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First Bite: Bistro Aix Remodeled and Refreshed

For the past nine months, Bistro Aix—the beloved Marina restaurant—has been undergoing a Heidi Montag-like remodel—fully gutted and rebuilt. But unlike The Hills starlet, the 15-year-old restaurant is no Barbie-en-Provence. It might not be the hippest spot in town, but it's been redone in fine, grown-up good taste. Dark-wood gives the restaurant a cozy lodge feeling, which is accentuated by a custom-made, roaring wood-fired grill, which, should you choose to sit at the bar, you can see flickers of from your seat. The back patio now has a permanent glass pyramid ceiling for the indoor/outdoor effect without the need for a heat lamp.

The walls and ceiling are also padded with what I assume is an attempt at soundproofing, making what could be a loud restaurant into something almost unnervingly well-behaved. My only complaint was the bright spot lights above that shone in my eyes at the table where we were first seated. Either bring a visor or choose to sit outside or at the marble bar. (The latter being my preferred choice anyhow.)

In a time when menus read like haikus, the unartfully-written one at Bistro Aix doesn't match the beautiful food; classic and simple, the cooking is inspired by Provence, perhaps, but fully born in California. Like the butter lettuce salad with herbs and a classic mustard vinaigrette. I could have sat admiring it all night. The head of lettuce had been disassembled and then reassembled, leaves left whole and swirled into a gorgeous pile of crunch that called for a fork and knife. Tiny, tasty grilled calamari came with a luscious bean puree swiped on toast. A bowl of spaghettini napped with tomato sauce and a few leaves of whole basil was rich with what I imagine was butter kicked up a notch with a punch of garlic. A whole grilled snapper was nothing but that; it arrived rustic and unashamedly bone-in with nothing much more than some sweet, roasted potatoes and lemon.

I imagine Bistro Aix will continue on as a neighborhood favorite, but it could also very well become a destination restaurant for San Franciscans who appreciate the simple things.