Tastes to Remember

In the many years Mike Stepanovich has been writing What’s Cookin’, hundreds of amazing dishes, from countless local restaurants, have been described in mouthwatering detail. We thought it would be fun to go back and take a look at some of the standouts from years ago in a neat little What’s Cookin’ Flashback. Jump in the time machine with us!

Rincon Cubano Café

Issue 31-1

Rincon Cubano Café Empanadas
Rincon Cubano Café Empanadas. Photo by Art of Eric James.

Eureka! I found it! Our state’s motto is only too appropriate regarding an absolute jewel of a restaurant–Rincon Cubano Cuban Café at 1907 S. Chester Ave. Rincon Cubano is the real deal.

We started with Empanadas, two deep-fried small pies stuffed with delicately seasoned ground beef. What struck us both was that the empanadas were not at all greasy. The crust was brown and crisp, the meat steaming and tasty. A basket of Chicharritas, or fried plantain chips, also intrigued us. These are cut the same thickness as potato chips. Again, no greasiness, certainly less than potato chips. They were slightly sweet and crunchy. We found it difficult to stop munching.

Likewise, the Papas Rellenas, or stuffed potatoes, were delicious. These have a cheese-ground beef mixture in a hollowed-out, peeled small potato, coated in a breading and deep fried. I think we could have made a meal on these.

Rosa’s Italian Restaurant

Issue: 26-4

Rosa’s Brogiolli
Rosa’s Brogiolli

Déjà vu. It struck me while I was enjoying dinner in Rosa’s Italian Restaurant at the corner of Mount Vernon Avenue and Columbus Street. I don’t know what caused it—our server Kyra, the ambiance, the food, or a combination of them all—but I was reminded of a small restaurant in Florence, Italy.

The Brogiolli was sublime. The finesse of the flavors—mint and herbs blending with the garlic—had me ooh-ing and ah-ing. The magic of the fresh tomato sauce is that “it’s sautéed with the steak so that the essence of the steak is imparted to the sauce,” Frank said. “You get all that flavor.”

The recipe is a classic. Frank said his mother made Brogiolli for family dinners when he was growing up in Boston in the ’40s (if you listen closely you can still detect a trace of the Boston accent). No doubt Rose—or Rosa—brought a knowledge of the dish with her from her native Bonita, Italy, a small town about 50 miles east of Naples. You’ll find everything is fresh, homemade.

Chalet Basque

Issue: 29-4

Chalet Basque’s Crab-stuffed Shrimp
Chalet Basque’s Crab-stuffed Shrimp

My sense is that local French-Basque restaurant roots have blurred a bit, blending with the other cultures that comprise Bakersfield. Except at one Basque restaurant, where the French influence remains strong. Chalet Basque, at 200 Oak Street in Bakersfield, has an old-world feel, a sense that, even though it fronts a busy Bakersfield arterial and is in a stucco building, you cross a threshold the moment you enter the door, and slip into a French country restaurant.

I usually order the Beef Bourguignon when I am at Chalet Basque; it’s a classic French dish (it originated on the opposite side of the country, in Burgundy, but so what?), and I enjoy Chalet Basque’s version. However, I broke with my habit in order to try one of the restaurant’s signature dishes, shrimp stuffed with crab and topped with Swiss cheese. If you’re a heart patient, skip this dish, because it is incredibly rich! My plate had four jumbo shrimp stuffed with a crab-bread crumb-herb mix, covered with a creamy sauce and Swiss cheese melted over it. It was moist and delicious!

Zingo’s Restaurant

Issue: 27-6

Zingo’s Chicken Fried Steak
Zingo’s Chicken Fried Steak

Zingo’s, at 3201 Buck Owens Blvd., has been a Bakersfield fixture since 1965. Most of the customers are local. They are a baby-boomer bunch, too, perhaps attracted by the ‘50s-‘60s theme of the place, complete with black and white checkerboard floor-tile design with matching curtains.

I asked our waitress what Zingo’s was known for. “We’re famous for chicken fried steak,” she said. OK, I said, I’ll try it.

I confess that I ordered the chicken fried steak with some trepidation. I like my steaks grilled on wood and medium rare. In fact I couldn’t tell you the last time I ordered chicken fried steak, but it was likely decades ago. I needn’t have worried: Zingo’s was good. The well-done beef was coated in crispy fried batter, but not greasy, and served on a bed of white sausage gravy with a dollop of gravy on top. I had chosen a baked potato for my side (it also came with green beans), and was delighted when it came with whipped butter (not margarine, thank goodness!) and sour cream.

Steak and Grape

Issue: 30-1

Steak and Grape’s yummy Bananas Foster
Steak and Grape’s yummy Bananas Foster

My wife and I have been enjoying Steak & Grape pretty much since it opened at 4420 Coffee Rd. We like the soft lighting, the simple, black-framed artwork, the wood-grained tables, and the floor to ceiling drapes. And we’ve developed a fondness for certain dishes. So when we headed for the restaurant, both Carol and I already had in mind what we wanted. That said, we always look for things we haven’t tried, and at Steak & Grape we’ve learned that can be an adventure.

Of the five desserts listed, Bananas Foster, that classic New Orleans dessert, caught our eye. We decided to share one.

The Steak & Grape version is simply not to be missed. While it doesn’t feature the flaming tableside preparation routinely found in New Orleans restaurants, it has its own twist. It has a rich butter-brandy-orange juice-brown sugar sauce that is almost the consistency of honey. The vanilla bean ice cream and bananas draped in this sauce are topped with crunchy, candied walnuts. We had anticipated only a couple of bites each because we were pretty full by that point, but it was so good we astonished ourselves and finished the whole thing. let’s eat!

Editor’s Note: Don’t worry, readers, Mike Stepanovich’s most recent review will be included in the next issue.

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