I’m oohing and ahhing over my appetizers at Bistro des Copains, when suddenly my companion notes, in an undertone, that Jennifer Bice is dining at the next table. We all pause, forks in air, as if we’ve just recognized John Travolta or Meryl Streep. Jennifer Bice,after all, is foodie royalty. She’s the founder and owner of Redwood Hill Farm, one of the earliest and most respected artisanal cheesemakers in Sonoma. Her goats’ milk cheese is an essential ingredient in several of the dishes we’ve chosen for our dinner tonight. And there she is. “She comes often; she has several favorite dishes on the menu,” whispers co-owner Michel Augsburger. Well, we’ll have what she’s having, as they say.
The name Bistro des Copains, it seems, was aptly chosen. (For you non-Francophiles, it means the friends’ cafe, or, more colloquially, cafe of pals.) It feels like the kind of place you’d stumble on in a small French country village, except it’s in the small California country village of Occidental instead. Everything on the menu is locally sourced, and has been for many years; no locavore trendiness here. Because Bistro des Copains isn’t the hottest new restaurant, or even the newest; it’s been in the same cozy location for 12 years. Instead, it’s one of those places whose following grows and solidifies over the years to the point that the house is now full night after night with nothing but word-of-mouth endorsement. Top Bay Area chefs eat here on the rare occasion that they get to escape from their own kitchens. And the growers, farmers, ranchers, winemakers, and cheesemakers whose products and yeoman efforts make Sonoma the essential farm-to-fork destination it is eat here. That, really, should tell you all you need to know.