Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Downtown Joe's (the sequel) and Bistro Sabor

I had planned to take advantage of a local happy hour today -- specifically, happy hour at Bounty Hunter wines and BBQ in downtown Napa. The cool, rainy weekend really weather for some reason really put me in the mood for some barbecue, so we were thinking of Bounty Hunter but when we looked up their website, we saw that they have some happy hour specials during the week, so we decided to postpone it and give the Red Rock Cafe / Back Door BBQ a try instead.

Well, for some reason that mood has passed and I wasn't really in the mood for BBQ, or even wine for that matter. But Sarah and I were still home from work and available for a happy hour (a rare feat that we can both be home before 6 pm), so I hopped off the VINE route 10 bus at the Pearl St. transit center downtown anyway. On the way, I called Sarah and told her maybe we should give Downtown Joe's brewery/restaurant another try -- after all, I had been gypped out of their happy hour last time, so I wanted to give it a try and was also suddenly craving fried calamari (plus, I can't get their Old Magnolia stout out of my mind -- it is ridiculously smooth and well-balanced. I think it may be my new favorite stout.)

We showed up at 5:30, plenty of time to spare before happy hour ended (at 6:00). I had planned to take a seat at the bar like last time, but unlike last time (in which the bar was practically empty), today was crazy! Every seat at the bar was taken... on a Tuesday? What is up with this? I thought. We sat ourselves at one of the small tables, and were promptly ignored for 10 minutes. Eventually we talked to a hostess girl (who had not been there when we arrived) and she brought us some menus -- hmmm... no happy hour menus or mention of happy hour anywhere. I was pretty confused. Last time the happy hour menus were just sitting out. So we went and specifically asked her if there were happy hour specials; at that point, she said there were and gave us the menus. Wow, these folks will do anything to make you pay more money, huh? If you really don't want to give people a deal, why even bother having a happy hour? There's no law that says you have to.

After about 10 minutes, she came back and asked if we had been served; when we said no, she said she'd look into it. Nobody ever showed up, but we saw 2 people leave the bar and we decided to shift our location to where we might actually get service, at the bar. We sat down and were promptly ignored for another 10 minutes. Sarah said "This is ridiculous, I'm really about ready to leave", which we were about to do when finally the bartender (an unpolished woman by the name of "Patty") asked what she could get for us. We ordered a Tail Waggin' Amber, Old Magnolia Stout, and an order of calamari -- we had already talked it over and decided we wanted our main meal to be at the new downtown Latin/fusion taqueria called Bistro Sabor.

She quickly poured our beers for us and sloppily set them in front of us (to the point mine was a wet, sticky mess -- and with no napkins provided or in sight. I found one at one of the tables and used it to mop up my beer.) Eventually the calamari arrived and was actually pretty good -- nicely battered and tender and juicy -- but still no napkins or silverware. Meanwhile, Patty was pouring drinks left and right; it turns out, the reason they were being run ragged is because today happened to be the day they were holding a "BBQ Rib Cookoff" in their outdoor seating area, and already there were tons of people who are just the type for Downtown Joe's. If you are an Ed Hardy-wearing West Coast Choppers fan, this might be the place for you. I wouldn't be surprised to see Jesse James and one of his mistresses here. Then again, you won't get service unless you are one of the "regulars", with a name or nickname like Dusty or Smoky or Slim. Although this is not my type of people, I don't have anything against this particular subculture -- until they pull an exclusivist attitude like this and frown upon people who actually have class.

After our beers and snack, we headed west on First St. to Bistro Sabor, a corner taqueria with a twist. This is a newish establishment opened by Ariel Ceja, son of Amelia Ceja who is the owner of Ceja Vineyards winery. I had never tried Ceja's wines, but had heard of them, and had heard that the food at Bistro Sabor was pretty good.

We walked inside and looked around, trying to figure out how it worked -- looked like a typical order-at-the-counter-then-wait-at-a-table setup (with numbers marking where the order should be delivered), which has always made a lot of sense if you ask me. We perused the white board menu and a slender, hiply-dressed young Hispanic man came over and started talking to us, explaining the menu and how things worked. He was very friendly, eager and energetic, so I could only presume this was the owner (Ariel)... and I was right.

We ordered a chile relleno ($9) and an order of braised short-rib tacos ($10) -- actually sort of an Asian/Mexican fusion, as the ribs have sesame seeds and a sort of teriyaki flavor, served with Napa cabbage. In fact, the goal and vibe of this place is a sort of hip, urban mashup of popular "young people" foods -- Mexican, Asian, and Cuban influences. There is colorful graffiti mural art on one wall, and they serve 20 different beers as well as several types of sake... and, of course, Ceja wines. We decided to try a glass of wine as well, but the prices were a little prohibitive -- normally we would have tried a glass of the pinot noir, but at $11/glass (for your own house wine?) that was too steep. We decided to try the "Vino de Casa Red" blend (also seemed a bit pricey at $8/glass)

The wine was actually quite good -- very smooth and balanced, not sure what was in it but I definitely picked up on a pinot noir flavor which seems rare for red table wine blends, but it definitely had some richer grapes in there as well... seemed like syrah, but maybe merlot? cabernet? This is a very quaffable wine, though, and we polished it off quickly. The food was good, nothing to complain about -- the prices are a little higher than average; you can get similarly-good food at local taco trucks and taquerias for a little bit lower price... but not a whole lot less, and you can't get interesting fusions of flavors like the Asian-braised short ribs. Ariel was very attentive, checking to see how we liked the food and wine and also offering to bring us an extra glass of water when we needed it (even though the setup is self-serve). I found it refreshing to see a business owner recognize the value of being present and being hands-on, actually putting plenty of his own energy and labor and pride into his restaurant. You don't always find that everywhere.

Possibly the main selling point -- and the main reason I would return to Bistro Sabor -- is the fact that Ariel has recognized the need for a legitimate "night spot" in Napa; Bistro Sabor is open until midnight on weekdays and until 2 am on weekends, and they even move the tables and chairs aside to turn it into a little salsa-dancing club on Saturdays.

1 comment:

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