Burgers, bistro earn wins for restaurateur

By: Art Garcia Telegraph Correspondent
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A bistro perched in a Target shopping center parking lot? Hardly seems the location for “the most romantic restaurant” in Folsom and El Dorado Hills, but the Bidwell Street Bistro and its owner, Richard Righton, have won over customers and food critics for nearly 10 years. “Food and service are the two major things,” Righton said. “You can have the most beautiful restaurant in the world, overlooking Lake Tahoe, but it won’t work if the food and service don’t.” The regularity of both also has been a hallmark of the bistro. “It’s always consistent,” said David Van Dam, a Sacramento attorney and amateur cook who lives in Fair Oaks and who has dined at Bidwell Street Bistro often. “My experience is the food has always been of very, very high quality. We’ve never had anything there that was average, and I’ve had a wide variety of its dishes,” he said. “The fresh fish is always great and the steaks are always of high quality. Everything is done as you order. If you ask for something medium-rare, you get it medium-rare.” Righton is applying his golden touch to a casual new patty-flipping and Martini crossover outlet, the Relish Hamburger Bar, also in a shopping center, but one that’s upscale in El Dorado Hills. Located in the Montano de El Dorado center, it opened in mid-March. “It’s a new fun place for burgers,” enthused Mia McDonald, a sales rep for Parker Development at Serrano. “What’s nice is you can have a beer or you can have a cocktail. Burger places traditionally don’t serve a beer. A lot of times people who go out for a burger, i.e., my husband, want to have a beer.” She describes Relish as “awesome” and is a big fan of its sweet potato fries. “I’m not a big hamburger person. We usually eat pretty organic, good-for-you type food, but once in a while you just crave a good burger,” she said. Relish burgers are “one they just take a step further. Call it a ‘one-step further’ burger,” said McDonald. “It also has a delightful patio that just opened and a beautiful bar area. It’s kind of unique.” There’s also live music Saturday evenings. Steaks at the Bidwell Street Bistro are rated “the best in town,” by one bank-clerk customer who asked that their name not be used. “It’s an old-fashioned, nice little steak place, which is hard to find around here and it definitely is consistently good. It seems personal. “The owner is always there, and that’s a big thing to me. It’s professional. The bistro doesn’t leave dirty dishes on the table, like some other restaurants,” this person said, recalling a recent experience. Righton, 44, who lives in Folsom, said the bistro recently introduced a new summer menu. Wendi Mentink, executive chef at the bistro, also oversees the food and quality control at Relish Burger Bar. She’s been with Righton at the bistro since it opened and has garnered numerous “best-of” awards for her creative and fresh seasonal menus. Although it’s called a French bistro, the reference is to its influence. “We have no one French working there and Wendi is a French chef but she’s not French. We do serve French wines and escargot,” chuckled Righton. The restaurant’s 10th anniversary is in October, “which should be fun,” he said. “I don’t know yet what we’re going to do. I want to have some music and see if we can take over the parking lot. We’ll have a big party. “Maybe we’ll roll back to the old prices of 10 years ago, maybe for a week. Maybe we’ll do a thank-you to our regular customers for the week we have a rollback in prices,” said Righton, a soccer dad for his two children. Relish received some criticism for slow service in its early weeks, a problem he said has been resolved. “We need another six months to fine-tune the menu and what we’re doing. It’s going very well, better than expected. The location is great and everybody loves the patio. I’m enjoying it but it’s just busy having two restaurants when you’ve been used to one for nine years.” With the opening of Relish, Righton talked about launching a third restaurant or a series of new eateries. “I’ve always wanted to run a gastro pub. That’s my dream,” he said, “like what they have in Europe and on the East Coast. Basically,” the native of England said, “a causal pub where you get good food and can have a bowl of mussels and a pint of ale.” * * * IN THE KNOW Most Romantic What: Bidwell Street Bistro Where: 1004 E. Bidwell St., Folsom Info: 984-7500, Best Burger What: Relish Burger Bar Where: 1000 White Rock Road, El Dorado Hills Info: 933-3100,