Sometimes spelled bistrot, a bistro has its roots in Parisian culture and typically refers to a small restaurant serving moderately priced meals in a simple setting. Traditional offerings tend to include more hearty home-cooked entrees. Menu items consisting of slow-cooked meats and casseroles are quite traditional bistro fare.
The idea of the bistro is believed to have perhaps developed out of Parisian basement apartments where tenants paid for room and board. Landlords could then increase their income by welcoming the general public into their kitchens. While Sacramento may not be home to Parisian-style basements, the city does have its share of charming bistros. Here is a look at five of the best bistros in the greater Sacramento area.
The Press Bistro
1809 Capitol Ave
Sacramento, CA 95811
The Press offers Sacramento residents a taste of the Mediterranean in a warm, inviting atmosphere. The Press wants to showcase the Sacramento Valley and its abundant fresh, seasonal ingredients. The wine list is plentiful, featuring barrel-poured house wines and varietals from France, Spain, Italy and California. Popular items at The Press Bistro include the small plates, or tapas. You can get one for $4 or three for $10, and choose from local favorites like fried meatballs with garlic yogurt sauce, roasted beets with goat cheese or bacon and onion crostini.
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Tower Bridge Bistro
100 Capitol Mall
Sacramento, CA 95814
Located inside the Embassy Suites Hotel in downtown Sacramento, the Tower Bridge Bistro is a beloved spot for Sacramento foodies. Executive Chef Clay Purcell has won countless awards and accolades for his cuisine. He believes in showcasing the best that California has to offer and after considerable experience working in the state, he landed at the Hilton Corporation. Look for entrees on Tower Bridge Bistro’s menu like lamb noisettes with sundried tomato jus and crushed garnet yams or the Sonoma duck breast with grilled Bosc pears and goat cheese. For appetizers, try the grilled artichoke from Castroville, which is served with drawn butter and mayonnaise, and the fried local oysters which have a cornmeal crust with roasted shallot migonette.
33rd Street Bistro
3301 Folsom Blvd
Sacramento, CA 95816
The 33rd Street Bistro has been a staple in East Sac since 1995 when Matt and Fred Haines opened its doors. While many of the bistros pay homage to California foods, 33rd Street Bisto heads north and showcases the Pacific Northwest. Executive Chef Fred Haines spent nine years in the Seattle and Portland areas and brings his expertise and love for the foods in that region to East Sac. The paninis are a huge hit, with the Mount St. Helens being one of the best. This compacted sourdough sandwich comes filled with oven-roasted turkey, spinach pesto, roasted red peppers and cambazola cheese. And the Pacific Northwest element doesn’t end with the food — 33rd Street Bistro has one of the best wine selections with particular focus on Washington and Oregon. Don’t fret California wine lovers, the Golden State is adequately represented as well.
2031 S St
Sacramento, CA 95814
Owner and chef Adam Pechal created his own bistro after working at some legendary spots around the country, including Napa hot spots like Bouchon and Bistro Don Giovanni. He’s also been involved with local restaurant openings including Esquire Grill from the Paragary Restaurant Group, and Riverside Clubhouse, a joint venture from brothers Matt and Fred Haines, 33rd Street Bistro owners. Pechal’s creations have earned him a lot of local buzz and recognition, making Tuli Bistro a favorite with Sacramento locals. Choose from small plates or go for a hearty entree that is great for sharing. From pizzas and salads (be sure to try one with goat cheese) to entrees like spring lamb cheek stew or rabbit rillettes, Pechal has captured the essence of the classic bistro with a modern-day menu.
3839 J St
Sacramento, CA 95819
Formoli’s is located in East Sacramento and chef Aimal Formoli has created a menu that satisfies the bistro-size appetite, but offers something for those looking for lighter fare. His selection of small-plate offerings are among the most beloved menu items, including the stuffed dates — Medjool dates stuffed with goat cheese and pancetta atop Belgian endive or the sweet and spicy duck wings with spring roll and garlic sriracha sauce. One of the most talked about menu items falls under lunch — the whiskey burger. This is a pepper encrusted burger with a whiskey demi-glace, cheddar cheese, habanero aioli and mixed greens, all served on a ciabatta bun.
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Erin De Santiago is a freelance writer and photographer currently based in Taiwan. To date, she has traveled to over 40 countries on four continents in search of the best food and wine around the globe. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.