Bistro 103: Fresh, local food in Auburn
OLD TOWN AUBURN IS HOME TO longtime popular restaurants, including Carpe Vino, Bootleggers Old Town Tavern & Grill, and Auburn Alehouse. A relative newcomer to the Old Town dining scene that we have enjoyed and wholeheartedly recommend is Bistro 103, housed in the historic Tsuda Grocery Store building at 103 Sacramento Street.
For hungry skiers and snowboarders on the way to Lake Tahoe from Sacramento and the Bay Area, it is one minute off Interstate 80.
We’ve been to Marlowe in San Francisco and Harvest Table in St. Helena, so we can say with some authority that Bistro 103 rivals the “farm-to-table,” New American cuisine in the Bay Area or Napa. A new, imaginative chef is kicking the food “up a notch.” Bistro 103 is open for lunch and dinner Wednesday through Sunday and features a creative menu using fresh, local ingredients in a restored historic building.
“We have a simple, straightforward menu that changes seasonally,” says Patty Dooley, who opened Bistro 103 in 2015 with her husband, John. The husband-and-wife team from Granite Bay are first time restaurateurs who are foodies, hands-on, detail-oriented business people.
The Dooleys help the culinary team forage the ingredients from local farmers whenever possible, such as fresh lettuce from the “Produce Alive” aquaponic farm in Loomis to the Mountain Mandarin orchards in Placer County. The poultry is from a local farm.
Bistro 103 has a new chef, Greg Albee. “I’ve been in the restaurant business my whole life,” he says with enthusiasm. Greg’s mother was a French chef and restaurant owner, and his sister is a successful caterer. Greg has extensive culinary experience. He worked in the kitchen at popular restaurants such as Le Petit Pier in Tahoe Vista under the tutelage of renowned chef and owner Jean Du Fau.
At Bistro 103, small bites include French onion soup (house-made vegetarian stock and demi-glace with port wine, crostini topped with gruyere cheese); chopped Caesar salad (homemade dressing, fried anchovy, croutons and Parmesan crisp); Quinoa vegan salad (a great gluten free option tossed with home-made apple vinaigrette, kale, beets and feta).
Lunch main dishes include a delicious BLTA (local farm fresh lettuce, tomato, avocado with applewood smoked bacon on ciabatta); a bistro burger (with Comeback dressing similar to remoulade; white cheddar cheese, caramelized onions, topped with a Parmesan baguette with bistro fries); and a seasonal veggie sandwich with melted goat cheese.
Dinner mains include chicken Parmesan; roasted chicken (brined in IPA beer and citrus); a signature pork loin (roasted with apple onion marmalade served over garlic mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables); honey garlic salmon (grilled Atlantic salmon with honey garlic orange glaze); a New York steak; and a popular beef stew (all scratch made, fresh seasonal vegetables, rich broth made with Zinfandel, side of crostini, and served with fingerling potatoes). Greg also creates imaginative pasta specials.
All the desserts are homemade including panna cotta, cheesecake and homemade ice cream topped with fresh berries and grenache.
Bistro 103 has a solid wine list, including Napa Valley wines from Frank Family and Rombauer; French wines; and local wines from Lone Buffalo and PaZa in Auburn. It also has a good selection of local draft and bottled beers. “Stopped here on the way to Tahoe. Farm-to-table excellent, good wine and beer selection, good vibe,” one reviewer summed up.
Bistro 103 is located inside the historical building of the former Tsuda Grocery Store in Old Town Auburn. Prior to World War II, the building was owned by the local Japanese-American community, and it served as a Japanese school and a Buddhist church.
After the war, Frank Tsuda bought the building and opened Tsuda Grocery in 1951. The Tsuda family owned and operated the business until 2007.
Some recovered and carefully restored items include the grocery’s historical hand-painted signage, a produce scale showcased on the bar and two original steel doors from the Buddhist church displayed on the wall as art.