"I can do breakfast for dinner, but not dinner for breakfast," said my lunch pal, warily eyeing my plate of sautéed salmon with eggs, crispy-soft red potatoes and thick, addictive slices of toasted bread, fragrant with fresh rosemary. Like all the breads at Zac Jack Bistro, it's made in-house.
"The only reason I got the salmon is because they're out of trout," I explained. She made a face and turned to her own plate of more traditional scrambled eggs and crisp, thick-cut applewood-smoked bacon.
We also ordered a patty of house-made pork breakfast sausage (expertly seasoned and big enough for two) and a biscuit, which was surprisingly dense and dry.
The bistro opened the first week of July in Cameron Park, a satellite of the high-end Zachary Jacques French country dinner house outside Placerville (1821 Pleasant Valley Road; 530-626-8045).
Both are co-owned and operated by Cordon Bleu-trained executive chef John Evans and his wife, Lynnette Evans. The bistro occupies the space formerly held by the Red Bud Cafe, and the interior was well thought-out: textured walls, framed art, lots of glass, an open kitchen and a wood-fired pizza oven.
"We're still trying to figure out the food, the hours and the customer profile. It's been a learning process," John Evans said by phone Tuesday. "Above us (east on Highway 50) is country, below us is metropolitan. We're in between two types of customers."
Certainly, the bistro delivers its tagline promise of "everyday gourmet cuisine." Prices are fair, portions are generous, the quality ingredients are fresh.
For breakfast, look for pancakes, French toast and various combinations of meat-eggs-potatoes ($6.50 to $12.50).
Which sounds standard, but isn't. For instance, French toast shows up as huge slices of macadamia-nut bread dipped in coconut custard, grilled dark and topped with macadamia nuts, with coconut syrup on the side. Then there's a filet mignon with horseradish cream and vegetable hash.
On a lunch outing a few days earlier, we passed on the four salad options, were tempted by the "two-day slow-cooked French onion soup" and settled for a world-class burger with fresh-cut, skin-on french fries and house-made ketchup, and a luscious grilled-cheese sandwich ("croque") with chopped braised shortrib.
Unfortunately, the coleslaw on the croque was so bitter and dry we scraped it off.
"We're making adjustments and sometimes things fall through the cracks," John Evans explained. The half-pound burger made up for it the meat is freshly ground trim from Wagyu (American Kobe) steaks. Lunch items are $6 to $14.
We liked breakfast better than lunch though the pizzas looked great with dinner on our to-do list.
San Francisco elegance
There was so much pedestrian traffic around Union Square the day after Christmas that the local constables were called in to help move things along.
We found respite at the elegant Rotunda restaurant, on the fourth floor of Neiman Marcus. The menu can bring on sticker shock ($7 to $28), but context is everything. After all, the department store chain is famous for its over-the-top merchandise, and this branch is in an exclusive shopping district in one of the world's most expensive cities.
For openers, the amuse-bouche ("mouth amuser") of intense chicken stock chased away the chill from outside. It was followed by warm, airy popovers with strawberry-infused butter, absolutely delicious.
We could have stopped there, but continued with a bright crab-and-shrimp Louie with rich Thousand Island dressing, and a veggie-heavy chicken pot pie improved with the help of the pepper grinder.
The top of the department store's 80-foot-tall Christmas tree rose above us, taking our view to the oval-shaped domed rotunda itself. It's an amazing display of sculpture from 1909 that once graced the inside of the historic City of Paris department store, where Neiman Marcus now stands. The sight is reason enough for a visit, along with the great views and impeccable service.
Rotunda restaurant inside Neiman Marcus, 150 Stockton St., San Francisco; (415) 249-2720, www.neimanmarcus.com. Serving from one menu, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, noon-4 p.m. Sundays.
ZAC JACK BISTRO
WHERE: 3275 Coach Lane, Cameron Park
HOURS: Open daily. Breakfast is 8 a.m.-2 p.m.; lunch is 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Dinner is 4-9ish p.m. Sundays-Thursdays, 4-10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays.
FOOD: 4 1/2 stars
AMBIENCE: 2 1/2 stars
HOW MUCH: $-$$
INFORMATION: (530) 676-2969, www.zacharyjacques.com
By Allen Pierleoni