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Stalking Chef Vargas at Bistro V (Sebastopol)

Melanie Wong | Jul 4, 200504:28 AM

Passing through Sebastopol last month, I decided to stop at Bistro V for dinner. A few months ago, we had been wondering where Chef Rick Vargas had landed after leaving Stoa, and discovered that this restaurant was in the works.

It was early on a Saturday night and I had no problem getting a table. There's also seating at the bar. By the time I left, the place was nearly full, so reservations are advised. I had a window table overlooking the garden fronting the Gravenstein Highway.

With Chef Vargas' experience at Stoa, I focused on the vegetable selections on the menu. I had settled on two appetizers: spring vegetables with housemade puff pastry and, because it was still a bit nippy outside, the cassoulet. My waitress apologized for failing to tell me that neither of these were available earlier. While eager, she was somewhat green, stumbling over the description of specials, and failing to mention some that I overheard another server recite for a distant table. I scrutinized the menu again to choose the beet salad, $8.50, and one of the day's appetizers, duck empanada with corn salad, $11.95. I was determined to have duck confit in some form! My waitress snatched the menu away and dashed off before I could tell her what glass of wine I wanted even though she failed to ask. When she passed my table again, I ordered a 3 oz. pour of Christopher Creek "Catie's Corner" Viognier, $4.25. It was good but served very cold, much too cold for this grape variety. I enjoyed the house-baked rustic bread while I waited --- chewy crumb and a heavy crust with rhino hide-like crackles.

The beet salad was wrong in so many ways. The menu description said it would have red and golden beets, poached egg and aioli. I had ordered the Viognier because I like that grape with golden beets. Pink, probably chiogga, beets had been subbed for the goldens. The salad was served on a chilled plate and the contents were icy cold. If the frisee greens were dressed, it was not enough to be tasted. The flavor of the chilly beets was surpressed by the frigid serving temperature and the sprinkle of sea salt became the primary taste. The aioli did not complement the beets at all. The weirdest part was the ice cold poached egg. At refrigerator temperature, the soft-cooked yolk was an unappetizing goo. I couldn't figure out this dish at all and don't know why I ordered it.

My waitress had brought out the warm empanada when I'd just started to taste the beets. I told her that I wasn't ready for it yet, and she replied that I should feel free to take my time and she'd just leave it on the table. I tried to help her do the right thing by asking her to keep it warm for me. She then answered that it didn't need to stay warm. So, I spoke to her more firmly, insisting that she return it to the kitchen in order for it to be served at the proper temperature.

Things did start to look up when the duck empanada reappeared. Duck confit, black olives, and sultanas were encased in a thick, chewy bread dough. This was quite calzone-like. I really enjoyed the alternating weave of salty and sweet with the richness of the savory duck meat. The fresh corn salad was lightly dressed with tomato water and good olive oil and its crunchy fresh texture was a nice contrast to the empanada. It had weeped a bit during its wait to be runnier on the plate than when first presented. I never did figure out the identity of the dots of green puree on the plate. Maybe cilantro.

For dessert, I tried the Austrian-style apple strudel with handpulled leaves served with a scoop of Screamin' Mimi's Madagascar vanilla ice cream, $8.50. Served warm, this was very good, but that's pretty steep for dessert in these parts. As I gazed at the johnny-jump-ups in the garden, I had wondered if some would show up on a plate, and here they were. My one quibble with the strudel would be the blizzard of powdered sugar over the entire plate. It's impossible for the servers to get this to the table without leaving unappetizing finger smudges on the plate (see photo). Also, the powdered sugar drifts onto the table cloth, my clothing, and makes a mess of the servers' black aprons.

Total with tax and tip was $41. The menu here is pretty conservative, and two of the three dishes were well executed. Service should be better for the price. I wouldn't hesitate to return, but might make that for lunch when the prices would be lower.



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