Jennifer Terman

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April 4, 2013
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Bistro 221 in Nevada City serves comfort food with an Italian twist

When you step through the doors of Bistro 221, the subtle lighting and brick walls set the mood with a minimalist yet upscale feel.

Then as you sit down and take in the menu, you discover an eclectic mix of American comfort food with an Italian twist.

Some of the highlights include the jambalaya and short ribs cooked in a flavorful wine sauce served with goat cheese polenta, and of course, no selection of comfort food fare would be complete without fried chicken, which the bistro serves with parsnip and potato mash.

For those craving Italian cuisine, patrons may choose among traditional dishes like spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna and linguine and clams.

“My target was to have something in Nevada City that no other restaurant has so as to not compete with any of the other restaurants, so they can keep their business, and I can have mine,” said Melissa Bryant, Bistro 221 owner. “I feel like we are upscale, family friendly.”

Bryant developed the menu with Christian Baker, owner of Radius and Radius Cafe in San Francisco, who also used his architectural experience to design the restaurant’s interior.

“I was trying to deal with the existing and wanted it to be refined but not too sophisticated, not pretentious,” Baker said. “I want to be able to accept anybody, any walk of life, and make them feel comfortable.”

Baker said he focuses on local produce and even buys and butchers chickens to get the freshest food possible.

“I don’t buy anything from US Foods or Sysco, nothing pre-portioned, pre-packaged. It’s all fresh, and I’m trying to do as local as possible,” Baker said, adding that the menu employs his grandmother’s cooking and French culinary training.

The restaurant’s debut was something Bryant had wanted for the past 16 years, ever since she began working in the food service industry at Cirino’s in Nevada City, which closed down in late January.

Formerly a manager at Cirino’s, Bryant stepped away to care for her children but found the timing right to open the bistro now that the kids are nearly ready to attend college.

“Having a restaurant has always been something I’ve wanted but continued to hold off while my kids were still younger and with two prime locations on Broad Street opening up, I decided now was the time,” Bryant said, adding she enjoys customer service, making people happy and great food.

“I love the restaurant business. Everybody thinks I’m crazy, but I love it.”

More than half of the former Cirino’s staff is employed at the bistro, which gives locals who loved Cirino’s service the chance to see familiar faces.

“I’m excited to have employed so many of the people I had worked with so long,” Bryant said. “It was very satisfying.”

The retention of Cirino’s employees not only gave staff members at Bistro 221 a job but a familiar comrade whom they had worked with before and were happy to support.

“We’re all feeling really excited to work here and excited and glad to be able to support Melissa,” said Lori Mitzel, a server who had worked at Cirino’s for more than 13 years. “It’s nice to be able to still see those customers.”

Bryant said the restaurant had only been open to the public for a few days but had already received repeat customers and two five-star Yelp reviews.

“It’s comforting to see the same faces,” said Dallas Guier, who visited Bistro 221 with his friend, Christopher Opalenik, for the second time.

“We love the food. The fried chicken was scrumptious,” Opalenik said. “The ambiance retains a classic feel with a modern twist. It’s a genuinely comfortable experience.”

To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email or call 530-477-4230.

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The Union Updated Apr 3, 2013 10:25AM Published Apr 5, 2013 04:25PM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.