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Sunday, July 13, 2008


Occidental's Bistro Des Copains is a dream come true for partners Michel and Cluney, as well as consistently welcoming to locals and guests.

Bistro Des Copains in Occidental

Michel Augsburger and Cluney Stagg have been buddies and best friends since college. When Michel decided to fulfill his dream to open a restaurant his friend agreed to be a partner. Hence, the name Bistro de Copains (which means ‘buddies or friends). They are also business partners in their ‘Day Job’. Michel is the CEO of his own business, Chancellor Health Care, which operates several senior living communities throughout the country, and Cluney is the CFO. Michel is also Vice Chairman of the Assisted Living Federation of America, a trade association. So why would a person with so many irons in the fire and a frantically busy schedule decide to run a successful restaurant? For Michel, it is his love of French food and his passion for creating the menu and the friendly atmosphere and high quality of the restaurant itself. Michel has a huge library of cook books and he told me that two years before launching this venture he was playing with the menu on his laptop and thinking about the potential restaurant.

The restaurant, located in Occidental, offers the perfect venue with its intimate dining area, the patio, and the two wood burning ovens. The building (circa 1911) only needed some remodeling to meet Michel’s vision. There are historic pictures decorating the Bistro de Copains walls of Michel’s grandmother and father on the family farm in France. Michel’s background included time as a boy living in France where he learned the language and developed his love for the cuisine. He returns often to visit relatives and vacation.

Where does one start if you aren’t a trained chef and you want to open a first class restaurant? How about advertising on Craig’s List for a chef. That is what happened and a very talented chef, trained at a Culinary School in the Northwest, answered the call and worked with Michel and Cluney to refine recipes prior to, and after, the opening of the restaurant. As a matter of fact, all the rest of the staff have been there since the opening two years ago. With good planning and the enthusiasm of the people involved, the restaurant’s opening night served 51 people for the first dinner. The following of customers has stayed with them. While most are local people there are others, such as the couple from San Francisco, who dine at least once a week at the Bistro. So keep this in mind and make reservations so you won’t be disappointed.

The food is excellent as is the service. You are welcomed and treated like royalty. You might start with a Mousse d’Asperge et Chevre served warm on bioche toast with mixed greens ($10) or Croquettes de Morue (salt cod) with lemon roasted garlic aioli ($10) or Soupe a L ‘Oignon Gratine ($9) from among several starters. For the light diners try the Risotto aux Safran wth the bouillabaisse sauce ($16), the Raviolis aux Poireau ($16) or one of the Pizzas ($14). There are specialty entrees including pan-seared halibut, Harris Ranch hanger steak, duck breast, Coquilles Saint-Jacques, Half-roasted “Rosie” chicken, oven roasted loin of lamb, beef braised in red wine to name a few. The price range is from $20.00 to $23.00 on these items. There are other vegetable and potato options A la Carte. My favorite is the Gratin de Macaroni ($8), but I haven’t tried the Gratin Dauphinois yet. You can also order a selection of local artisan and imported French cheeses served with artisan bread, house made crackers, fruit and nuts. The wine list is extensive and offers many options by the glass. There are over 50 selections of Sonoma County red wines and over 15 selections of white or Rose wines. There are about 20 choices of French reds and almost an equal amount of white wines from France. And, if it is Sparkling wines you want with your French cuisine you can choose from 6 varieties. They also have dessert wines and aperitifs available by the glass.

Make your plans and reservations to visit Bistro Des Copains which is open seven (7) nights a week --5:00 until 9:00 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 5:00 until 10:00p.m. Friday and Saturday. You’ll find the Bistro at 3782 Bohemian Highway in Occidental and the phone number is 707 874-2436.