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First Bite: Odyssey in Windsor

What a delight is $3 flatbread, a $22 burger and enough foie gras to feed a family of four.

By Carey Sweet

Editor's note: First Bite is a new concept in restaurant writing. We invite you to come along with our writers as they—informed, intelligent eaters like yourselves—have a simple meal at an area restaurant, just like you do. This is not a go-three-times, try-everything-on-the-menu report; rather, this is a quick snapshot of a single experience.

There's something awfully civilized about having hamburger juice dribbling down one's face when the burger from whence it came is crafted of sirloin stuffed with black truffle, braised short rib meat and foie gras.

It's hard to feel too sloppy, either, about trying to cram a four-inch tall sandwich into one's mouth when it's held together by a clever toothpick designed to look like chopsticks, and when one is paying $22 for the privilege. Or when one is washing the burger down with glass of Domaine Calot Morgon 2005 Beaujolais ($11) that's been recommended by the waiter-wine specialist hovering attentively over one's shoulder. And it's impossible not to love the every bit of it, when experienced at Odyssey, the French-Italian-California bistro in Windsor that opened in May and has promptly stolen my heart. Give credit to chef-owner Rudy Mihal, boasting an impressive résumé from some of New York and San Francisco's best restaurants (Gramercy Tavern, Cafe Boulud, Fiamma, Zuppa) and now waving his magic wand over this sleepy wine country burg. He's transformed the tiny grocery-chic space that used to be Amey Shaw's L'Assiette into a gorgeous little nest of dark woods, soft lighting, cozy banquettes, a curvaceous bar and Fellini films playing on a projector screen above our heads.

Despite the fine food (handmade fettuccine with fresh Sicilian bottarga, fresh fava bean tortelli with lobster and oven-roasted veal chop with shallot marmalade were on the frequently changing menu the night I dined), the mood here is completely relaxed and the prices surprisingly reasonable. My companion and I ate and ate on a basket of pillowy-crisp and salty rosemary flatbread ($3), but couldn't finish it. A portion of superbly seared, velvety foie gras ($14) was the size small brick, scattered with tangy-sweet peach mostarda and frisée. The liver melted, as close to literally as I've ever experienced, on our tongues.

Another appetizer, marinated sardines from Bodega Bay ($12), looked to be an entire filet, expertly deboned and sliced into slabs, then laid atop big chunks of fennel dotted with vinegary carrot dice alongside a slick of arugula jus. Delightful.

My companion declared her salmon ($22) perfect, and it was, the local fish simply decorated with wild mushrooms and English peas. As I licked the hamburger-topping Dijon and sundried tomato from my lips, and nibbled on hand-cut frittes dipped in aioli, I thought, "Does eating out get any better than this?" It does, our server piped in, apologizing for only having a cheese plate for dessert that evening. If we were to return the following night, we would be treated to a flaming rum confection the chef considered one of his best specialties. It would be lit at the table, and the show would be as spectacular as the taste, he promised.

There's something quite sophisticated about having one's eyebrows torched off when one can say the damage occurred over dessert at the outstanding, whimsical, wonderful Odyssey.

Odyssey, 426 Emily Rose Circle, Windsor. Open for dinner, Tuesday-Saturday. 707.836.7600.

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Quick-and-dirty dashes through North Bay restaurants. These aren't your standard "bring five friends and order everything on the menu" dining reviews.