Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine “Restaurant Review” February 2011
By Dorothy & John Salmon
We have loved Amelia and Pedro Ceja and their remarkable kids since the minute we met them several years ago. We have watched the Ceja children grow into successful young adults, as they prosper by never saying “no” to new adventures, especially in downtown Napa. For a couple of years they have had their wonderful Ceja Wines Tasting Room on First Street, just a few feet away from the Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Shop. The Ceja’s embody the heart of the Latin kitchen, home, vineyard and gusto for life.
Amelia and Pedro’s son, Ariel, owns Bistro Sabor and is blessed with his Mother’s enthusiasm, sales style, incredible energy and creativity, plus his Father’s strong work ethic. Before opening Bistro Sabor, Ariel not only helped out in the family’s vineyards and in the tasting room, he also taught salsa lessons at the tasting room prior to opening Bistro Sabor. So, guess where you can take a salsa lesson now?
For locals who remember Chino Yip’s First Squeeze Restaurant, that’s where you will find Bistro Sabor today. Ariel jumped into his first restaurant endeavor with Bistro Sabor and it is a whopping success. Drive down First Street any weekend and the place will be packed with young entrepreneurs, great looking young adults, many who are NOT all that young, and an assortment of folks who want an urban Latin flavor to their food and their environment. Bistro Sabor is bright, VERY urban, cool, funky and full of fun.
John and I were lucky enough to dine at Bistro Sabor with Ariel’s remarkable Mother, Amelia. All three of Amelia’s children have her spark, and Ariel REALLY got her enthusiasm. The food is very good, interesting and reasonably priced. It is a cool place to hang out and experience what today’s young people are like, what they like and how much more sophisticated they are, in many ways, than their parents’ generation. If you want to experience the world of food and wine today, especially for the 20 something’s, what’s not to like about a Latin restaurant with bright colors, amazing and varied Latin food owned by a film graduate from a well-known wine family while taking Salsa dance classes on Saturday nights from 10:00 p.m. to 2:00 A.M.?
There is no cover charge and you don’t even need a partner. Who knows, you might meet one there! Irish chef, Jeff Murphy, teamed up with Ariel after meeting him at Salsa Dance Classes up the street at the Ceja Tasting Room. Chef Murphy has lived in New York, Silicon Valley, Hawaii and France, prepped for Jaques Pepin and opened 13 California Café Restaurants along with opening his own restaurant in Oakland. When he decided to take salsa lessons from Ariel, that was it. They became great friends and the rest is history. Getting Amelia Ceja’s advice and experience with the menu helped seal the deal.
Bistro Sabor offers a unique ethnic experience that’s fun & affordable and it is all served with wonderful Ceja wines, an assortment of great beers and Sake. Ariel is a homegrown product of Napa with years of experience in his Mother’s kitchen, with tutoring from Amelia, who is a gourmet chef, cookbook author and terrific hostess.
Chef Jeff Murphy and Ariel Ceja offer varied Latin comfort food originating from many Latin American Countries, taking typical street food to new heights. The bigger than life “Tacos and Sake” sign outside Bistro Sabor lets you know right away that this is not your typical place to go just for tacos. The menu prices range from $6 and $12 and include both lighter and heavier fare. Since this is the cool hangout in town, there is a bar with a large flat screen TV and salsa music going night and day.
Since we were with Amelia, she made sure we tried everything! For starters Amelia ordered the Shitake Mushroom and Braised Onion Quesadillas with Oaxaca cheese and salsa verde ($6) and the Chorizo Sausages and Spinach Quesadillas with Oaxaca cheese and salsa verde ($6). Next came the Marisco’s (Seafood) and the Salmon Ceviche Tostada ($10). They were really good! Next, the Salad “Nuevo Mundo with organic romaine, avocado, Roma tomato, red cabbage, pepitas, cotija cheese, kalamata olives and cilantro vinaigrette ($9). We were drinking, of course, Ceja Carneros Pinot Noir ($48), which we think is one of the best in the Valley. For diversity, we also tried the Watermelon Wheat Beer from San Francisco ($5), which John liked and thought was very interesting.
After catching up with each other’s lives and having fun watching all the young people in the restaurant, we took a short break before eating the Torta, a Mexican sandwich served with a side of sweet potato fries ($9) and the El Pollo Loca with grilled chicken, spicy guacamole, refried beans, red onions, Swiss and Cotija cheese ($9). We were really full by this time and would have been happy to call it a night, but Amelia convinced us to try the Pupusa Plates, a Salvadorian dish of hand-made corn, stuffed
with cheese and cabbage curtido and salsa fresca ($9) and the Pulled Tinga Pork ($8). They were delicious too!
We completed our meal with some great desert sampling (Fresh Churros with chocolate salsa ($5) and Almond Flan with raspberries ($5). Both were amazing, but we struggled a bit to finish the fresh made churros. After Dorothy’s years of managing the Town and Country Fair, with churros on every corner of every Fair in California, these churros were MUCH better, but we were too full to finish everything.
Dishes from Cuba, Mexico, Central and South America are served in this 50-seat eatery. Bay Area graffiti legend Estria dropped by before the opening to tag a wall with colorful Latin- American references, ranging from street scenes to dancers, La Lucha (the struggle) to colorful Mexican superhero parody, Chapulin Colorado.
Stop by Bistro Sabor and give it a try. You won’t be disappointed!
Bistro Sabor is open from 11:00 a.m. to midnight
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and
Sunday and until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. Tuesdays is locals’ night with happy hour all night.
Draft beer is $3, wine specials are $5 and quesadillas are $3.
For information and take-out, call (707) 252-0555.