Something fishy this way comes

When 33rd Street Bistro opened nearly five years ago, touting its special take on Pacific Northwestern cuisine, I’ll admit I was slightly amused. As a former longtime resident of the region, I hadn’t realized it had its own cuisine.

That hasn’t stopped me from frequenting 33rd Street’s East Sacramento location and its Arden Fair Mall extension. I’ve had good meals at both places. In particular, I recall a salmon sandwich at the mall that was fairly toothsome. It didn’t exactly sing “Seattle” to me, but the price was right, and price, as it turns out, is what defines the Bistro more than any other element. Here you’ll find reasonable gourmet food that won’t break your bank account, but it’s really not all that different from the fare offered at other medium-priced nouvelle cuisine eateries.

The Junebug and I popped in to the East Sac location with a couple of friends on a recent Saturday night and were pleasantly surprised to find there was no wait, despite the warning we had received when we called the Bistro and discovered it didn’t take reservations. The tables looking out onto Folsom Boulevard through the restaurant’s expansive front windows were taken, so we were seated on the far side, next to a brick wall, close enough to the open kitchen to see sweat on the spiky-haired assistant cook’s brow. I found myself longing for the days when the wearing of headgear was required of all kitchen employees.

We started with a pair of appetizers, crisp shrimp cigars with plum sauce and a Dungeness crab with artichoke dip and parmesan crustini. The cigars, stuffed with a practically tasteless shrimp mixture, were no Cubans. There was plenty of crab in the second appetizer, but the artichoke sauce was so heavy the crab might as well have been creamed herring.

We sampled two salads, garden and spinach. Both were drenched with dressing, red wine vinaigrette on the former and citrus shallot on the latter. The garden salad had too much crumbled Oregon bleu cheese, just the right amount of cracked hazelnuts, but not enough currants; the ingredients, overpowered by the cheese, failed to gel.

It was around the time that we completed the salads that I began to notice another drawback of our proximity to the open kitchen. There were two salmon selections on the menu, and the odor from the cooking of said fish seemed to descend upon our table like the little storm cloud that used to follow Broom Hilda around. It definitely made for olfactory confusion.

For entrées, I went for the St. Paddy’s Day special—corned beef and cabbage. The steamed cabbage and new potatoes were splendid, and so was the honey roasted corned beef—what little there was of it. The huge piece of “meat” on my plate was more than 50 percent fat. The Junebug and one of our guests selected fettuccini and seared prawns with sweet and spicy mamou sauce. The sauce was as advertised, the noodles were tender and wide, the smallish shrimp overcooked. “I ate it all; it wasn’t revolting,” our guest commented. “Where’s the side vegetable?” wondered the Junebug.

The entrée of the night was wild mushroom ravioli with ginger cream sauce and roasted crimini mushrooms. The round ravioli, served on a large, triangular platter, looked like running lights on a UFO; they were stuffed with mushrooms that had a decidedly different taste and texture than the small mound of criminis resting in the center of the plate. The sauce was light with a mild ginger flavor. Superb!

A one-out-of-four batting average may get you on the Mariners, but it was left up to dessert to rally the Bistro’s fat out of the fire. A dry blueberry cobbler failed to score, and just as I sampled my first bite of a most excellent chocolate pâté, I was struck by an enormous whiff of salmon, which blended with the chocolate in a most unsatisfactory manner.

I don’t know. Maybe that’s the way they like it in Seattle. But here in Sacramento, that’s what we call a swing and a miss.