Every time I hear the whistle of an old steam locomotive in Jamestown - the Tuolumne County hamlet where the railroad is the raison d'etre for the town's existence - I get hungry. I have no idea why, but that's the way it is.
When it happened yesterday - we were visiting my sister and her husband, who live not far off the tracks of Railtown 1897 State Historic Park - they suggested we visit Azzo's Restaurant & Bar on Main Street.
We parked just down the street from the Willow Steakhouse, where three saddled horses were tied to the porch railing, as if this still were 1897. Azzo's occupies another historic building, which if memory serves me correctly once housed The Smoke, perhaps the first Jamestown restaurant to develop an enthusiastic following.
The quarters are divided to a long bar on one side, the dining room on the other, the two separated by a wall that keeps the sounds of one from intruding on the other. The bar is dressed up with ties dangling from coat hooks and with concert posters from the psychedelic era, while the pressed-tin ceiling and one wall of the dining room is brightened with contemporary landscape paintings.
Chef James Ablett's menu also is highly contemporary, its Mediterranean and Californian aesthetic represented by such small plates as steamed clams with chorizo and chickpeas, braised short ribs in harissa, and artichoke fritters with a roasted bell-pepper aioli. Lunch main courses include pizzas, a hefty burger with a spicy siracha aioli, and several salads, including charbroiled skirt steak with marinated mushrooms and asparagus. The dinner menu lists several more substantial entrees, such as scaloppini of duck breast on Parmesan risotto, veal Madeira sauteed with rushrooms on a risotto with garlic and leeks, and salmon glazed with balsamic vinegar, garlic and ginger.
At both lunch and dinner, Azzo's most novel touch is the "pasta bar." Just one pasta is available, housemade fettuccini, but guests have their choice of one of three sauces - roasted tomato, Alfredo or pesto ($13). In addition, several other options are available to add to the toss, such as sun-dried tomatoes, red onion and capers (50 cents each), and grilled chicken, prosciutto, sausage or shrimp ($4 each).
Azzo's, 18228 Main St. Jamestown, is open for dinner 5-9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 4-8 p.m. Sundays; lunch is served 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays; (209) 984-1173.