Low-key goodness

Folsom Bistro

6608 Folsom-Auburn Rd.
Folsom, CA 95630

(916) 990-0630

A few years ago, I felt like I could have written a review of a new sushi restaurant every week. Well, now it’s bistros. We’re swimming in them—or at least in restaurants that call themselves bistros, though often the major nod to the classic French article is the presence of frites on the list of sides. The bistro du jour is the most blandly named of the bunch, Folsom Bistro, which inhabits a usual sprawling Folsom shopping center. It’s a bit of a tough space, hard to see from the road and a little cold with stained-concrete floors, but it’s been prettied up with white tablecloths and a bar at the back (complete with two attractive but incongruous cream-colored wing chairs).

In what seems to be an effort to signal that there’s a real live upscale and independent restaurant behind the plate glass, the proprietors have set a full table, complete with linens and menu, outside their door—a surprising but rather clever bit of marketing. Those proprietors are a husband-and-wife team, Matthew Newton (the chef) and his wife, Atasha.

The restaurant seems to be off to a slowish start, half-empty on the Friday night a friend and I visited, but with a short, solid menu: starters of duck confit, the now apparently statutorily required trio of sliders (the least bistrolike thing here), steamed mussels and various salads, including the classic of escarole with a poached egg and bacon, mains of braised short ribs, trout in a red-wine reduction, crepes with goat cheese, hanger steak with béarnaise and fries.

We started off with the most surprising item among the appetizers: fried smelt, which came in a paper cone like French fries, along with crunchy batter-fried green beans that put a whole new spin on the term “crisp-tender.” I loved the slender, tender-fleshed little fish with a flavor rather like less-strong sardines; I wish more area restaurants served the various tiny fresh fish. These were dusted with a few minced fresh herbs and just the right amount of salt. They came with what the menu called a whole-grain mustard aioli; it was perfectly pleasant for dipping, but I could scarcely taste the mustard, and overall, it seemed bland.

A butter-lettuce salad veered in the opposite direction of a bit too much sweetness, thanks to a honey-tarragon vinaigrette and drizzle of pomegranate molasses—an underused ingredient, but here too dulcet a variety, and it clashed slightly with the tarragon. I liked the sections of blood oranges and the crunchy almonds, but the whole butter-lettuce leaves were a little hard to eat.

For entrees, my friend went with the beef short ribs, which were shredding-tender and lusciously meaty with the cut’s characteristic richness. The sweetish purée of parsnips alongside was offset by a pungent touch of horseradish in the short ribs’ glaze—a nicely balanced plate.

I chose a grilled pork loin, an enormous cut, which was not very thoroughly trimmed of its rim of fat—though, honestly, that just made it more delicious—and marked with an appetizing diamond-charred pattern. The dish overall was a touch too salty, with the roasted-shallot jus packing a saline wallop and the pork itself brined in what might have been an overly strong solution. That did, however, leave it moist and juicy, and it was cooked just right. The jus and the softly sweet roasted shallot added savory depth.

I liked the fresh note of a sprinkling of chopped herbs and greens—among them, minced celery leaves, an underused part of the rather lowly vegetable—and the Brussels sprouts were excellent, as our server had promised. They had been separated into delicate individual leaves and pan-tossed so they retained a little crunch and a lot of flavor, yet gained some caramelization. (Deleafing Brussels sprouts is a real pain, too, so I appreciated the effort.) The little round of apple bread pudding was thankfully not too sweet, and its apple flavor was subtle, overwhelmed by chunks of what tasted like smoky, salty pork—possibly overkill on this plate, but hard to object to. It all went nicely with a pinot noir from the short but reasonably wide-ranging wine list (that is, it’s not just chardonnays and cabs).

Desserts include twists on classics—citrus granita, poached-pear crème brûlée—and one outlier, an Asian-sounding “crispy banana” with coconut ice cream and pineapple chutney. We picked that one to share because it sounded interesting, and it was yummy: The bananas were encased in spring-roll wrappers, with a cinnamony, sugary sauce inside, and deep fried to crunchy goodness. The coconut ice cream was, well, coconut ice cream, and the pineapple was quite good, sweet and tropical, but not really what I would call chutney, as there was no hint of spice or pungency about it. Still, that’s a quibble, as is my feeling that serving the concoction in a martini glass, while stylish, seemed strangely precarious.

All told, though, it was a satisfying meal, and while there may be a few kinks to work out, I liked this bistro’s low-key style. The name may be a little bland, but the food isn’t.