The menu involves a bit of trust for those of us who’ve gotten used to gushing California cuisine menus that explain every carrot and piece of lettuce in painstaking detail. Descriptions like “beef braised in red wine with garlic, onions, olive and carrots” don’t exactly tease the senses. Keep the faith, however.
A simple butter lettuce salad with tarragon mustard vinaigrette looks dull, but bursts with clean, sharp flavor. Assiette de Charcuterie ($12) is a wooden cutting board with a rustic rabbit terrine, seeded mustard, fresh bread and creamy jar of chicken liver mousse that prompted an outburst of such foodie ecstasy that McNibs got a momentary look of panic.
It’s ever so thoughtful when neighboring tables get their entrees before you order. A glimpse of the Boeuf en Daube a la Provencale ($22) sealed the deal. The braised beef in its own cast iron pot falls to pieces when you all but look at it, having spent hours chumming it up with red wine, garlic, onions and olives. The surprise co-star is a dish of mashed potatoes perfumed with herbes de Provence (lavender, rosemary, basil, thyme). A half-roasted Liberty duck ($24) doesn’t sound particularly exciting, but sitting in pool of buttery carrot sauce it’s finger-lickin’ good.
Treat yourself to a cone of pommes frites ($5.25) that come with their own tiny jar of aioli. You’ll be fighting over the mayo dip within seconds.
Dessert was the only let-down of the night. An apple tart with caramel sauce was pretty as a picture, but didn’t quite live up to expectations. The apples weren’t tart enough. The crust wasn’t quite buttery enough. The caramel — well, not quite caramel-y enough. It was good, just not great. Other desserts include a lavender creme brulee, chocolate pot de creme, and fresh berries.
The wine list is priced in line with the menu, featuring plenty of local wines and a $5 corking discount for Sonoma County wines. Skip right to the by-the-glass menu that offers great bistro-style wines from France and California in 3 and 6-ounce pours in glass carafes. With the noise level inside the crowded bistro sometimes reaching ear-splitting levels, it helps dull the hoots and cackles of annoying neighbors.
Heading out to Occidental can be a bit of a commitment, especially if you’re planning to have a glass of wine, but this inconspicuous cafe’s cooking makes any inconvenience well worth the trouble. Especially with a take-out box of chicken liver mousse to look forward to tomorrow.
Bistro des Copains, 3782 Bohemian Hwy, Occidental, 707.874.2436. Dinner Sunday-Thursday 5pm to 9pm, Friday and Saturday until 10pm. It can be hard to get through for reservations outside of dinner hours, so be patient. Same-day seating is usually possible, even on weekends. There’s a small deck for patio dining when nights warm up and Tuesday is Locals’ Night, with free corkage on Sonoma County wines.