine.
              The waiter whisked it away and returned it in a decanter. The Sommelier never greeted us or poured any wine. The waiter poured one glass, then we where on our own. Stem ware was Libby grand vin.
              (Sturdy glass ware but inappropriate when they charge $25.00 corkage).
              Water tasted of chorine had to buy bottled at $8.00 per bottle.
              Wait staff: Friendly college kids that needed way more training. I was always asking for replacement forks and knifes during course changes.
              The layout and design of the restaurant was delightful, but the table was tiny and could not accommodate the place settings once the food and wine was served. Better bets in Fresno include Max’s Bistro and Campagnia.

              1 Reply
              1. re: cabfrancair

                Thanks for taking one for the pack, cfa. IIRC, they just opened their doors, but from your description of their basic format, it doesn't bode well. We had a much better experience at that new chain in town (rhymes with Lemmings), at least there were prime meats, excellent service, and pretty nice decor. Agree that there are much better bets to be found.

              2. I totally agree with the positive review on Fleming’s
                We had excellent appetizers and the steak(bone in New York) was the best I’ve had in Fresno. Fun flights of wine by the taste and good service.
                Use valet parking, reserve a booth and bring your earplugs!

                1. Please disregard my earlier post about Upstairs/Downtown, between that time and now, Sharon has switched back to dinner only, Thurs - Sunday (iirc) and no more lunches. She does a great job, sure hope they can weather the northern-centric attitude in this burg.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: PolarBear

                    Wednesday Oct 4 will be the first day Upstairs Downtown goes back to a dinner schedule. It will be Wed to Sat 5PM to 9PM.

                    I'm looking forward to seeing the first dinner menu posted on the web site.

                  2. Gotta echo the comment on Flemings. I admit I had low expectations (SO, SO tired of all the chain restaurants), but we were quite pleased. Excellent steak, best service I've had in Fresno in quite some time and a huge list of wines by the glass.

                    1. My wife and I live in the wine country and are originally from SF we have been fortunate to have dined in some of the best restaurants in California (and arguably the world). Both inexpensive ethnic joints as well as 5 star Michelin marquee destinations.

                      We were in Frezno on business and decided to try Campagnia. Fresno is a pretty nasty place, e.g., some of the worst air quality in the country, high crime rate, terrible public schools etc. However, Campagnia is purported to be something that rises above the surrounding mediocrity.

                      The kitchen does a fair job with some quality appetizers, entrees and desserts. Unfortunately, the service was terrible. Dishes were inconsistent. I honestly think are waiter was on some sort of stimulant drug. He wouldn’t look us in the eye, was in an extraordinary hurry and then screwed up our order (we ordered a pizza and he brought us pasta). I quietly brought the error to the attention of the manager who graciously offered to get us the dish we ordered (waiter was no where to be seen). We decided to eat what was brought to us but when the waiter came over to “apologize” he blamed us for his error (insisting that we had, in fact, ordered the pasta). Water glasses were never refilled, waiter never asked us whether or not our entrees were ok and when it was time to present the bill (which was substantial even by Bay Area standards) the waiter basically threw the bill on our table.

                      I used to work in the service industry and would never “stiff” a waiter or waitress unless their behavior was truly egregious. This jackal didn't deserve a dime but we ended up leaving a 15% tip despite the abysmal service—mostly due to the graciousness of the manager and the fact that the other wait staff were obviously working very hard. Perhaps management has issues around obtaining staff who aren't complete dorks but when dropping $100 for a couple of salads, Pellegrino’s and entrees (we didn’t have wine)—one would expect at least a modicum of professionalism from the waiters/waitresses. Perhaps it’s tough to find good team members in such a backwater town. However, a lot of the staff problems could be mitigated if management were to insure adequate coverage and training of their employees. Usually when a place has poor of service, the problems originate at the top. There is a lot of substance abuse in the restaurant industry and it felt as if there might have been a lot of staff doing lines in the bathroom.

                      The food was decent (not great). The pasta was rather one dimensional (even though it was a spicy sausage dish) and someone went crazy with the salt shaker and poisoned the cooked spinach side dish.

                      I might try this place again. Perhaps are problems were anomalies but, overall, certainly not worth the coin considering the abuse by the drug addled waiter.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: crowmagnum3001

                        While Campagnia's wouldn't have been my first choice, many have posted on their positive experiences there. I get the feeling that any attempt to provide you with alternatives would be futile, since with one visit, and a single post to CH, we've been proclaimed a bed of mediocrity.

                        One of the credo's of Chowhound is to rate the food and not the poster so please spare us your opinions about how bad it is to live in the area that feeds the state/nation/world. Should you be forced to return perhaps Mr. Trotter can fly in something suitable, or Mr. Keller pack a picnic basket more to your liking.

                        Dave in Fresno

                        1. re: crowmagnum3001

                          Wow, I guess I should be terribly depressed living in such a backwater town of about 500,000 people. I guess I might be if I weren't feasting on some of the best Mexican food in California, which I'm sorry you missed. While Campagnia's wouldn't have been my choice to dine, I hardly think it means all of Fresno is "nasty" or unable to provide a great dining experience. I truly feel sorry for all the great meals you are going to miss out on in life because you overlook cities like Fresno.

                          Kelli in Fresno

                          P.S. Since there is apparently no hope for "nasty" Fresno, maybe we just better stop posting anything here. Better yet, all the boards except S.F. and N.Y.C. should just shut down.

                        2. To include words like "backwater" and "drug addled" do nothing to add to the discussion or knowledge on this board. Rather they seem to be intended to be simply inflammatory or to be a rant.

                          While I appreciate the poster reporting what they saw about the restaurant, I do feel that like they confused word of mouth with fact, and confused other opinions with food.

                          For example, to call Fresno "high crime rate" is incorrect. The factual information is that the cities of San Francisco and Sacramento have higher per capita violent crime rates than Fresno.

                          That said lets stick to food.

                          I would agree with PolarBear that I would not have made Campagnia my first choice either, for different reasons than most. We have a preference for a different experience than most people and chose our restaurants accordingly.

                          For the type of meal the poster seems to have been looking for in Fresno I would have suggested Chef's Table for dinner (run by one of the SF Chronicle's "2003 Rising Star Chefs"). There are also others comparable to what can be found across the country, and having eaten in 22 of the 25 largest metropolitan areas in the country I have a fairly good idea.

                          There are also other places I would have suggested for someone looking for a place to try in Fresno, depending upon the type of meal sought. Fresno has been moving beyond "mediocrity" for some time now.

                          1. If you are looking for fine dining in fresno, there is this great establishment called the cracked pepper bistro. It is located in mission village, just across fresno street from the fashion fair mall. It is amazing!

                            1. I am sorry, I feel the need to respond as well. If you actually did your research, you would find that Fresno has a lower per-capita crime rate than San Francisco, San Jose, or LA. Ironically, a good portion of our crime is centralized in a 2 mile x 2 mile radius. As you might know from visiting, Fresno is a rather spreadout community. I live on the north end of town. We don't lock our doors unless we are leaving time. You see is 'back country' towns like Fresno, neighbors still take care of neigbors. Additionally, within the Fresno area is Clovis Unified, which is considered one of the premier school districts in the state.

                              Now, back to my original intent for tonight, trying to decide between Ernas, Max's, Flemings, Slates, Ripe Tomato, Chef's Table and the Palms for dinner. Yeah, Fresno sucks :)

                              Btw, I ate at Gary Danko's 3 weeks ago. The service was impeccable, the food was average. In my opinion, the menu (and we made a point of ordering a vast selection) does not challenge the palete in the manner that Erna's might. In SF, a better choice would be Fluer de Lys.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: tequilasnotinfresno

                                I gotta disagree with you - Gary Danko is by far where I have had the best meals ever, both food and service. I have eaten there many (8 - 10) times and it is consistantly stellar. Other restaurants are sometimes sensational but GD is consistent.

                              2. Try FIVE it's on Champlain and Perin!! I thought the atmosphere and food were above my expectations!! I also agree with the others about Flemmings! It is probably my favorite chain restaurant.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: sweetnspicy

                                  FIVE has repeatedly dissapointed me and SO over and over again. I will only go to the bar for service and food now, if that. I have to say that Erna's Elderberry is top notch for service, wine, and dinner. If it were me going for fine dining I would choose between The Chef's Table, Lantana, Veni's (Tower District), or Upstairs Downtown. We have had amazing results in all those places. We are also fortunate to know some of the chefs at all those restaurants so maybe our views are a bit contorted than usual...but a great experience is all that matters and that is what we had, hands down.

                                  1. re: cocktailqueen77

                                    But Upstairs Downtown closed its doors a few weeks ago. We can't enjoy their creations anymore. A real loss downtown.

                                2. I did find a place in Champlain and Perrin in Fresno that specializes in Spanish cuisine called La Pella. It is great and their food is delicious. I've had made one of my favorites, the staff is friendly, the place is small, so the environment is inviting and very romantic. I think they might have a website as well. I heard they've been around in fresno for the last 10 years or so.

                                  8 Replies
                                  1. re: adri007

                                    Yes, they moved from Shaw and 6th several years ago. Have you tried their Zarzuela and the flaming shrimp app (can't recall the name)? Just to help out those who search the board, it's spelled "La Paella".

                                    1. re: adri007

                                      Here is a link to their website and menu

                                      We ate there last month, my wife almost decided she would never make Paella at home again, almost but then she relented.

                                      It was my birthday the night we were there so we finished dinner with a very nice port.

                                      PB, are you thinking of the Camarones al Ajillo?

                                      1. re: FresnoFacts

                                        I think that's it, FF. Haven't had it since they moved from the old location. Recall every head in the place turning as it went by then swooning as the garlic aroma hit the senses. Need to make a return trip, soon!

                                        1. re: PolarBear

                                          You should try to go in the near future.

                                          We were amused by the number of people going into Bobby Salazar's 2 doors down. If they only knew what they were missing by not eating at La Paella.

                                        2. re: FresnoFacts

                                          Ok, we are walking out the door to try La Paella. Will report back! Woo!

                                          1. re: KenWritez

                                            So what was the verdict KW?? I enjoy reading your (in length) reports. I have been there before so I am very interested in how your experience went....

                                            1. re: cocktailqueen77

                                              Sorry for the tardy reply, life occured. Anyway, am glad to report La P was great! In fact, we've been there 2 1/2 times. The first time was per my post here, the second was three days later with my FIL, and the third (which I only count as a half) was with a large group of friends after church, only to discover they're closed for lunch on Sundays. Damn.

                                              The service is great. We spoke at length with Aricelle (sp?) and Daniel, the managers, who were friendly and made sure we liked our food and they took great care of us. Empty glasses were refilled promptly, dirty plates cleared quickly, bread plate kept filled, etc., and we even got a free wine tasting the first night as Daniel wasn't familiar with his wines so he wanted me to taste his most popular three bottles to see what I thought of them.

                                              On our first night, as an entree the Sturdy Wench ordered the "Pescado del Dia a la Cazuela (Fish Casserole) -- Fish of the day, green peas, and potatoes cooked with garlic, parsley, white wine, and olive oil served in a clay pot. This dish comes with your choice of red or saffron white wine sauce." This was more of a thick soup than what we would think of as a casserole, and it non-plussed her a bit, but she enjoyed it.

                                              I ordered the "Parillada de Marisco ( Grilled Mixed Seafood Platter) -- A huge platter of grilled prawns, clams, mussels, fish, salmon, and calamari marinated in our special garlic/parsley sauce served with potatoes," which was disappointing. Everything tasted fine, but the prawns were overcooked and the dish was already cooling down when it was served. Daniel apologized and Aricelle said it was difficult to serve hot grilled seafood. I wouldn't order this again.

                                              For appetizers, we ordered the Mixtas, a sampler platter. It was too much. Waaaaay too much. I was expecting tiny plates and instead we got decent-sized amounts so we ended up taking home three boxes of food! I was able to make two meals for both of us off the leftovers!

                                              But sometimes too much is never enough, and that's the case with two of their appetizers: the "Croquetas de Pollo -- A croquet of chicken, onions, and then pan-fried. Dish is served with a side of tomato aioli" and "Empanada Gallega (Galicien Turnover) -- Double-crusted turnover filled with a mixture of tuna, bell peppers and onions." Honorable mention must also go to "Tortilla Española (Spanish Omelet) -- A Spanish omelet made with potatoes, onion, bell peppers, and eggs."

                                              The croquetas were small, fat, football-shaped lumps of chickeny goodness deep fried with a dark brown thin crispy crust. These are appetizer heroin. Aricelle said the cook hates making them because they're complicated and take so much effort, so of course we ordered a plate of them. If you want to live dangerously, order these but have a designated non-eater nearby who will smash a wine bottle over your head and yank you away from the plate when you've gobbled as many of these as would fill your head.

                                              The Empanada Gallega is a delicious, bready tart-like thing and...and...look, just order one of the damn things and taste for yourself. I'm still broken up about not getting more croquetas.

                                              The tortilla was good; perfectly cooked egg, potatoes and other ingredients.

                                              On our second visit--lunch--my lovely Sturdy Wench ordered the "Alcachofas Asado Bocadillo -- A roasted artichoke spread with Jamon Serrano and Spanish pimientos." It was served on a fresh, white bread hoagie with a nicely chewy, flaky crust. I don't care for artichoke hearts so I wasn't excited about tryng a bite of her sandwich, but in the interests of fair reporting I bit the artichoke. While that sandwich isn't something I would order, it was surprisingly pleasant and full-flavored with a nice briny hit and the taste of the ham really complememted the artichokes.

                                              I ordered the "Paella de Pollo ( Chicken Paella) -- A paella of saffron rice with chicken, linguica sausage, green peas, onions, garlic, and bell peppers", thinking since we were at "La Paella" it would be appropriate to try one. The paella was gorgeous, golden yellow rice, green peas and pepper, thin discs of dark red sausage, served in a black cast iron paella pan about 10" across. I confess I've never eaten a real paella so I have nothing to compare it to. All I can say it smelled wonderful: Garlic, saffron, sauage. It tasted equally wonderful: Creamy but not milky or cloying, no flavor overpowering another, a definite strata of flavors the diner can enjoy dissecting in his or her mouth.

                                              I didn't write down the prices, but IIRC they seemed reasonable to me. My paella was, I think, $14.95 as was the Mixtas; my wife's sandwich was $8.95, the Parillada was in the high teens or low 20s, and I can't remember the price of the cazuela.

                                              We're definitely returning there again and I recommed La Paella to anyone wanting good non-American food in Fresno and food that's different from the ubiquitous Mexican, Italian, Asian or chain restaurants that abound here.

                                              1. re: KenWritez

                                                Thank you KW for the fabulous review. I have loved La Paella for quite awhile so it wonderful to hear that others do as well. The "Fish Casserole" is my one of my favorites. The very first night I dined there I ordered it on a whim, and the server told me that that dish is actually the guitarist's favorite dish. As a creature of habit, it typically is one of the entrees my SO and order.

                                      2. For fine dining, I also heartily recommend Trelio in Clovis, on Clovis Ave, a few doors up from 5th St in Old Town.

                                        Outstanding food--creatively prepared, delicious and innovative, plus excellent service, and an eclectic and interesting wine cellar. Corkage is $8 IIRC but they're pretty relaxed about it. If you let the waiter or the sommelier taste what you brought, I've known them to waive the corkage, but I can't promise that happens every time. The atmosphere is casual fine dining, easy-going and not pretentious.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: KenWritez

                                          Well Ken knows that I second this. :)

                                          1. re: KenWritez

                                            Ate at Trelio's last night and was totally underwhelmed. Lackluster service, overcooked halibut, tough to chew tri-tip, chocolate desert that tasted a bit litke it shared the fridge with the blue cheese....oh well, life is full of disappointments.