Celebrating 75 Years of Paseo Bistro

Photo by Newsparx Media

Historic Paseo Bistro in Mill Valley is celebrating 75 years with the debut of a new executive chef who has a certain je ne sais quoi. But quoi could it be? Ooh (la la), he’s French! And yes, Chef. We’re here for it.

“Timing was unfortunate,” says Peter Choi, son of Paseo owner Ki Yong Choi, who stepped in to oversee the relaunch in May after a series of prior attempts. “We finally have a strong foundation with Chef. It’s exciting.” Waxing nostalgic on 75 years, he says, “It’s about the history, but also about what the future looks like. Paseo has a European vibe and that draws a lot of people here. But it’s also about a vision of California that folks are moving toward. It’s bridging those two worlds together.”

The twinkling chef Sylvain Montassier, a French native who has almost 30 years of professional experience that ranges from France and England to San Francisco and Chicago, is now channeling his skills into beautiful, locally sourced fare. “This is the type of food I want to do right now. Simple, product-driven, very seasonal,” the chef, a graduate of France’s Culinary School of Saumur, says. “Today’s special — the veal was raised in Nicasio, the spinach is from Pescadero, the polenta is from Sacramento. We are really a California bistro. We make quality food, fairly simple but ultra-seasonal. It’s really fun.”

After 75 years most folks are familiar with the sexy labyrinthine style of the place. The exposed brick, the various nookish spaces that mean you can have one kind of experience one visit and go back again for something completely new the next.

On our first visit, my partner and I were seated in the romantic Throckmorton room in front of the fireplace with light streaming through the open doors and windows all around us.

The siren song of the sea called to us for the apps. A saffron perfume wafted its way to us before we even laid eyes on the pan-seared Hokkaido scallops atop ocher-colored foam dotted with English peas from Half Moon Bay. And oysters Rockefeller, you had us at “salmon roe butter,” and then you seduced us with that wash of anise.

We balanced all the oceanic decadence with two perfectly chilled Chopin martinis with olives.

Moving on to mains, we were drawn to the housemade rigatoni with wild El Dorado County morels, especially after Chef reminded us of the true meaning of farm-to-table.

“I’m just one position in the whole. To me it’s about the farmers, because it starts with them,” Montassier says. “I don’t have nice morels if I don’t have this dude spending his day hunting for them.” Thank you, forager dude, that dish was amazing.

A week later we went back for a completely different experience. “It’s very elegant,” the striking Harry Styles–esque bloke to my left says of the bar where we sat watching him neatly pull apart (with black painted nails) a fluffy housemade parkerhouse roll with a quenelle of herb-seasoned butter.

“I just spent a half hour very happy,” he said, laughing, about the happy hour and the always free cacio e pepe popcorn we were all enjoying.

Bartender Shelly Erber, who’s been with Paseo since the Chois took it over from rocker Sammy Hagar, says, “I think this is the best iteration of it since I’ve been here. We all get along really well and Chef is awesome to work with. He loves his dog and saves bones for both of our dogs. It’s definitely a great work environment — after so many stops and starts that’s all you can ask for.”

cocktails being poured
Photo by Newsparx Media