Saturday, Mar 30 2013 12:13 PM

PETE TITTL: Definitely a mixed bag at Mimi's Cafe

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Mimi's Cafe at 4025 California Ave. in Bakersfield.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Mimi's Cafe petite bread pudding is a favorite.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Hostess Alexandra Gomez is ready to greet diners at Mimi's Cafe in Bakersfield.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Rosemary Bravo, left, and Beverly Chavez seem to enjoy good conversation and their dessert at Mimi's Cafe.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Manager Julie Budreaux serves the popular French quarter burger at Mimi's Cafe.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Madeira Creps from Mimi's Cafe in Bakersfield.

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By PETE TITTL, Contributing columnist

Years ago, Mimi's Cafe, a French-influenced chain based in Irvine, was early to jump on the low-calorie menu options trend and the "small plates" movement that is still growing nationwide. Now with their new menu, they've added a distinct emphasis on value and dinner flexibility. Changes have been so extensive that it's hard to summarize.

There's a $13.99 combo special for dinner that features a cup of soup or salad, an entree and a "petite treat" for dessert (entree choices are sirloin steak, seafood fettuccine, chicken madeira crepes, salmon Florentine or butternut squash ravioli with garlic shrimp). New regular menu items include mixed berry crepes for breakfast, a corn chowder and seared scallops appetizer ($7.99), coq au vin and four cheese ravioli. And there's a "Le Bistro menu" that allows you to customize your dining entree.

Related Info

4025 California Ave.

326-1722

mimiscafe.com

Hours: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Reservations recommended.

Prices: Appetizers, $7.59 to $9.49; "petite plates," $3.99 to $7.99; soups, $4.49 to $5.49; "Fresh & fit," $9.59 to $17.99; pastas, $9.99 to $12.99; "Le bistro," $9.99 to $17.99; French specialties, $10.29 to $13.59; "Cafe classics," $10.99 to $13.99; salads, $6.99 to $8.99; burgers and sandwiches, $9.79 to $10.99.

Payment: MasterCard, VISA, American Express and Discover accepted. Personal checks not accepted.

Dress: Casual

Amenities: Wheelchair accessible; beer and wine served; some vegetarian options.

Food: **1/2

Atmosphere: ***

Service: **

Value: **1/2

Next Week: La Mina

Where to start, where to start!

How about those crepes ($9.79) at breakfast? I sat at the counter rather than a table or booth, and I wouldn't recommend it. I was treated like an orphan by the undermanned staff, 10 minutes to get a menu, my order botched (sausage instead of bacon) and generally left to fend for myself, though a man nearby who must be a regular was treated like a valued guest. The crepes, which come with two eggs any style and choice of meat, were nearly perfect: brown, not too dry, stuffed with orange marmalade-flavored cream cheese and a few blueberries, topped with thinly sliced strawberries and a lot more blueberries. If you can't make it downtown to Cafe Crepes, this is a good substitute.

On our first dinner visit we tried the Le Bistro menu combination with entree options like a "half roasted chicken" (it's half of a roasted chicken, not a partially cooked portion of poultry), two steaks, salmon, sole or mahi mahi or pork chops. You can choose one sauce and two sides. My companion selected the pork chops with the mushroom madeira sauce, French green beans and "baby bakers," while I ordered the mahi mahi with a lemon caper sauce, au gratin potatoes and seasonal vegetables (which happened to be steamed broccoli, always in season). I appreciated the way they put the sauces on the side rather than drenching the meat or seafood.

The proteins were disappointing, my companion sensing an age to the pork chops that was not flattering. If you love the thick, white, wonderful chops served at Tahoe Joe's, you'll walk away dejected. However the green beans (called "harcot verts" on the menu) and the potatoes (tiny, garlicky skins-on white potatoes) were much better. My fish portion was a perfect 6 ounces, but it had the fishy odor and taste that not even the best lemon caper sauce can cover up. The au gratins were a subtle concoction, not a calorie-laden cheese-heavy mess. The broccoli was perfectly done.

We ordered the "petite" bread pudding ($2.59) and believe me, it's enough for two to share (at 560 calories), with a fantastic buttery whiskey sauce. It's a must recommend.

On another dinner visit we ordered the coq au vin ($12.49) and the "quatre fromages ravioli" ($10.29). The Mimi's version of the French chicken classic featured half a bird in the red wine sauce with bacon, onions, mushrooms and carrots, with mashed potatoes and green beans sauteed with garlic butter on the side. My companion's raviolis had a "secret" blend of cheese with Parmesan, romano and marinara sauce on top. The pasta, topped with minced garlic, spinach and fresh basil, did not impress my companion.

"Why wouldn't you go to Joseph's if you wanted this?" she asked.

The tomato sauce had sizeable chunks of tomato mixed in, but left a sweet, bland Ragu-like impression. The muted cheeses inside did not dazzle.

I did have more luck with the coq au vin, a half bird with a brown gravy, some exceptionally rich fresh-made mashed potatoes that did not need butter and green beans as thin as your average Parisian woman, with just a wisp of garlic. I'd definitely order that again, though so few restaurants serve it. It's a good, slow-cooked cold weather stew-like creation.

Service seems hit and miss. I already mentioned the inattention at the bar during breakfast. At dinner the employees were pleasant always, but on one visit there was no bread basket brought to the table at the beginning of the meal (two sourdough flutes, two excellent flatbreads). It doesn't seem like the sort of consistency you should get from a chain.

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