Friday, Dec 28 2012 12:50 PM

THE DISH: Riverwalk Cafe closes doors downtown

By The Bakersfield Californian

The "Sizzler of the Future" is now open in the northeast. And while such a title might conjure up visions of flying cars and teleportation stations, the new place will be startling to those who thought Sizzler's concept had gotten old and stale.

I mean we are talking about a California-based chain that was created by Del and Helen Johnson in Culver City back in 1958, with a steak dinner priced at $1.19. Change was necessary to compete with the Outbacks and Golden Corrals of the world.

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The restaurant, at 2650 Mount Vernon Ave., reopened in October after a remodel prompted by a fire. Anyone expecting the old laminate paneling and '80s-style brass-and-glass salad bar will be shocked by the black granite counters, stone on the floor and walls (with carpeting under many of the tables) and the recessed LED lighting. There was an outdoor grill near the entrance but, this being December, it was cold and quiet on the night we visited. Recorded jazz was playing in the background and flat-screen TVs were tuned to the NFL Channel. We couldn't believe how crowded it was (on a Tuesday!), but an appealing atmosphere can do that.

How's the food? We sampled a steak and lobster ($16.99) and chicken hibachi with side salad ($9.49). The salad bar (complete with desserts and appetizers) seems even larger than it was before, but that's an add-on and the cashier who took our order near the entrance neglected to upsell it to us. Though no one will be comparing the fare to Cafe Med, there were some nice touches. The drawn butter for the lobster tail, for example, had some minced garlic in the bottom. My companion's salad had been tossed with a light oil and vinegar dressing that was quite subtle. Her chicken was served with properly steamed vegetables that included broccoli, cauliflower and carrots, though the promised snow peas were missing.

She noted the proper portions on her plate, which someone other than a nutritionist might find wanting. With the fresh-baked rolls served with honey butter, neither of us walked away hungry even without the salad bar, which could've made a meal in itself. My sirloin was tasty, but as you would expect at this price level, it seemed to have some MSG help along the way.

The salad bar looked amazing, with four bowls of greens, including a spinach cranberry mix, Asian chopped and Caesar salads. There was a Mexican food section with beans, rice, ground beef and carnitas as well as mini tostada bowls and taco shells. You can buy just the salad bar if you wish, and that's where I'll head next time.

Sizzler also has upgraded its wine options, offering decent varietals at $4 and $5 a glass. The restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

-- Pete Tittl, contributing columnist

Riverwalk closes downtown

After seven months, the downtown Riverwalk Cafe abruptly closed for business last Friday.

Owner James Whitener said business at the deli, which operated next door to On the Rocks nightclub, which Whitener also owns, was tough going after the two businesses began sharing operating hours a few months ago.

"The cafe side was struggling and On the Rocks' kitchen was competing with Riverwalk. They're open the same time now. I know we have a lot of people upset about it. We enjoy cooking the food, but it's all about economics. As much as I wanted it to happen, it just wasn't making it."

Whitener added the decision to close the downtown deli will not affect business at their original Riverwalk location on Stockdale Highway. Next month, remodeling will begin, expanding On the Rocks into the entire building. Some Riverwalk menu items will be added to On the Rocks' menu.

-- Matt Munoz, entertainment writer

New and different

Mimi's Cafe has a new entree: grilled salmon Florentine (served on a warm bed of petite potatoes with bacon, spinach and a creamy horseradish sauce) ... China Bistro at The Marketplace has a Tuesday night special designed to appeal to moviegoers: dinner for two for $9.99, plus tax. It includes rice or chow mein, four entrees from the steam table, two egg rolls and two drinks. Dine in only after 5 p.m. ... While we were at The Marketplace, we noticed that Miyosh Japanese restaurant has a beer and wine notice on the window from the ABC, so they'll be offering that soon ... Panera Bread has a new Big Kid grilled cheese sandwich made with Vermont white cheddar, gruyere, organic American cheese (yes, such a thing exists) and applewood-smoked bacon ... There's a sign on the old Hourglass Kitchen & Bar announcing that Sushi Moon & BBQ will be opening soon ... I'm eagerly awaiting the January opening in Rosedale of Freddy's Frozen Custard and Steakburger, which is going into the old Burger King on Calloway, north of Rosedale Highway.

-- Pete Tittl, contributing columnist

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