All The Feels At Fresno

Fresno Mezcal Manzanita. Independent/Eric Striffler

During this particular time of year, the restaurants I seek out are the ones that make me feel warm and fuzzy inside. I like low ceilings, and wood accents, and a general sense of warmth that isn’t entirely quantifiable. Dining out in winter, for me, is a specific joy, one that speaks to how restaurants frame moments. Do we come for the food? Do we come to establish memories? Do we come to kick our feet up and relax in a setting that feels both better and easier than our own homes? The answer, to all of these questions, is yes.

Which brings me to Fresno, a restaurant that, for me, speaks to a certain season. That’s not to say that you can’t visit Fresno in summer, or spring, or fall. It’s just that the dining room feels particularly comfortable to me when it’s uncomfortable outside. I want to sit in there for hours, as the sky turns from bruise to black. I come because it’s cozy. I stay because it’s good.

In addition to Sunday night $1 oysters — a concept extended from Fresno’s Sag Harbor sibling The Bell & Anchor — Fresno offers other dining incentives. Happy hour has recently returned. From 5:30 to 7 every night, the restaurant offers $10 cocktails, $10 wines by the glass, $5 beers, and $5 bar bites. Every Monday is pasta night, which comes with a choice of soup or salad for $29. On Thursdays, there is a 30/30 deal: $30 prix fixe menus, matched with 30 percent off bottles of wine.

And every day but Fridays and Saturdays, you can order the prix fixe menu: an appetizer and entrée off of the regular menu for $30. Add a dessert for $5 more. This menu is also available on Fridays and Saturdays until 6:30.

Head chef Gretchen Menser has created a broad, crowd-pleasing menu, with a diverse array of ingredients and flavors on display. Food tends toward the local. Although the menu is ever evolving, some recent highlights include local fluke rillettes with pickled red onion and crostini; green garbanzo bean and jalapeño-lime hummus with grilled flatbread and marinated olives; tempura-battered Buffalo cauliflower with blue cheese and scallions; and crispy calamari with homemade Sriracha aioli.

Fresno Cod Cazuela. Independent/Eric Striffler

Salads showcase the bounty of fall: artisanal greens with Bartlett pears, pumpkin seeds, and sherry vinaigrette; fall butter lettuce with butternut squash, Brussels sprouts, and pine nuts; and Balsam Farms roasted beets with Milk Pail apples and a red wine vinaigrette. In entrée territory, there is a food for every palate, from the chicken breast with sautéed haricots verts, to the linguine with Montauk littlenecks and chorizo, to the cazuela-roasted tilefish with mushrooms, bok choy, and noodles. Vegetarians can opt for red lentil dal with papadum and fresh coriander or a Beyond Burger, while the meat lover can dig into a Duroc pork chop (with braised cabbage, pancetta, and apples) or a Kobe flat iron steak (served with fries and a little gem salad).

When you’ve finished dinner, you can sit in the dining room, kick back, and enjoy any number of delicious cocktails — just as good at meal’s end as they are at meal’s beginning. The Mezcal Old Fashioned feels like a cold weather-appropriate drink: Mezcal, Fino sherry, and Frangelico, a smoky, sweet, and somewhat savory mélange of flavors that feels well suited for winter. But you could also opt for another glass of wine; Fresno has been awarded the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for 10 years in a row. Raise a glass to warm dinners, a warm dining room, and a warm and curated wine list. It may be winter outside, but it’s anything but inside Fresno.

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