A tiny gem
Elk Grove, CA 95624
Along Elk Grove Boulevard between the freeway and the small, winning Boulevard Bistro, the signs do not look good for finding a nice restaurant. We passed chain after chain before finally spotting the tiny, understated sign that announced our destination. The restaurant is in a converted older home, with ample parking in the back and big wine-barrel planters of thriving herbs along the walk in.
The interior is similarly welcoming. We were greeted with apparent delight by the hostess; it turned out that the person who had taken our reservation had such bad handwriting that the staff couldn’t tell if we had reserved a table for 6:30 or 7:30 p.m. When we arrived at 7:30 p.m., they’d been saving our table for an hour. As it happened, it was among the best seats in a fairly full (if tiny) house, a round table with ultra-comfy wing chairs in front of an attractive fireplace lit with candles. (The reservation was in my husband’s last name, which is different from mine, so I doubt the care with which our reservation was handled constituted special treatment.)
Nevertheless, it took them a few minutes to get the table set before we could sit down, no doubt because here diners are provided with a very full complement of silverware at the outset, including a fork and spoon above the place setting for dessert. I don’t think anyone is particularly watching for Emily Post-like knowledge of cutlery usage, though. Boulevard Bistro has pleasing formal touches—such as long, heavily draping white tablecloths; a hostess wearing a smart suit; and well-trained servers—but it’s not at all stuffy. Instead, it has an air of quiet calm that’s enhanced by dove-gray walls, dark-wood fixtures and a pretty leaf motif in its logo and décor.
Somehow it all feels very seasonally appropriate for the approaching fall months, and the food is in line with that mood. The menu is short, with the basic list of proteins constituting the entrees: filet mignon, chicken, pork tenderloin and rack of lamb. There was also ahi tuna and a pasta dish, crab and lobster linguini with goat cheese, but nothing for vegetarians; the menu noted that vegetarian entrees are available upon request. Starters, salads and soups were also firmly in the classic-with-a-twist mode, like an heirloom-tomato salad or sweetbreads with shiitake mushrooms. The specials included two soups, clam chowder with a lobster base and gazpacho with avocado. There’s also a nice though compact wine list that’s got plenty of interesting picks, especially from among wineries close to home, and great prices: a lot of bottles fell in the $20-$30 range.
The two dishes that immediately jumped out at me were shrimp cakes, an intriguing departure from clichéd crab cakes, and a fig, arugula and goat-cheese salad—something that has become a standard in recent years but seemed perfectly keyed to the season. My husband ordered the shrimp cakes, at my urging, and I had the salad. The shrimp cakes were a deep golden brown, crispy on the outside and light-textured within. The flavor was clear and pleasant, but in part because the texture of the seafood was finely ground, it was hard to place it definitively as shrimp. I liked the roasted corn salsa garnishing them, however, and the two different sweet flavors made a good pairing.
The arugula salad was a nice melding of flavors; my only tiny quibbles would be that the figs were nearly ice-cold, damping their sweetness, and some of the candied walnuts were close to burnt. But the vinaigrette coated the peppery leaves perfectly, blobs of super-creamy goat cheese added a pleasing dairy tang, and the seasonal figs added beauty and interest.
My main course, the linguini with crab and lobster, was less balanced. The promised goat cheese was melded into a great deal of thick, super-creamy sauce. The flavors were great, and the small chunks of seafood were sweet and tender, but there was considerably more sauce than pasta, making the dish very heavy. For a cold winter night, and with a much less overwhelming sauce-to-pasta ratio, this would be an appealing dish.
My husband’s stuffed chicken breast with mozzarella, spinach and other flavors was better executed. It came with the well-browned skin and a piece of wing attached, and it was appetizingly moist, with a well-seasoned filling. The accompanying polenta had a few lumps here and there, but it tasted great, and the tender, savory green beans with it were excellent.
Dessert choices are somewhat limited; there was a rich-sounding chocolate cake, a cheesecake with berries, and crème brûlée, in addition to a special: roasted pear half on puff pastry with custard and pear puree. We tried the latter, which had some lovely flavors, especially the rich, eggy custard and the surrounding thick pear sauce. The pear half, however, was undercooked, which marred the dessert.
Open a little more than six months, tiny Boulevard Bistro has clearly already earned a loyal clientele; we heard one departing table say something about being back soon, as usual. The restaurant is doing something Elk Grove sorely needs: cooking fresh and generally well-conceived dishes in an elegant and one-of-a-kind space. But to turn itself into a real destination, it will need to iron out a few rough spots in cooking and execution so that the food matches the setting.