Calculated risk

Paul Martin’s American Bistro

1455 Eureka Rd.
Roseville, CA 95661

(916) 783-3600

Roseville clearly is the epicenter of a new restaurant boom in this area, and it’s probably not surprising that Paul Martin’s American Bistro—a venture from Paul Fleming, the founder of P.F. Chang’s, and two other restaurateurs—is at its heart. Paul Martin’s offers up all the right buzzwords (local, seasonal, housemade), the de rigueur sleek yet homey look, a big bar to swallow up the throngs waiting for a table and rib-sticking portions with plenty of stylish touches.

I started off with an aperitif from the cocktail menu, peach champagne—essence of peach with honey syrup and sparkling wine. Peach flavor plus alcohol runs a real risk of reminding anyone who’s ever been to high school of unfortunate encounters with peach schnapps, but this was fizzy and not too sweet with a refreshing flavor, despite the fragrance of peach and honey. It might, however, have been more apropos at brunch. Other cocktails offered include various “-tinis” and other trendy items, and the focused wine list has a large proportion of its items available by the (slightly overpriced) glass.

Appetizers here tend to be right-down-the-middle crowd-pleasers: a white-cheddar spinach dip, house-smoked salmon, shrimp cocktail, charcuterie plate, fried calamari. We tried the latter, and it was fried very nicely, lightly battered with silken, tender squid cut into thick rings. I liked the zippy, pungent housemade cocktail sauce that came alongside, but the creamy, pale orange “chili aioli” was bland and uninspired.

The soups and salads, again, are likely to appeal to most: clam chowder, bacon spinach salad, Caesar. I tried butter lettuce with Point Reyes blue cheese, candied walnuts, crisp apple slices and a very nice maple vinaigrette. The latter could easily have drowned the plate in sweetness but was subtle and tangy instead.

As for the entrees, I was a little surprised that a place that’s talking the seasonal-local talk wasn’t name-checking more local produce on its menu. I was also surprised the menu was so fall-like (mushrooms, greens, squash) rather than more wintry—for instance, playing up the area’s abundant citrus. Our server pointed out the skirt steak with maple-bourbon sweet potatoes as a crowd favorite; I was drawn to one of the vegetarian options, Yukon gold and leek turnovers, as well as the sole with root-vegetable hash. Aside from these “bistro classics” (so called on the menu), there’s a short section of sandwiches: mushroom burger, BLT, turkey.

My cedar-plank salmon entree certainly fell into the autumnal vein, the chunk of fish (wild Atlantic salmon) adorned with halved cremini mushrooms, a mustardy shallot-bacon topping with cracked pepper and some fresh herbs, and fresh, curly Bloomsdale spinach. With the mushrooms and bacon, it was a stellar match for a light pinot noir. The oiliness of the moist piece of fish and the rich, bold flavors of the topping contrasted nicely with a seemingly light but intensely mushroomy broth in the bottom of the shallow bowl. The spinach, which retained its bright color and fresh, crunchy texture, was left mostly alone—a good decision.

This is a menu with a lot of bacon (and pig in general). The pork chop, which my husband ordered, was of lordly mien, thick and diamond-marked. It topped a confetti of thinly sliced Brussels sprouts with lots of bacon lardons and a tangy-sweet, thick onion marmalade. The slicing was a good solution to the problem of dry mealiness that can plague the Brussels sprout, and these were tender and well-flavored with herbs, like fresh thyme leaves, and that bacon.

The pork itself, however, was on the undercooked side; our server had asked how my husband would like it cooked, saying the kitchen recommended medium, and that’s what he went with. As he said when he cut it open, though, “If this is medium, I don’t want to see rare.” It was wetly pink and near-raw inside, rather than moist and just-pink throughout. That didn’t stop him from eating it, however.

He also ordered a side of fries; the menu offers a few such sides, the fries being the most obviously tempting. The large pile of very creditable bistro fries was thinly cut and golden-fried with a nice crunchiness and a scattering of fresh herbs.

After this, we moved on to the fairly short dessert menu. It was unambitious but solid—banana-cream pie, pear-huckleberry crisp—much like the dinner menu. My husband had a sturdy, hefty slice of very nice devil’s-food cake, with a lot of rich frosting and a dark, tender crumb. Some deep, dark, aromatic-preserved cherries alongside were a yummy garnish. I went for a vanilla-mandarin crème brûlée (there was that MIA citrus!), like a very grown-up Creamsicle. Four little mandarin segments made a delicious little wheel on top, highlighting the hint of vanillalike flavor that some sweet mandarins can have. The custard, with its shattering, candied-glassine top, was super creamy, and the dessert was too big to finish but quite yummy. It came with two langue-de-chat-shaped shortbread cookies, buttery but somewhat underbaked.

Paul Martin’s American Bistro is hardly breaking new ground, but it’s a solidly pleasing venture. The food is safely enjoyable—it should be, as it aims squarely to please—the scene is buzzy, and even if it all feels a touch calculated, you can’t exactly blame the restaurateurs for playing to their audience.