Bethany Clough

Fresno’s restaurant row: This hidden corner is home to five thriving fine dining restaurants

From the street, all you see is office buildings.

But drive down the long driveway lined with palm trees at the southwest corner of Palm and Herndon avenues and you’ll end up in the middle of a thriving restaurant scene. At least five fine dining restaurants here are packed with diners on a typical Saturday night.

It’s the North Pointe shopping center, though the corner was dubbed restaurant row years ago.

Longtime Fresnans will remember the center from years ago when it was home to restaurants like Brix, DJ Hill’s, Don Fernando’s, Saigon Palace, and later Samba Brazilian Steakhouse, Club Habanos and Rue Cafe. But it petered out after a while, with restaurants closing or moving.

It operated under the radar until Cracked Pepper Bistro moved there in about five years ago.

Things changed then, noted Steve Rontell, a retail broker with Colliers International who leased out the buildings at the shopping center.

“Once Cracked Pepper went there, which is a very, very high-quality restaurant, we (had) a snowball effect,” he said. “People thought, ‘Hey, my quality restaurant can be there also.’”

Now the shopping center is 100 percent full. It has a mix of cuisines, with Italian, high-end Mexican and Japanese. The majority of restaurants are only open for dinner (though Tabachines and Tamari are open for lunch). Most have patios that will be bustling when the weather warms up.

All are relatively considered fine dining so make sure the wallet is healthy shape before dining here.

Although the restaurants dominate, this shopping center also home to the paint-and-sip business Pinot’s Palette. Milano, the business with the little tomato logo, isn’t a restaurant, but the parent company of Me-N-Ed’s Pizza and Piazza del Pane across the street.

As for the restaurants, here’s a little more about each one and what you can get there.

Cracked Pepper

This restaurant is widely regarded as one of the best in town. It’s a popular place for birthdays and other special occasions. Though it’s high-end cuisine, chef and restaurant owner Vatche Moukhtarian’s down-to-earth vibe spreads throughout the restaurant.

LIF DLW BREAD PUDDING 6.JPG
The Cracked Pepper Bistro’s bread pudding’s is its most popular dessert. DARRELL WONG Fresno Bee Staff Photo

You can get escargot here, along with seafood, salads and entrees like slow-braised short ribs and sea scallops in a vanilla vodka sauce. The chef uses as much local, seasonal vegetables as he can, along with meat free of antibiotics or hormones whenever possible.

One surprising top seller? An eggplant appetizer that features a stack of pumpkin seed encrusted eggplant slices served with roasted tomatoes, goat cheese, pesto and aged balsamic.

It has a bar and cocktail menu, but without a doubt its most famous dish is its bread pudding. How good is it? Well, a pregnant customer once sent her husband in to get a to-go order of it while they were on the way to the hospital to deliver her baby, Moukhtarian said.

Details: (559) 222-9119.

Parma

Parma Ristorante will celebrate its 20th anniversary this year, the last eight years of it in this center.

You can find all kinds of handmade pasta here, some shaped like flowers. If you can’t decide what to get, you can combine two or three kinds of pasta in one dish.

You’ll also find meat dishes that are uncommon, like rabbit, quail and smoked duck breast served with a sauce made with peaches in the summertime.

There’s an extensive wine selection, including wines from Italy and California. And each customer is sent away with a piece of sbirolona, a crunchy Italian tart.

Details: (559) 432-3389.

Tamari

Tamari Robatayaki & Whisky Bar is one of the newcomers to the corner. Pronounced “robot-uh-yah-key,” this is a Japanese way of cooking is done over stainless steel mesh using a special kind of charcoal shaped like tree branches that can get up to 1,000 degrees. You can watch the chef cook this way (safely behind a clear barrier) from the dining room.

What to get here? The robatayaki, much of it on served on skewers and designed for sharing, like the lollipop lamb chops and corn served with shisho (an herb) butter.

The rest of the menu is huge and its spicy chicken wings made this reporter’s list of top 10 foods of 2018.

Tamari has an extensive whiskey selection and cocktails, along with wine and beer.

Details: (559) 721-7300.

Bella Pasta

Bella Pasta Trattoria Italiana is an Italian restaurant, so of course its pasta gets lots of attention. The seasonal pumpkin ravioli is a popular one these days. If you like pumpkin pie, you’ll like this, said chef and owner Fabian Rodriguez.

The menu also has lots of seafood, steak, veal, and lamb.

But the most popular seller: old fashion spaghetti and meat balls, made here with a sauce that’s a combination of marinara sauce, cream and butter.

This little restaurant has a patio not far from a fountain.

Details: : (559) 325-5525.

Tabachines

Tabachines Cocina is the newest restaurant in this center. It’s a Mexican restaurant but it’s unlike any other in town and you won’t find any burritos on the menu. Instead, it’s a fine dining restaurant named after the trees with bright red-orange flowers that pop up around the restaurant.

The cuisine is simple and fresh, a throwback to the way the owner’s mother used to cook in Guadalajara, shopping at a market daily because they didn’t have a refrigerator.

Diners at restaurant rating site Yelp.com rave about the chicken tortilla soup and the ceviche, served on a bed of greens with habanero pickled onions.

The restaurant has a prominent bar with creative drinks. Of course, there are margaritas (including one made with a Fresno chile) and nonalcoholic aguas frescas, fresh fruity drinks including a hibiscus flavored one.

Details: (559) 473-1077.

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