Pear Street Bistro: Back with Gusto in Historic Old Town Pinole

Poached Pear Creme Brulee.JPG

By Vickie Lewis

Three hundred fifty lucky loyal patrons of Pear Street Bistro (PSB) welcomed the New Year by attending a classy grand re-opening of this popular local bar and restaurant on January 2nd, after being closed for nearly 15 months for re-construction following a kitchen fire.  Guests who attended the event enjoyed free appetizers and beverages and got the first look at the upgraded interior of PSB before it opened to the public the following day.  The grand re-opening was a huge success, and PSB has been extremely busy since then, welcoming both former and new guests to their bar and dining room.

Pear Street Bistro has been a pillar in the heart of Old Town Pinole since it was opened in 2002 by former owner, Gary Wong.  Four years ago, the current owner, Francisco Flores, who worked for Gary at PSB for many years in numerous capacities, assumed ownership of the establishment. He and his staff are committed to continuing the traditions of Pear Street Bistro, offering a variety of excellent dining and beverage choices in a casual, yet elegant atmosphere.

My guest and I arrived at the restaurant on a Wednesday evening around 6:00 PM.  I had been to PSB a couple of times many years ago.  So I didn’t immediately recognize whether there were significant changes to the interior design as a result of the reconstruction, and also didn’t recall much about the menu.  So we were both ready for an inaugural view of PSB!  Entry into the restaurant is through the bar, which was at full capacity when we arrived.  As we waited to be seated, we noticed the life-size, lighted scrolling signage just inside the door which featured information about the restaurant and menu selections.  Across from the bar, a large mounted multi-media screen ran continuous video clips of PSB customers and activities.  Customers sitting on stools at the long bar and at high-topped tables enjoyed their cocktails, chatting with each other or watching the flat screen TV’s mounted above the bar area.  Soon we were greeted by the owner, Francisco, a tall, well-dressed, young man, who showed us to our table where a lighted “Reserved” was visible.  The table was positioned across from the kitchen, giving us a great view of the busy cooks and servers.

We were promptly introduced to our server, Aaron, who has been with PSB since 2007, and he took great care of us throughout the evening, attending to our every request.  We were promptly served iced water and soft, sliced sourdough bread, and then ordered beverages.  My guest ordered a glass of Sangria, and I ordered the $5 Drink of the Day, a Cosmo.  Each day, PSB features a different drink of the day for $5, a great deal for those who like to enjoy a reasonably priced drink with dinner.  Our menus were the placemats on our beautiful marble-topped table, a new PSB feature after the remodel.  As we sipped our drinks, we perused the menu and assessed the activity in the full dining room.  A separate “banquet” room was open to the right of the main dining room that is used for a number of different purposes.  On this evening, there was a large party using half of the room, and the other half was being used for overflow dining. All guests appeared to be enjoying their meals, and the number of busy waiters, waitresses, and hosts seemed ample for the number of guests. The interior of the dining room is modern, with touches of formality, such as renovated woodwork throughout, marble-topped tables and counters, chandelier and track lighting, and large mirrors mounted on several walls.  The kitchen is completely renovated and has an opening to the dining room for server accessibility and guest viewing.   The noise level was moderately loud due to the number of guests eating and chatting in the dining rooms, combined with voices of the bar crowd, and the sounds of the flat screen TV’s in the bar and in the banquet room; yet, the noise was tolerable and not unpleasant.

The dinner menu boasts an assortment of soups, salads and appetizers from which customers can choose to accompany their dinners.  Entrees are categorized under the headings “From Land”, “From the Sea”, and “From Land and Sea.”  Daily Specials are listed on the right side of the menu, and are available beginning at 4:00 daily, excluding holidays.  While the cuisine at Pear Street Bistro is billed as American, there are also some ethnically diverse selections on the menu, such as the PSB Lomo Soltado, Thai Coconut Curry Linguini with Chicken, and Bassa De Medellin.  On the “Items to Share” menu, there is Ceviche and Mini Asian BBQ Pork Shanks; and on Tuesdays, the Daily Special is Tacos!  I observed that the menu includes a nice variety of selections, many of which are not available in other local restaurants.

After much deliberation, my guest and I placed our orders.  For appetizers, we chose the Mini Asian BBQ Pork Shanks and “Cheese Please!”—a taste of 3 local artisanal cheeses accompanied by seasonal pears, candied walnuts, and country toast.  We also ordered one bowl of the Soup of the Day (Chicken Tortilla) and one Signature Pear Salad, which we shared.  For entrees, my guest opted for the Wednesday Daily Special, a ½ Pound Prime Rib with all the Fixin’s, and I ordered the Bistro Jambalaya.  Soon after placing our orders, Aaron began delivering food to our table at a staggered pace so that we could savor and enjoy each item.

If I had known how delicious the Mini Asian BBQ Pork Shanks would be, I probably would have passed on ordering an entrée, and just ordered more of these!  These were the most meaty, savory, and delicious appetizers I have ever eaten!  The meat was fall-off-the-bone tender, and the shanks were served with a small portion of delicious pickled cucumber salad.  The “Cheese Please!” appetizer, one of only a few new items on the PSB menu, included three generous cubed samples of Pecorino-Romano, Mozzarella, and Sharp White Cheddar cheeses. There were also three slices of French bread country toast, a small cup of candied walnuts, three thin slices of pear, and mint garnish.  A small cup of assorted olives and pepperoncini paired especially nicely with the sharp cheddar cheese.  We thoroughly enjoyed this appetizer throughout the course of our meal.  The Chicken Tortilla soup arrived piping hot, topped with chive and sour cream garnish. The soup was delicious and only mildly spicy.  The Signature Pear Salad boasted a mound of crisp, chopped romaine lettuce, mixed with thin slices of fresh pears, candied walnuts, and gorgonzola cheese. The champagne vinaigrette dressing was light and enhanced the flavors of the salad ingredients. Soups and salads are a la carte for all entrees and will add $7 to $8 to your meal cost, should you choose to order either of these starters.

The prime rib entrée was delivered to the table first, a loaded plate with a juicy slab of meat nearly ¾ inch thick, a heaping twice-baked potato and a sautéed vegetable medley of carrots, broccoli, onions and bell peppers.  Accompaniments served with this entrée were creamy horseradish, au jus, and chimichurri sauce.  My jambalaya entrée arrived soon after in a large bowl, heaped with pieces of chicken, prawns, spicy chicken sausage, salmon and catfish over a generous bed of white rice.  (Seasonal fish is served with the jambalaya, so ingredients may vary.)  Everything we ate was delicious!  The prime rib was cooked to perfection and had a wonderful flavor.  The twice-baked potato was soft on the outside and creamy on the inside, and was topped with cheddar cheese.  The sautéed veggies were tender and good, but were the slightest bit oily.  My first bite of the jambalaya was a delightfully succulent piece of salmon, and every bite thereafter was equally as good.  The tastes of the various ingredients complemented each other and were cooked together in a nice slightly spicy red sauce.  It was a hearty meal and I was only able to finish half of it after all of the other wonderful things we had eaten!

Dessert?  Yes, please!  Never too full for dessert, we were eager to try one of the several interesting items offered.  One dessert item on the menu, Pear Merlot Sorbet, was not available when we visited.  This is a custom-made sorbet made in Walnut Creek specifically for PSB, and production was discontinued while the restaurant closed for renovation.  However, they expected production to resume very soon.  My guest opted for a special dessert which was not yet listed on the menu—Maple Sweet Potato Cheesecake.  This was interesting and delicious, with the bottom layer being cheesecake, then a layer of sweet potato, topped with a maple “frosting”—though not sweet like frosting.  I enjoyed the Poached Pear Crème Brule, which was fantastic!  I would definitely order this again!  Several other great dessert items are also available, so be sure to save room for dessert when you go!

After dessert, we had the pleasure of visiting with Francisco, and his mother, Irma Palacios, who is an integral part of Pear Street Bistro.  Francisco also has a 16 year old brother, Mekimen, who occasionally helps out at PSB.  Francisco and Irma shared information about their banquet menus, reservation process, and the thriving bar business.  PSB has a full bar and offers a bustling Happy Hour every day from 3–7pm.  The bar remains open for an hour after the restaurant closes (10:00) Sundays through Thursdays, and until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.  Food is served throughout the evening until the bar closes from a special late night lounge menu.

A unique feature of the PSB bar is the availability of Hand Selected Spirits-Single Barrel Jack Daniels Whiskey from Tennessee, Herrera Double Barrel Tequila from Mexico, and Mount Gay Rum from Barbados.  Francisco personally travelled to these locations to select these spirits, which are bottled exclusively for PSB.  We had the privilege of trying a bit of each of these spirits, and learned about the selection and aging process.  They also have an extensive wine list, a wide assortment of bottled and tap beer, and feature specialties such as Michalaras, and Red and White Sangria by the glass or pitcher.  The PSB bar/lounge is a very popular gathering place for locals.  When the bar becomes overcrowded, the aforementioned banquet room, which can be closed off to the dining area, is sometimes utilized to accommodate bar patrons.  

Pear Street Bistro is open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner, and they offer brunch from 10 – 3 on Saturdays and Sundays.  I’m looking forward to trying brunch, primarily to try the Chef’s special Frittata and for the $10 bottomless Mimosas, which may be made using other juice flavors in addition to orange, such as pineapple or cranberry.  New head chef Carlos, Sous Chef, Magdalena, and the rest of the PSB staff, work hard to ensure that your dining and beverage experience is exceptional to keep you coming back for more.  And PSB Social Media Director, Kevin Pacotti, works tirelessly to promote the business through social media outlets including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. You can even download the PSB app where you can make reservations and keep current regarding restaurant news. Whether you’re a first-timer or a long time customer, stop in to check out the new venue, and enjoy good food, drink, and service from the PSB team!

2395 San Pablo Avenue, in Pinole | 510-741-8875

pearstreetbistro.com   – Also found on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Foursquare, Yelp and Open Table

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