Bistro des Copains is French, Friendly, and a Find in Occidental
During dinner at Bistro des Copains (CLOSED) one evening, restaurant owner Michel Augsburger stopped by our table and asked if we were happy. We were.
Then he asked if there was anything he could do to make us even happier.
Amused, I watched him visit table after table, greeting each customer, including many patrons who clearly were regulars. It seemed to be a sincere effort, and is surely part of the reason that this charming little French café has been a mainstay of west Sonoma County for nearly eight years now.
Reservations are essential for the gem of sophistication that glitters in an unlikely spot — the tiny, kickback, hippie-ish town of Occidental.
The name means “bistro of friends,” and there are lots of friendly touches, such as $2.50 oysters on Wednesdays, and free corkage on two bottles of Sonoma County wine on Thursdays.
More remarkable is a nightly chef’s menu for $29, including an appetizer, entrée, and dessert. This is no basic blue plate special, either — starters shine with choices like Brussels sprouts salad with bacon, pickled mushrooms, soft-poached quail egg, and bacon caraway dressing, while main plates include options like roasted quail in mushroom demi-glace over mushroom risotto with haricot verts.
Chefs Ty Wong and Melissa Frugone share a vision with Augsburger and co-owner Cluney Stagg. All have a deep love of France, and it shows in signatures like hot, gooey onion soup ($9) that warms a body all the way down to the toes, or garlicky escargot enrobed in puff pastry and moistened in rich mushroom bordelaise ($11).
Wood-fired ovens are at the heart of the cooking that woos diners from San Francisco and beyond. The oven lends robust flair to daily fish, such as one evening’s fire-roasted wild salmon napped in brown butter caper sauce and paired with mashed potatoes and haricots verts ($24).
My friend and I shared our plates, and couldn’t decide which was the favorite — the salmon, or another entrée of pan-roasted Liberty duck breast smoothed in green peppercorn sauce and served atop riz de Camargue (red rice) and red-wine poached black mission figs that added a sweet-tart note to the somewhat gamey meat ($25).
Some recipes show complex skill, such as the decadent crème brulee aux champignons ($12), which is a savory custard studded with lots of meaty mushrooms and perched in a puddle of mushroom consommé. The brulee part comes in with the lacy-thin cap of melted sugar, for a surprising, yet successful bit of crunch.
Still, there’s no stuffiness here, as the moss-colored clapboard cottage dining rooms beckon with butter yellow walls, loads of fresh flowers, and crisp white butcher paper laid over floral, cottage-style tablecloths.
It’s a relaxed place to enjoy a casual meal of grilled hanger steak splayed with spinach and Béarnaise sauce, and a bouquet of crispy Kennebec fries in paper cone tucked in a metal stand ($25). Or, perhaps, pissaladiere from the wood oven, essentially a pizza dotted with olives, anchovies, caramelized onion and goat cheese ($16).
It’s worth saving room for dessert (all $8). The caramel pot de crème is better than typical since it’s served with melt-in-your-mouth house-made coconut macarons, while a slab of molten chocolate cake decorated in berry coulis brings the appropriately rich finish expected of a French meal.
What a nice bit of “bon moment” for a Bohemian Highway hideaway.
Details: Bistro Des Copains (CLOSED), 3782 Bohemian Hwy, Occidental