Last week, after an extensive remodel that began in late January or early February, K & L Bistro (119 South Main St.) hosted a soft opening, with a staff dinner one night and two nights of service. This Saturday there will be a Champagne reception and then on Monday it is business as usual, so to speak. With the expansion comes extended days and hours. The restaurant will now be open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
K & L Bistro originally opened in October 2001. It is owned and operated by Karen and Lucas Martin, who met at Vicolo Pizza in San Francisco and also cooked together at Hayes Street Grill. Both restaurants are owned by Patricia Unterman, long-time restaurant critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, before Michael Bauer took over.
During the restaurant’s tenure, the Martins have raised their two sons, Lucas, now in Middle School, and Jack, who is in elementary school. They’ve weathered lean times intelligently–the proof is simple; they have endured–and have now taken over the entire brick-walled building which, initially, included three businesses, the restaurant, a knit shop and a small spa. K & L closed in January and reopens to the public on Monday, May 26.
The new digs are impressive. What was the restaurant is now a full bar with a Parisian-style raw bar, where a daily happy hour, from 3 to 6 p.m., features oysters on the half shell at a reduced price.
An archway leads to an expansive dining room that somehow retains the intimate feel of the original space. In some ways, it’s even more appealing, in part because the sound level is a tad lower. You can easily converse with table mates, even when the restaurant is full, as it was on Thursday evening when I enjoyed a soft-opening dinner.
During trial runs, food was exactly what you’d expect, Karen and Lucas Martin’s spot-on bistro cuisine. The year’s first Padron chiles are on the menu and there’s a fabulous salad of farro, fresh favas, shaved radishes and a lovely lemon vinaigrette. Favorite dishes–tuna tartare, Dungeness crab cakes and boudin blanc sausages, for example–join new items, including grilled local Pacific King salmon with corn and fava succotash and risotto with Meyer lemon and asparagus.
Cocktails are a mix of tradition and innovation. “La Palabra” combines mezcal, habanero syrup and chocolate bitters but if your tastes run to the classic, you’ll find Daquiris, Sazeracs, Corpse Revivers and more.
Starting Monday, the restaurant will be open daily for lunch and dinner, with a special bar menu for midday and late night dining. For reservations, call 823-6614.
The remodel, the oyster bar and the extended hours should garner the attention the restaurant has always warranted but not always received. It is one of the finest restaurants in Sonoma County–it’s clearly in the top ten, probably in the top five–and one of the best in the Bay Area, as well. But it is not acknowledged on the Bay Area Top 100 Restaurant List and many writers seem to overlook it.
Lucas Martin is a former pro-soccer player who was on the national team, which will be relevant in a few weeks when it is time for the World Cup, so stay tuned.
Jeff Cox reviewed K & L Bistro in “Dining Out” in February, 2010. You can read that review here. I have one quibble with it. He hated the Shaved Brussels Sprouts salad, which is one of my favorite things whenever it is on the menu. Maybe it was an off night or maybe Jeff simply does not have a palate for Brussels Sprouts, especially raw; many people don’t. But I have headed to the restaurant more than once just for this dish. It doesn’t matter now, as Brussels Sprouts are now out of season and won’t be back until sometime in the fall. For now, it’s all about asparagus, favas, radishes, Padrons and, very soon, tomatoes.