My neighbor Mike Johnson was giddy the other morning. He and his wife had enjoyed a dinner out at Pyrenees Cafe the previous night. It’s the kind of routine thing we took for granted until the last year or so of torture. Big smile on his face.
We were pretty stoked when the governor put us in the purple tier and outdoor dining resumed in Bako. We marked the occasion with a Tuesday night visit to the new parking lot tent at Frugatti’s. Weekday night, we figured how crowded could it be, we’ll go without reservations.
Ha. Lots of people had the same idea and even though it was 6 p.m. it was a 45-minute wait, but it was worth it. The tables are suitably distanced, the heaters were working, the air was fresh enough that we weren’t worried about the virus, the staff was diligent about their masks, menus available on your smartphone for additional sanitation and it was great. And this tent area near the entrance like KC Steakhouse and Wool Growers has lights and a kind of festive casualness, especially with the fountain in the main room, that made us wonder if we would actually prefer to go inside once that passes.
Something tells me that August may have other ideas.
Of course, Ralph Fruguglietti has tinkered further with the menu since we last wrote a column about the place four years ago, with the fitness menu now expanded to so many choices that it was a challenge for my companion to narrow it down to just one. I looked past all the wonderful things I’ve loved in the past, including the salmon with Fat Sammy sauce, the pizzas, the burgers, the steaks and went for something new to me, the filet tip bucatini ($24.99) from the list of pastas. My companion finally chose the fitness scampi ($24.99), and we each got a glass of house wine ($7.99) and topped it off with a fit menu lemon ricotta cheesecake ($4.99).
Everything we sampled on this visit may have been new, but they reminded us of all the reasons we love the place. The emphasis on quality ingredients, real fresh garlic, roasted red peppers, pasta that is always al dente, little things like the caramelized lemon rind in that cheesecake that just really made this supposedly healthy dessert pop. I think the only reason they could put it on the fit menu is that the slice is about one-third the thickness of their regular slices, but they made up for it by presenting it on a plate with a drizzle of raspberry puree and cocoa powder with some of those lemon rinds scattered around it.
More than one great chef or food writer will tell you that half the battle is finding great ingredients, and you see the care exhibited at Frugatti’s on every plate. On the front of the menu, Fruguglietti explains that they buy their tomatoes from the Cortopassi family in Modesto and the extra virgin olive oil (so good with that fresh baked bread at the beginning of the meal) from “Verni Olive Oil Company, established in 1923 in the small Italian village of Sannicandro Di Bari, then brought to Clovis CA. in 1980 by second generation grower Saverio Verni, and still made the same way their family made it in Italy.”
The beef, whether steaks or burgers, is Angus beef, and often finished in the wood oven to add some smokiness. And the wine list didn’t share information on the winery that produced the house wines, but it was as impressive as any varietal we’d ordered recently. The care, the attention to detail is evident and reaches down to all levels.
My pasta immediately joined the crowd of past favorites (which I’ll list below) that are hard to resist when I visit. The wood-oven-baked sirloin tips were not overcooked (still pink in the middle), scattered over the pasta in cubes and reminiscent of the way this cut of beef is treated in my home state of Wisconsin. Sirloin tips are a restaurant standard there, sometimes in gravy, and the combination of tender and tasty is really similar to what this dish offers.
The bucatini pasta is imported, as some of the other pastas are, and I confess to buying imported pastas all the time as the quality is solid and I don’t need my pasta freshly made on the premises. What makes this pasta great is it’s tossed with small chunks of tomato, parsley, shaved fresh Parmesan and burrata, a cow’s milk mozzarella that is creamy and less of a blank slate than it’s more well-known cousin. (Trader Joe’s usually has a great version.) With the beef on top, it’s just a well-designed treat.
My companion’s plate had five jumbo shrimp sauteed with garlic and olive oil, some rosemary potato chunks and grilled asparagus spears. Heckuva plate for only 340 calories, and the shrimp was particularly fresh tasting. Like most of the items on the fitness menu we’ve tried, you don’t feel shortchanged on taste even if the calorie count is low. Sure, the potatoes aren’t too crunchy from butter or olive oil, but they’re still tasty if you wipe up the sauce from the shrimp.
So many other great things I’ve enjoyed in the past: the 8-ounce burger with the grilled mushrooms and onions as well as a sun-dried tomato mayo ($13.59), the salmon with Fat Sammy sauce ($27.29), the beef braciole ($23.99) that is quite complicated and quite satisfying, the “Margherita Napolitano” pizza ($16.59) made with all those imported Italian ingredients, the Colorado lamb medallions ($25.59), the lasagna made with sliced house-made meatballs ($20.99) and Kevin McCarthy’s chicken parmesan pizza ($17.79). I know that one sounds weird, but I guess I’ve never met a chicken parm I didn’t like. There’s more, of course, but these are the ones at the top of the list.
Our waiter, Andrew, was a professional charmer, really hospitable and outstanding in his timing, enhancing our visit in all the ways you hope for when dining out.
Frugatti’s can be recommended for a fine dining experience. Now more than ever. Just make reservations.