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Jul 13, 2010 04:51 AM

Bistro 1491 on Solano [Albany]

I first heard about this East Bay place when a friend said she had the best fish and chips ever there. Encouraged by this, Big Guy and I went there for breakfast (our timing was wrong for the F&C lunch option).

I wanted to love this place but that didn't happen. The premises consisted of two joined-together storefronts, with no architectural inspiration. There were smallish wooden chairs and little wooden tables, so cozy-comfyness was lacking.

There were interesting things on the menu, and I ordered the eggs Benedict with smoked salmon. "I want the eggs poached medium and extra sauce, please". The eggs came cooked totally hard (you could have made egg salad with them) and skimpy on the sauce. Also meager on the salmon. I tried to slice into the whole structure and the English muffin had the texture of a hockey puck, so I needed to make strenuous use of my knife to cut into it.

I liked the looks of the things on their menu, so maybe I'll give them another try.

Bistro 1491
1491 Solano Ave, Albany, CA

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  1. I seldom go out for breakfast (hard yolks being one of the reasons!) so I can't comment on that. I did have a sandwich there shortly after they opened. It was pretty good, but I haven't been back. I don't like the small, hard tables and chairs much, either. The place does a good business, though. Seems to have inherited the Walker's Pie Shop crowd. At least that's how it looks to me when I walk by. That makes me wonder if the food is similarly "safe" or somewhat bland. Let us know if you try dinner there.

    1. tried their breakfast special once: apple sausage, eggs and pancakes. nothing really special, but was cheap. cant really differentiate it from, say, the gillman grill and their breakfast entrees. when i came in, i was the only patron. however, have seen it really busy, especially during certain holidays when they're the only shop open in the area.

      1. I met a group of friends there a couple weeks ago. Our group breakfast grew to 11 (including a toddler) and they were very accommodating even though we didn't have a reservation. There were only a few other occupied tables.

        The menu has something for everyone from vegan tofu scamble to duck confit hash. I liked my smoked salmon benedict enough to go back but wished there were some veggies to accompany it. The hollandaise sauce was good, smooth with a light consistency. A friend who had a frittata thought it was slightly overcooked. I forgot what they called it but my boyfriend really liked his benedict where they poached the egg, rolled it in panko and briefly fried it. The service was friendly but a little erratic given our large group.

        1. I've eaten there at least three times and each time was worse than the last. I kept going back because I liked the "idea" of the restaurant and WANTED it to be good. It just Isn't and never will be. The food isn't vile, but it's just not good enough and the service is totally amateurish. I've cured myself of my wish and I won't be going back again.

          1. Last night was, i believe, the third time I've been here. Excellent. Their tofu "frites" are amazing - light and airy inside, crunchy outside, served with a spicy ketchup and a tangy green onion aioli. They remind me of the panisse frites at Frances.

            we also shared the pork belly appetizer - wonderfully tender, fatty, crispy exterior, with a touch of five spice, served over slivers of crunchy apple and jicama. i could (and will) easily make a meal of this and the tofu appetizer.

            last night i had the duck confit salad. TWO duck legs, perfectly cooked, over arugula, apples, and dates, i believe. wonderfully crispy and savory flavors, mixed with the sweet.

            my sister got the steak-frites - again, perfectly cooked steak - PERFECT. ruby red, great chew, but tender as could be. we love their fries, too - always crispy, never soggy. two in our party had the fish and chips - excellent. i remember loving their short ribs in hoisin too.

            i think i haven't been fond of their burger in the past, nor their fried chicken (my sister hated it), but everything else we've had here has been great. and it's always empty (though we've mostly gone on the later side.)

            not a destination place, maybe, but a great neighborhood spot, and people should check it out again.

            7 Replies
            1. re: mariacarmen

              It's a bit busier at lunch. I've had a couple good experiences there in the last year. The service is always great and the food well-prepared. I still don't like the space much.

              1. re: Glencora

                i agree about the space. feels cafeteria-ish. but yes on the service, very nice people.

              2. re: mariacarmen

                I agree, a very solid neighborhood bistro/diner. The cook might have changed since diglidden was there in 2010; we didn't discover it until a few month after he posted. The new chef is VERY solid, although we've had poor experience with the duck confit entree served with French lentils; in Dec 2012 and Aug 2013 the confit quarter was reheated over too high a heat in the saute pan and came out dry/overcooked.

                The pork belly is relatively new to the menu (it only changes slowly over time) and we agree that this is a a superb dish. Very substantial starter - 2 thick, meltingly tender pork belly slices - or an excellent small plate entree. The apple slaw is very tart and lemony to contrast with the sweet hoisin glaze on the pork belly.

                We have not cared for the burger, but I happen to like their fried chicken. My spouse feels the way your sister does, as 1491's cook uses some pureed fresh coriander in the batter. It is very subtle so I enjoy it, but folks who really can't stand fresh coriander are forewarned. The coleslaw that comes with it was so good, my spouse remarked on it (and he's not a coleslaw lover).

                The mac'n'cheese is a nice side. But what really rocks at 1491 is the pear salad. The beet salad is very good, but the pear salad is amazing. We dine out quite often and spend freely doing so, and we have to say that 1491's pear salad is possibly one of the best salads of any restaurant at any price level. You should note that 1491's salads are true one-person salads, not the oversized "I'm really for two people" plates that are coming these days.

                This was what I posted elsewhere about 1491's pear salad:
                "...This is a finely balanced mix of very fresh baby greens, with an entire small pear skinned, quartered, sliced into wedges and arranged beautifully around the edges of the plate. There are toasted whole pecan halves (thankfully not candied), properly small crumbles of blue cheese, and a modest amount of dried cranberries. The delicate pear vinaigrette is perfectly executed and even better, used in careful moderation. It coats the leaves evenly but doesn't drown the salad. There is never any excess dressing slicking the bottom of 1491's salad plates, as there is at far too many restaurants. The prosciutto slice on top was sliced thin (which Spouse prefers) and a good size. For the salads alone, it's worth coming here. At 1491 they are truly an exceptional value. "

                This is a salad we have ordered several times over the last two years, and it is consistent every time. This salad and the pork belly would make an excellent dinner. The salmon with miso glaze is a very fine entree, we've ordered that several times as well.

                I think the reason people get more excited about places like Stella Nonna and Cafe Rouge et. al. is that 1491 does not have a bar. Their wine list pretty much consists of red and white. We have eaten at Stella Nonna twice and although some dishes are good, there's fewer misses at 1491 than at Stella. But you can't get a cocktail or a premium wine there, and it hurts them.

                1. re: jaiko

                  i think my sister's issue with the chicken was more that the crust tasted burnt, or like the oil hadn't been changed. we both like cilantro/coriander, so that's not the problem. i forgot to try my dad's cole slaw which came with the fish & chips. next time.

                  i like the sound of that pear salad - thanks for the description.

                  i don't think i personally miss having a bar at 1491 (i haven't found any misses, that i can remember, tho, at Stella Nonna yet). i think Bistro 1491 just doesn't look the part - if they redecorated a bit, made it look cozier, it would attract more people. but yes, maybe better wines would be a good idea. last night they were out of everything but a (very nice) pinot because their delivery hadn't been made. although my sister was happy with her glass of Korbel (it's what they use for mimosas - at least it's not Totts.)

                  and i forgot about the mac-n-cheese! we loved that dish!

                  1. re: mariacarmen

                    Ah, I forgot the fish 'n' chips - another fav. But skip 1491's desserts, not really worth it. Coffee is good, however.

                    We never miss bars, as I seldom drink and my spouse and MIL don't drink at all. But our visit last week to Stella showed the majority of diners do drink. I agree that Stella's decor is much nicer than 1491, which is more spartan IKEA diner. However, we've had several misses at Stella, big time ones that had no business leaving the kitchen. Love Stella's patio, though!

                    1. re: jaiko

                      hah - and we DO drink, but i'm ok with a glass or two of wine for dinner a lot of the time. It's the kind of place I'd go to with family, not like a girls-night-out type of place, so a glass of wine is fine.

                      yeah, i've yet to sit on the patio with a cocktail at Stella's, but soon!

                  2. re: jaiko

                    the new chef explains why the quality of the food has gone up since i started going here off and on since it opened. lunch is its busiest time - breakfast/brunch (unless during weekends) and dinner not so much.