//Dave Eats: Parma Ristorante

Dave Eats: Parma Ristorante

 By Dave Fountinelle | dave@fresnoflyer.com

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching. In honor of America’s most famous date night, your trusty food reviewer humbly recommends what may be the best date night restaurant in the city – Parma Ristorante.

Chef Elena Corsini Mastro opened Parma Ristorante in 1999 because she wanted to bring the authentic flavors of Northern Italy to the Central Valley. Parma features handmade pasta, farm-fresh ingredients, and a menu that beautifully showcases the rustic cuisine of Mastro’s hometown, the restaurant’s namesake.

Entering Parma, I was impressed with the ample seating available in the cozy dining areas. The decor evokes the spirit of Northern Italy, from the wooden tables and cotton tablecloths to the various old photos adorning the walls. The lighting was subdued, and the walls reverberated with lively conversations from the freshly seated tables. A bread plate with whipped butter was promptly brought to the table, as was my drink order. The service was both swift and attentive.

With a menu that features nearly a dozen homemade pastas and starters, each more tempting than the last, I couldn’t decide where to begin. Fortunately, Parma offers three “Chef’s Choice” options that bundle a starter course, main dish, and dessert – perfect for an indecisive first-timer like myself. I chose option number two, which included my choice of pasta, one of two main courses, and dessert. \

For my pasta dish, I selected the Lasagna alla Parmigiana. It arrived in a piping hot gratin dish with the sauce still bubbling around the edges. I eagerly scooped a forkful and was immediately transported to a tavolo cucina (kitchen table) in a tiny Northern Italian town. The Bolognese sauce was thick and meaty. The noodles were a chewy al dente. And the layer of bechamel and Parmesan cheese completed a rich, creamy mouthful that was savory, herbaceous, and hearty. By itself, this lasagna would have been a very satisfactory meal. But I still had two more courses to go!

For my main course, I chose the Piatto di Carne con Contorno (meat dish with side dish) with steak. This consisted of an expertly cooked skirt steak, sliced and served with roasted potatoes, eggplant, squash, tomatoes, and peppers. The steak was a textbook medium-rare, generously seasoned, and smothered with potatoes and roasted vegetables. Simple, fresh, and rustic, this dish was an outstanding example of what Northern Italian cuisine is all about. 

By the time the dessert menus came around, I didn’t think I could fit another bite in me. Thus, I chose one that I hoped wouldn’t be too filling, the Mousse al Cioccolato con Salsa Chantilly (chocolate mousse with chantilly sauce). I was expecting sinful decadence, and I was not disappointed. The Belgian chocolate mousse was impossibly rich yet light and airy. Each spoonful lingered on my tongue for a few euphoric seconds before melting into a delightful memory. I had never tasted chantilly before, and I found the tart, lemony sauce to be a much-needed pairing to cut through the richness of the mousse. With a cup of coffee, this made for a wonderful ending to an absolutely incredible culinary journey.

From the ambiance to the courteous staff to the incredible quality of everything on the menu, Parma Ristorante should be at the top of your list if you are looking for the ultimate spot for a Valentine’s Day dinner or any romantic date night. It’s no wonder that Parma Ristorante has received ten California Restaurant Association awards, including “Best Italian Restaurant” and “Most Romantic.”

As someone who has been searching for authentic, high-quality Italian cuisine all over the Central Valley, I simply cannot recommend Parma Ristorante highly enough. My dinner there was easily one of the top three meals I’ve eaten in Fresno. I will absolutely be back; there are just so many mouth-watering options on the menu, and I must try them all. 

Parma Ristorante is open for dinner service, starting at 5:30 pm. Reservations are strongly encouraged.