Hidden in an outdoor shopping center near Castro Valley Boulevard, Village Bistro seems both out of place and out of time. The tiny restaurant serves continental food with some Asian flavors sprinkled about. This is comfort food at its best: braised short ribs, chicken cordon bleu, roast pork with apple sauce, and chicken stroganoff. Forget the calories, this stuff warms your soul and gratifies your palate.
A storefront restaurant, Village Bistro tries hard to look somewhat elegant with white linens and tall carnations at each table. At dinner, at least, the shopping center is deserted so you can more or less forget about its surroundings. Unfortunately (for the owners), that Wednesday night in June 2004, Village Bistro was deserted as well. There was only one other party when we got there and no one else came while we were there. It's not surprising since its location is not prime for easy discovery and I've barely seen any references to the restaurant on the internet. It is, however, sad as it is certainly one of the best places to eat in Castro Valley (which of course, is not saying much, but still, you'd think it would lead to more recognition). I imagine their lunch business must be better, though their menu is overpriced for lunch.
The chef, a friendly Vietnamese woman who has been living in the U.S. for more 35 years, also served as the waitress that night. We found her charming, though she might be a little bit too familiar for Americans. Then again, she may be able to read people well and realized that I wouldn't mind her (too much) touching my belly when I told her I couldn't drink because I was pregnant.
As discussed, the menu features mostly continental and Asian food. Appetizers ($7 to $13) included a shrimp cocktail, a stuffed artichoke and also some Vietnamese rolls. There are eight different salads ($10-20), though only a couple are vegetarian. There were three vegetarian options on the menu, however ($13-15). Other entrees were priced at $14-26 and probably averaged around $17. According to the menu, entrees come with a choice of soup or salad and potatoes or rice, but we were given salad and potatoes without being asked.
We started by sharing a French onion soup ($7). Eating it reminded me of the concept of "umami", a fifth (or seventh) taste which means "deliciousness" in Japanese but has also been defined as "robust" or "savory." I would probably define it myself just as very well-balanced. The soup had a thick layer of melted cheese on top, once Mike broke it, I was hit from across the table with the delicious smell of cooked wine. It wasn't very strong, and I couldn't really taste it, but it tickled my taste buds. The soup had a dark broth and it was delicious with the melted cheese. Next time I'll order one just for myself.
Neither Mike nor I were thrilled with the side salads, which consisted of mostly white lettuce with shredded carrots and maybe cabbage. They were very lightly dressed (Mike thought it was a Caesar dressing) and didn't do anything for me. Mike ate it all, though. The bread and butter served at the table were fine; the bread was a crusty French baguette cut at an angle and the butter was served room temperature, which I liked.
Our two main dishes looked very similar. I had ordered the short ribs ($16) and Mike had the lamb osso buco on special that night. They were both braised and served with savory sauces; they both came with a half potato gratin and carrots shaped like flowers.
Both Mike and I really liked the short ribs, they were very tender after the long braising and quite savory (or "umani") in their sauce. They weren't as good as a home-made braise (then again, what is?) but I would certainly order them again. Mike didn't like the lamb osso buco, however. He wasn't able to identify why. I thought it was quite good, though it did taste quite "lamby;" the braise had intensified the natural flavor of the lamb and the sauce was not strong enough to cover it. If you don't like the taste of lamb, you probably should stay away from this dish. The dish wasn't as balanced as the short ribs, but it was still quite satisfying. Both sauces went very well with the potatoes.
Mike had just water with dinner and I had a coke ($2.25), which was slightly flat. I wasn't offered a refill though I would have expected a free one for the price.
According to the menu, Village Bistro does offer cakes for dessert ($5-6) but they didn't offer us any. It took some time to get the bill, however, and as the waitress did not seem inclined to pick it up we finally went to the counter to pay.
In all, we had a good experience and I imagine we'll go back. I love this type of comfort food but I'm not always in the mood to make it.
20634 Rustric Dr.
Castro Valley, CA