Steak au Poivre

Valentien

My New Year’s resolution is to dine more often at Valentien Restaurant & Wine Bar. We’ve been fortunate in Bakersfield to have this gem of a restaurant with us for 14 years now, and it just keeps getting better and better.

Located on the northwest corner of Truxtun Avenue and Oak Street in a small commercial center, Valentien has persevered. When it became apparent that lunch was a money loser—midday parking was always an issue—owners Jennifer Sanderson and Jeramy Brown dropped it. During the recent recession, the worst economic downturn in 80 years, Sanderson and Brown contracted a bit more, opening only for dinner Tuesdays through Saturdays. They survived.

Today the restaurant has expanded its operating hours to Monday through Saturday for dinner, and Friday for lunch. It has developed a loyal following, and its Yelp reviews seem to be attracting newcomers looking for a fine dining experience.

Steak au Poivre
Steak au Poivre

And the dining experience is better than ever. The service is excellent. Matt and Sabrina were our servers during recent visits, providing measured, polite, but never hurried service; there were moments when they were virtually invisible.

The menu changes regularly—just since I dined there for this review, Coq au Vin has been added to the entrée list, replacing Sage and Citrus Airline Chicken Breast, according to the restaurant’s webpage, www.valentienrestaurant.com. One of my favorites on the Valentien menu, Sake Braised Short Ribs, also went on hiatus, but it returns periodically. More on that divine dish shortly.

As Brown once told me, “It’s all about what’s in season, what’s fresh, and what’s good.”

What’s good is the constant attention to detail. For example:

The wine. An integral part of the Valentien dining experience, the compact wine list is in harmony with the menu. It features a good selection of both red and white wines by the glass. The international flavor of the bottle listings, a blend of French and California, is a refreshing change from mainstream lists.

And a sure sign that wine enthusiasts are welcome here is the corkage policy. Valentien charges $20 corkage fee for each bottle you bring in that isn’t on the list, but that fee is waived for each bottle you buy. So if you bring in a bottle and buy a bottle, no fee. More than fair.

Decanters are plentiful for that special bottle. And since Brown is a certified sommelier, he’s happy to help you with your selections. He just wants you to have the best dining experience possible.

Quality stemware. You expect good wine glasses at a place that has “Wine Bar” in its name, and the glasses here are first rate, enhancing your visit.

The bread. From day one, Valentien served freshly baked French baguettes that are so good you could practically make a meal on the bread alone. You’re always served a basket of warm baguette slices and butter. You always ask for more.

Savory Pumpkin Ravioli
Savory Pumpkin Ravioli

Imaginative vegetarian offerings. If meat’s not your thing, come to Valentien for the vegetables. While I enjoy a variety of meat dishes, I also order Valentien’s vegetarian offerings, such as the Pumpkin Ravioli with sage and rosemary butter cream sauce, toasted walnuts, and parmesan shavings ($11), the Mushroom and Leek Pasta with cream sherry sauce, parmesan shavings, and crisped leeks ($10), both listed as “Small Plates,” or the Stuffed Dumpling Squash with lentils, kale, risotto, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, and red-wine reduction ($18). They’re all delicious.

The best expression possible of French and California cuisine. In the past, I’ve referred to the cuisine here as French-California fusion, but I’m not sure that characterization is accurate. Perhaps French with a California accent would be a better description.

An example of this would be the cheese board. Five delightful cheeses are available: Comté Reserve from France, Manchego Pasamontes from Spain, Triple Crème Brie from France, Truffle Tremor from California, and Moolicious Blue from California. Individual cheese servings are $5; a board of three is $14.

Flavorful Cheese Board
Flavorful Cheese Board

Comté is from southeastern France along the Swiss border, while Brie originates from the region immediately east of Paris. The Truffle Tremor is aged goat’s milk cheese with black truffles; French goat cheese is from the Sancerre region south of Paris, and truffles are a French delicacy, and here’s a California version that’s subtle and tasty, a California accent.

The enhancements served with the cheeses are as attractive as the cheeses themselves: pear walnut loaf with the Comté, saffron infused salted almonds with the Manchego, fig chardonnay sauce with the Brie, roasted pumpkin seeds with orange essence with the Truffle Tremor, and apple and cinnamon compote with the Moolicious Blue. Of course plenty of that wonderful bread is available.

You can order a cheese board as an appetizer, or as it would be offered in France following the main course. Perhaps because the cheese selections are at the top of the menu, I have succumbed to ordering a board of three as an appetizer.

Not to be missed is the Charcuterie Board ($16), which has Paté de Campagne of Pork, Duck Paté, and Saucisson Sec Salami, accompanied by pickled raisins and mission fig compote.

The “Small Plates” section of the menu will also tempt you, as it did me when I recently tried the Venison and Blueberry Sausage, served with house-made pickles and Dijon mustard ($10). The browned sausage is served sliced, and is delicious. I loved it.

Another “small plate” that I’ll try on a return visit is the Saffron Seafood Risotto, with lobster stock, white fish, and shrimp ($10).

And when it comes to salads, I’m stuck on the simply named Field Salad Greens ($8). Combine roasted baby beets, watermelon radish, haricot vert, fresh goat cheese, and a mix of leafy greens topped with sherry vinaigrette—it’s simply divine!

Three entrées we tried recently were exquisite:

Trout Amandine
Trout Amandine

Trout Amandine ($24)—My companion chose this classic dish twice, she liked it so well. A sauce of browned butter and toasted slivered almonds topped a delicate deboned trout filet. She was in heaven! Haricot vert and bacon, plus roasted potatoes, accompanied this beautiful presentation.

Steak au Poivre ($38)—Another classic French dish: an incredibly tender cut of filet mignon coated in black pepper and topped with a cognac sauce. I used the provided steak knife, but in truth I didn’t need it. I prefer my steaks medium rare, and this was perfect. The flavors were exceptional. I’ve enjoyed some fantastic steaks the past few months, but this one was right at the top. Side dishes are pommes frites, and creamed spinach. I could easily order this repeatedly. However, I also tried…

Sake Braised Short Ribs
Sake Braised Short Ribs

Sake Braised Short Ribs ($32)—This has long been a favorite of mine at Valentien. I don’t know how long the kitchen staff braises the ribs, but it must be several hours because when this dish arrives at your table dressed in heavenly brown gravy, it simply falls apart, both on your plate and in your mouth. It’s so tender and scrumptious. Side dishes accompanying it are mint infused heirloom carrots and garlic mashed potatoes.

The Valentien dining experience is sublime, I believe, because the restaurant doesn’t have a star chef. “We do not have a title for any of the six people who work in our kitchen,” Brown told me. “Rather we meet daily and plan out the menus based on each person’s strength and commitment to providing our guests with the best experience we can offer.”

Valentien accepts most major credit cards. For reservations, please call (661) 864-0397, or visit the website and send an email message. Staff responds promptly.

LET’S EAT!

Photos courtesy Valentien Restaurant/Laura Danielle Photography

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