First Look: Flavor Bistro Returns

Former favorite downtown Santa Rosa restaurant reopens in Sebastopol.

In 2016, when Flavor Bistro in downtown Santa Rosa closed, there was a collective groan. Gone was the place your boss took the team after a big project launch. Gone was that perfect not-too-expensive spot to take mom and dad to dinner when they visited, to meet for a first date or escape for date night.

We didn’t appreciate you, Flavor Bistro, until you disappeared from our lives. You were the “something for everyone” place that was never too avant garde or divisive, not too spicy nor bland, reasonably priced and good for kids as well as grandpa’s resolute order of well-done pork chops no matter what else was on the menu.

After you left, we paced around the empty restaurant front for months, seeking signs of life that never came to fruition. We suffered from bomba cravings daily. There were many rumors and false alarms. Most of us finally gave up in hopelessness for nearly almost five years — until news broke that Flavor Bistro was really, really, for sure returning, this time in Sebastopol.

It’s exceedingly rare for a restaurant to reopen and even more rare for it to be just as good. But a much-needed Wine Country miracle seemed to have happened when a pile of takeout meals from Flavor appeared in my kitchen after a long, awful, exhausting day, courtesy of my husband.

Like you, I’ve been mired in exhaustion and burnout for the last six months and craving carbs in a ravenous sort of way. Removing pasta salad, Goldfish crackers or a Bob Evan’s tub of sour cream and chives mashed potatoes out of my claw-like hands is now futile unless there’s something infinitely better — like pillows of butternut squash ravioli in sage brown butter with walnut gremolata or a pork chop in a pool of cream sauce with gratin potatoes or a buttery apple tart with caramel sauce and Flavor Bistro’s famous dessert bombas.

Oh yes, friends, they’re all back. Did I mention the crab cakes with crispy shoestring yams?

Before you get too wrapped up in the menu, however, I do have some bad news. It’s quite abbreviated and some favorites — the Singapore noodles, short ribs, breakfasts and Croque Madame — haven’t made the cut. I don’t doubt that will change as they bring back lunch (and possibly breakfast), but do manage your expectations.

I’m going to mention here, too, the prices, which are part of the charm.

What I especially appreciated with the takeout dishes was the care and thought put into the packaging. I’ve received far too many sloppy, gloppy, drippy, gross bags of mystery food. This time, each entree arrived as neatly put together as it would have on a plate at the restaurant. Oh, Flavor Bistro, we’ve missed you, and you’ve come back to us with your Sonoma County comfort food at just the moment we need you most.

Butternut Ravioli with toasted sage butter, parmigiano, and walnut gremolata from Flavor Bistro in Sebastopol. (Photo by John Burgess/The Press Democrat)
Butternut Ravioli with toasted sage butter, parmigiano, and walnut gremolata from Flavor Bistro in Sebastopol. (Photo by John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

Best Bets

Sauteed Dungeness Crab Cakes, $10.95: Perfect in every way but one: I hate red bell pepper in my crab cakes, because it overpowers the crab. Your experience may differ, and frankly, it’s not a reason I wouldn’t order them every time.

Salmon Carpaccio, $9.95: House-cured salmon with capers and olive oil is lip-smackingly rich. Piled onto toasted bruschetta with balsamic (which, even a little soggy the next day, held up).

Butternut Ravioli, $10.95/$13.95: I’ve already sung its praises, but it’s the taste of fall with fried sage leaves and nutty brown butter.

Molly’s Chicken, $12.95: It’s not a huge portion, but the slow-cooked chicken with warm, sweet Mediterranean spices, white wine and citrus is worth it. Savoring the pureed potatoes, at least for me, is like tucking into bed on a cold night under a cozy comforter.

Pork chop, $14.95: Nicely braised chop covered with dried fruit compote in a cream sauce.

Caramelized Apple Galette, $6.95: Crispy crust, soft apples and caramel drizzle served with ice cream. Mine melted, but it was even better after a few hours in the freezer.

Dinner only for now, open 4-10 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Outdoor patio, limited parking, simple online ordering at 7365 Healdsburg Ave., Sebastopol, 707-861-3642.