We decided to take a break from barbecue, sub sandwiches and grilled cheese to fancify this column with some highfalutin fare. Which led us to Bacchus House Wine Bar & Bistro in Folsom, a place with a real chef and a banquet room-wedding site holding a baby grand piano and a regularly scheduled pianist, classical guitarist and harpist. A far cry from tater tots and paper napkins.
You won’t find pizza on the menu (though the flatbread is sensational) or hot dogs (the wild boar sausage is better), but there is a burger (wagyu beef, of course). Bacchus House is so focused on walking the farm-to-fork talk that its menu lists its “featured farms” purveyors, which include Niman Ranch, Del Rio Botanical and Twin Peaks Orchards.
Let’s get some context: In Roman mythology, Bacchus was the god of party time – the wine and grape harvest, revelry and “hilarity” – in Greek, the name is Dionysus. Bacchus’ mythological groupies were satyrs (part man, part goat, all lasciviousness) and maenads, enthusiastic women who were prone to overindulging and dancing in a free-spirited sort of way.
A grape cluster-covered statue of Bacchus poses in the Bacchus House dining room, and in the men’s restroom are prints of ancient (and inspirational) paintings depicting the god and his followers in full-tilt boogie mode.
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Bacchus House was once Bidwell Street Bistro, which debuted in 2000, changed hands twice and opened in its present incarnation in 2014 under the co-ownership of Eric Adams and chef Victor Octavio.
“Chef Octavio runs the back of the house. I run the front of the house, a perfect yin and yang (based on) the 25 years we had our event-planning and catering company,” said Adams on the phone later.
The menu shows intricate dishes with flavors that melded in harmony, as it turned out. On the menu are a trio of soups and salads (Fuji apple, white cheddar, two lettuces, sun-dried cranberries and toasted pecans with honey-mustard vinaigrette), small plates (steamed clams, ahi with ginger-sesame sauce), entrees (pan-roasted chicken breast with hazelnut brandy-cream sauce, prime rib French dip with ruby port jus) and sides ($6 to $18).
Our spread opened with a huge platter crowded with three delectable cheeses (manchego, brie and mild goat), orchard-ripe purple grapes and green apple slices, quince paste and mixed nuts, and crostini that was cut too thick, making it rocklike for some of us, just right for others.
Plenty of restaurants serve flatbread, but this version set the bar. The thin sheet of crusty bread was galvanized with house-made pesto, sautéed shrimp, spinach, wild mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes topped with garlic cream sauce that aggregated the flavors and textures. A similar treatment is given to a portobello mushroom.
Lean slices of grilled wild boar sausage were a pleasant surprise – crispy-chewy with a deep flavor perfectly complemented by a topping of huckleberry compote, adding a sweet-sour note to the robust pork.
We’ve seldom seen fried calamari so light, crispy and non-oily. “I’m not a calamari person, but this is the best I’ve had,” said a lunch pal. Chewy fried lemon slices accompanied, making for little bursts of citrus flavor in between bites of the squid. Of the two dipping sauces, the chipotle aioli was the right one.
One of the daily specials was the classic Russian dish beef stroganoff, a heaping bowl of tender beef cubes, al-dente penne pasta and mushrooms joining a complex sauce dolloped with sour cream. Splendid.
Decor-wise, the stone-tile tables were classy, but we agreed the dining room was way busy – potted plants over here, lots of curlicue wrought iron over there, faux grape clusters spilling down from the full bar. Everything seemed to be in motion, but many diners like such fuss.
It was the ceiling, though, that puzzled us. About 400 detachable “rosettes” – cross-shaped doodads with pearlescent mini-domes in the middle – dominated it.
“People love them,” Adams said. “We are in a strip mall, so you have to give the love you can to the space you have.”
Plans are in the works to redesign the banquet room and martini bar into a space “reminiscent of the Great Gatsby era of the 1920s, to bring back some old-school class to a tiny part of town,” Adams said.
We’ll return to Bacchus House for the grilled crabcakes, pappardelle with salmon, the dry jack cheeseburger (adding crispy bacon for $2), and a closer look at the extensive wine list.
“We just signed a 10-year lease, so we’re going to be around for a while,” Adams said.
And aren’t we glad of that.
Bacchus House Wine Bar & Bistro
Where: 1004 E. Bidwell St., Folsom
Hours: Lunch is 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; dinner is 5-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; Sunday supper is 4-8 p.m. Happy hour is 4 p.m.-closing Tuesdays, 4-7 p.m. Wednesdays.
How much: $$-$$$