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A Look Into Bistro 29 in Santa Rosa

Bistro 29 specializes in the Breton cuisine of France.

Not much has changed at Bistro 29 since chef-owner Brian Anderson opened the tiny, 40-seat restaurant in downtown Santa Rosa in 2008. Which is a good thing. Because as its loyal customers (and Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand inspectors) know, this is one of Sonoma County’s best restaurants.

Specializing in Breton cuisine of France, the food focuses on regional signatures from where Anderson met his wife, Françoise, an area called Finistère department 29 in the extreme west of Brittany.

Despite the upscale cooking, the concept is relaxed elegance, with Anderson often coming out of the kitchen to visit with guests.

The look: Keep your eyes peeled for the narrow, black awning on Fifth Street just above Mendocino Avenue; the spot is hard to find. Inside, the rectangular space is simply decorated, with a tall ceiling, white tile floor, burgundy red wainscoting and unframed local art-for-sale on the walls. When it’s crowded, which it nearly already is, people pack in to the four-seat bar in the corner, too.

To eat: Start with a Bretagne specialty, crêpes, like the Lyonnaise, folding smoked bacon lardon, caramelized onions, cave aged Gruyère and sunny side up egg into a lacy buckwheat wrapper ($10). Buckwheat crêpe also shows up as dentelles (croutons) in the soupe des Johnnies, a small white tureen of rich cider broth stocked with onions and capped in molten Gruyère ($10).

Keeping the French classic theme, briny escargots arrive in a bath of red wine, laced with mushrooms and a crown of French bread crumbs ($13). This is a terrific place for foie gras and duck liver paté, as well, served in traditional style with tart cider aspic, pickled fennel and grilled breads ($14).

Our group also loved the goat cheese crottin, the seared chevre set atop white endive with sliced sweet grilled pear, hazelnuts and a drizzle of banyuls vinaigrette ($11).

For a sumptuous taste of France, dig into cassoulet, a savory stew thick with slow braised white beans, melting duck confit, bacon chunks and locally made Provencal pork sausage in savory broth scattered in crunchy golden breadcrumbs ($27). No one will mind if you pick up the leg bone to nibble off every last bit of duck, then lick the butter off your fingers.

The duck confit is so good, in fact, that we ordered it on its own as an entrée, bringing a succulent leg plated with a crisp-edged creamed spinach croquette, and sweet roasted baby turnips and carrots in a tangy cider reduction ($23).

Lots of Wine Country restaurants offer steak frites, meanwhile, but Bistro 29’s is one of the best around. The tender filet tastes wonderfully beefy, rounded out with crisp pommes frites, arugula, crispy shallots, and a healthy splash of shallot-red wine jus plus a finishing dollop of Dijon mustard butter ($25).

To note: The weekly changing $34 prix-fixe is a delicious bargain, offered Tuesday through Thursday. Four courses include an amuse bouche, appetizer, entrée and dessert, with just $11 more for wine pairings from the lengthy list balancing French and California labels.

Dessert: The profiterole is dainty, puffy bliss, topped in a choice of housemade ice creams and chocolate syrup ($7).

To drink: Check out happy hour, as well, with $5 house wines.

Details: Bistro 29, 620 5th Street, Santa Rosa, 707-546-2929

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