Petaluma’s Brigitte Bistro Is the Real French Deal

Chef Nick Ronan’s truly authentic French bistro is a much-appreciated addition to Sonoma County's food scene.

For a long time, I’d given up on fancy French restaurants that boasted culinary superiority while kitchen staff worked the can opener on asparagus and veal demi-glace.

In the darkened dining rooms, dusty 1960s decor spoke of a long-gone age when men struck deals over hearty Burgundies, and women lunched over bottles of Chablis and salade vert. Thankfully, most of these scenarios have gone the way of the dinosaur.

But while classic French cuisine is at the heart of California’s cooking style — and most chefs cut their teeth making the mother sauces like béchamel and veloute — Sonoma County has only recently begun consistently embracing the authentic bistro-style and home cooking of France.

That’s why we’re saying a hearty, “Bonjour!,” to the new Brigitte Bistro in Petaluma.
Chef/owner Nick Ronan, who grew up between Paris and the south of France, is a guy who knows his French cuisine.

He’s worked in high-end European restaurants and co-founded several San Francisco restaurants, including the Pawn Shop, a now-shuttered dining experience requiring guests to enter through a faux pawn shop.

At Brigitte Bistro, he serves the kind of food he loves best: hearty bistro-style dishes like beef bourguignon and duck confit, along with tableside beef tartare and the requisite steak frites.
But instead of pandering to us, he brings the flavors of France directly to the table.

Ronan is a teddy bear of a guy with a propensity for enthusiastic hugging. His life motto (which everyone should have) is “Love. Food. Wine. Passion. Life. People,” which could come across as smarmy if he didn’t believe it wholeheartedly.

After going through several challenging years recently, including the death of his mother in 2023, he is even more dedicated to a life that embodies his personal tagline.

Bouef Bourguignon at Brigitte Bistro in Petaluma (Heather Irwin/The Press Democrat)
Bouef Bourguignon at Brigitte Bistro in Petaluma (Heather Irwin/The Press Democrat)
French onion soup at Brigitte Bistro in Petaluma (Heather Irwin/The Press Democrat)
French onion soup at Brigitte Bistro in Petaluma (Heather Irwin/The Press Democrat)

Housed in the former Wishbone and 3 Cooks Cafe space, which had become run down in recent years, Ronan gutted the interior and added walk-in bar seating, a chef’s counter overlooking the open kitchen, all new appliances and, somehow, a baby grand piano in the compact dining room.

After a few glasses of wine, Ronan said some piano-playing guests tickle the ivories with singalong favorites.

Wine is, naturally, a centerpiece of the menu. Most are approachably priced, with glasses mainly in the $12 to $18 range and bottles in the $32 to $80 range, though there are a handful over $200 if you’re feeling extravagant.

The wine list features Sonoma and Napa wines and well-selected French sippers that are excellent with food.

A few weeks after opening, service is on point, with several staff members coming from previous positions with Ronan. And, for patrons of the previous restaurants, the restroom is mercifully now inside. A minor detail, but funky, ice-cold potties accessed through the kitchen and down a claustrophobia-inducing alley always bugged me.

For Ronan, Brigitte Bistro isn’t a Michelin quest but a neighborhood gathering spot for a relaxed meal in the French tradition of feeding family and friends with love and passion.

Tableside tartare Brigitte Bistro in Petaluma (Heather Irwin/The Press Democrat)
Tableside tartare Brigitte Bistro in Petaluma (Heather Irwin/The Press Democrat)

Best bets

Onion Soup Gratinée, $16: I’ve finally found the onion soup that’s eluded me for decades. Not too sweet, not too salty, but just right. The kitchen doesn’t overwhelm the bowl with too many onions, and they’re caramelized exactly right. The melted Gruyere pulls like Rapunzel’s hair.

Tableside Steak Tartare, $18: A plate of individual ingredients — raw chopped beef, mustard, cornichons, capers and Worcestershire sauce — arrives at the table and is quickly swept into a bowl to be mixed before your eyes. It’s both a show and an appetizer.

Grandma Escargots, $16: To be fair, most escargots come from a can, and that’s not a fault. Most French fries come from a bag. Slathered in garlic and butter, they’re darn tasty, but even better is side tartine — a thick slab of bread smothered in parsley garlic butter with garlic confit. You’ll want to sleep alone after eating them.

Beef Bourguignon, $34: This is required dining. Impressive cubes of braised beef in a red wine-port broth melt with the touch of a fork into buttery parsnip puree. I’ve had good, bad and horrifying versions of this classic dish (which only a French person should ever be allowed to cook), but rarely anything worth noting. Ronan’s is outstanding (the one at Augie’s French in Santa Rosa is also incredible), and finally have a benchmark to beat.

Duck Confit, $36: This dish features another tableside performance: a top hat of mixed mushrooms and leeks in truffle sauce poured over the crisp-skinned duck. It is served with potatoes mille-feuille, thinly sliced potatoes cooked lasagna-style in fat. Order some extra bread to sop up all the extra sauce.

Chocolate Fondant, $12: If you’re a chocolate lover, this lava-style cake is for you. Served with sea salt caramel ice cream.

Childhood Vanilla Flan, $12: The name doesn’t do justice to the slice of creamy but slightly firm flan dotted with vanilla beans. Simple and not overly heavy with a perfect scoop of raspberry (on my visit) ice cream.

If you go

What: Brigitte Bistro

Why: Truly authentic French bistro fare made with love and passion is a much-appreciated addition to Sonoma County’s food scene.

Where: 841 Petaluma Blvd. North, Petaluma

Information: 707-981-8381;

Hours: Open for dinner. Brunch coming soon.