BY STEFANI DIAS Californian assistant lifestyles editor firstname.lastname@example.org
Hot on the heels of recent market research that Bakersfield is outpacing the nation in restaurant growth comes the arrival of two new eateries in central Bakersfield. One, in the heart of the downtown arts district, specializes in steaks and seafood. The other's tucked inside an art gallery, offering sandwiches, pastries and healthy drinks.
The Mark, which opened Thursday, operates at 1623 19th St., a longtime restaurant spot. Known primarily as the former home of sports bar Goose Loonies (now at 816 18th St.), the building kept up the tradition with Kosmos Sports Bar before housing Victor Victoria's. After that closed under a cloud of wire and credit-card fraud, the site sat empty until renovations began for The Mark. That work literally dug up some of the building's past, according to Ro Fernandez, The Mark's general manager and executive chef.
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"When we were cleaning up, we found some peanuts from the old Goose Loonies days in the wall."
The new restaurant's interior bears little resemblance to that sports bar past, with its gleaming floors, carved wooden hostess area and high-back chairs and booths.
Fernandez said changes started with a remodel of the bathroom, leading to plumbing work. Then a necessary roof raising helped turn an office on the otherwise nonexistent second floor into an upstairs replete with two areas to host meetings, dinners or VIPs.
The Mark certainly looks posh by Bakersfield standards, but Fernandez said the concept is a little more middle of the road.
"We offer a little bit of something for everyone. We're still obviously fine-tuning (but) it's fine dining service with a laid-back feel to it. We didn't want to make it uptight. Everybody who comes in here can feel comfortable."
Comfort certainly has a place on the menu, which includes a selection of steaks, seafood, entree salads and more. Appetizers include baked goat cheese marinara ($10.95), served warm with crostini; seared ahi and oysters on the half shell (both $12.95). Among other temptations on the entrees list are a seafood cioppino ($24.95); double cut pork chop ($15.95), served with a savory jerk apple glaze; and maple sage fried chicken ($12.95), which I sampled during the soft opening early last week. Sage was present in every bite of the boneless and lightly battered chicken covered in a smoky white gravy.
For those wondering if you need to budget for lunch, Fernandez said not to worry.
"I came up with different things (on the menu). People who want to spend $12 on lunch can. We have a wedge salad and a BLT for $7.95 (each). For dinner, we have a couple of pastas and a meatloaf for around $12.95."
But if you have more scratch for dinner, consider The Mark's signature dish: the porcini rib eye, a pan-seared 16-oz. boneless cut with a sweet and spicy porcini crust. The item, developed by Fernandez for the Triple George Grill in Las Vegas, impressed even culinary celebrity Rachael Ray, who featured it on an episode of "Rachael's Vacation."
"The porcini is really smoky, and there's a bit of crushed red pepper to give it some heat. It goes great with glass of cab or pinot noir."
Speaking of wine, The Mark keeps to its "something for everyone" with options that start at $6 a glass (for white zinfandel) and bottles in the $30 to $60 range.
If the spirit moves you to try a cocktail, the bar serves name-brand alcohol (such as Jim Beam and Bacardi) in its well drinks as well as some house specialties. Among those, Fernandez suggests the old fashioned, made with Cazadores tequila and topped with a Luxardo maraschino cherry ($8).
"We use an Italian maraschino. ... Its concentrated flavor mixes well with cocktails."
For sweeter palates, Fernandez recommends Dr. H's Erotic Otter Pop, a mix of Stoli raspberry, Bacardi coconut rum, apple pucker, blue Curacao and fresh sweet and sour mix ($7).
The Mark is open 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday (until football season starts). The bar's hours are 11 a.m. to midnight. 322-7665.
Juliana's Art Cafe & Patio
If you're interested in a healthier drink option, consider a trip east on 18th Street to Juliana's Art Cafe & Patio.
Better-for-you beverages start with the simplest -- water -- but it's not from the tap, said owner Juliana Bernier-Dooley.
"Healthier living starts with the water you drink, so we are offering water which goes through reverse osmosis followed with a patented system by Nikken, which makes the water more alkaline for body detox."
Sampling the water on a recent visit, I found it crisp and absent an aftertaste, which can't be said for many bottled waters.
The cafe also steers away from sugary sodas (just Sprite and Squirt for the kids) instead opting for Aloe Gloe, Vita Coco and San Pellegrino fruit beverages.
A seasoned baristo is serving a variety of coffee and espresso beverages, and cinnamon rolls, croissants and protein shakes are available for breakfast.
For lunch, Juliana's offers turkey, roast beef and ham sandwiches or wraps and chef's salads, served with a tangy balsamic dressing and your choice of grilled chicken, turkey or ham (all $6.50).
Treats include cupcakes ($.95) and black forest cake ($2.75), with plans to expand offerings as business grows.
Seating is available indoors and out, including shaded tables in the front garden and back patio areas, which are dog-friendly. Customers can also enjoy free wifi.
Bernier-Dooley said art and music classes are still offered and she will feature a different artist's work every three months, although she is focusing on the cafe. She said it's been hard work to get the cafe up and running, but she is determined to succeed.
"I'm like a pit bull. I don't give up."
Juliana's Art Cafe (501 18th St.) is open 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. 327-7507.