My wife and I made one of our many trips to California early last December, but unlike most of our trips out there, we decided to head a little farther north than our usual stop in the Inland Empire of Southern California. A friend of mine and former work colleague owed me some wine and a lunch for helping her land her new job (yes, I collect debts in the form of food), so we made our way to the Central Valley city of Modesto for a quick visit. After arriving in Modesto via fly-in to Sacramento on Friday afternoon, we headed 15 miles south to Turlock the next day to cash in on my lunch, with a little antique shopping beforehand. Turlock is an agricultural city of approximately 70,000 people, but has set up a nice little historic district downtown filled with antique shops, and a large number of restaurants have followed, several of the trendy variety. At my friend’s recommendation, we headed to Bistro 234, right on Main Street.
A reminder of my patented star rating system:
5 – I Would Walk 500 Miles (And I Would Walk 500 More) to visit this place
4 – Worth a visit when in town
3 – Meh; I won’t object if a friend suggests it, but I wouldn’t recommend it on my own
2 – Only if nothing else is open
1 – Run, Sriram, Run!
Bistro 234 Restaurant & Bar
- 234 E. Main St., Turlock, CA
- Hours: Tues-Thurs 11 am-10 pm, Fri-Sat 11 am-Midnight
- Price: $15-30 per person, no alcohol
Directions: from State Highway 99, exit Main Street and go east. Restaurant is on the right. Ample street parking is available throughout the downtown area; some spots have a 2-hour limit.
Billed by executive chef Leroy Walker as a place to go for “New American” and French-influenced cuisine, Bistro 234 looks and feels like something you’d find in West L.A. instead of in the sleepy, laid-back Central Valley, but there are in fact several similar restaurants in Turlock. After a rainy Friday night, Saturday ended up being a beautiful early December day, but there didn’t seem to be a lot of people out and about. In fact, the restaurant was pretty much empty when we walked in about a quarter to noon. Both indoor and outdoor patio seating are available. We went with the patio since it was such a fine day, but the interior is bright and colorful, filled with paintings in the modern style.
So far, so good, but how would the Modern American cuisine stack up? To find out, both my wife and I ordered specials, me the Panko-breaded mac and cheese, and my wife the seafood ravioli.
The bowl of mac and cheese doesn’t look very big, but looks can be deceiving. It was reasonably tasty, but boy, was it dense. I had eaten a large breakfast and I could barely get through half of it, and unfortunately, the Panko starts tasting stale if you don’t wolf it down quickly. In other words, order it, but enjoy it fast before it gets cold. I tried just a little bit of my wife’s ravioli, and it was delicious, especially the cream sauce. Once again, a heart attack in a bowl, but at least it tasted good. Not being content to quit while we were ahead, though, we just had to order dessert. I let Prita make the selection, and she went with Jennifer’s Peanut Butter Pie.
I eat PBJ sandwiches out the wazoo, but I normally don’t like peanut butter in dessert unless it’s a Reese’s. But our waitress was really excited when my wife ordered it, so I decided to give it a taste. Much to my delight, the pie tasted like – a gigantic Reese’s, with a graham cracker crust thrown in for good measure. The texture and taste was more cheesecake than traditional pie, especially with the graham cracker crust, but whatever you want to call it, it was ridiculously awesome. If you do come here, don’t leave without trying a piece of this pie.
For you wine drinkers, Bistro 234 has won several awards from Wine Spectator, and my friend vouches for the quality of the selection (she works for a winery, so I consider her a reilable source of wine advice). Indeed, they have an extensive list of mostly California wines, with a few examples from the rest of the world for good measure, and Wednesdays feature a half off special on all bottles. I had a drive back to Sacramento lurking in a couple of hours, though, so I decided to pass. Wine makes me extremely sleepy, which is why I like to drink a couple of glasses at the start of a long international flight. Maybe next time I pass through.
The waitstaff were personable and quite helpful. Neither one of us could decide on what we wanted, but our waitress recommended the mac and cheese and the ravioli without hesitation, both of which proved to be good choices, and a new Sprite was brought to me every time the old one dropped below half full. I’m sure it helped that the place was half empty, but it’s always nice to get good service.
Rating: 4 stars. The food is definitely on the heavy side – not what you expect with modern cuisine – but it tastes pretty good, which is the important thing. I’d return just for another taste of that pie.