Local Lifestyle

Thursday, Jan 16 2014 03:00 PM

HERB BENHAM: The classiest restaurateur there was

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Herb Benham

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    By Uricchio's

    Nick Uricchio and his wife Phyllis.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Nick Uricchio opened his namesake restaurant in 1995, paving the way for future restaurants in downtown Bakersfield. He died Sunday at age 87.

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By HERB BENHAM, Californian columnist hbenham@bakersfield.com

Nick Uricchio, dressed to the nines, stood near the front door of the restaurant because his philosophy was that a family member ought to be present at Uricchio's at all times. Other touches included sending a basket of warm herb bread to your table that made you feel like an insider even if you had plenty of company.

I asked him if he ever worried about his chef leaving, knowing how dependent restaurants are on the back of the house.

"I told him when he moved here from LA," Nick said. "The only way he was leaving was in a box."

He was kidding, or I think he was kidding, but Nick's Italian heritage, something he was proud of and had fun with too, sold the joke.

We appreciate Nick, who died recently, and the Uricchio family for putting all their marbles in the pot downtown when few people wanted to play. They've served consistently good food, my favorite being the chicken piccata with the shoestring potatoes.

***

Kevin Schmidt, the doctor for AERA Energy LLC, responded to the column where I whirlybirded over the handlebars in order to avoid a porcupine bush on a mountain bike ride in the Kern River Canyon.

Kevin is the vice president of the local mountain bike club, the Southern Sierra Fat Tire Association, and he's inviting anybody with a pulse and a mountain bike on their Sunday rides.

The group pushes off at 8 a.m. from Juliet Thorner school. Normally about 30 riders show. The group is divided so that beginners do not have to chase experts.

"We leave no one behind and wait up for all," Kevin said. "The beginners are taken on relatively easy trails."

The foothills north and east of Thorner are a mountain- biking, walking and running treasure. My dream, and it's probably a pipe dream, is that somebody buys this land and keeps it public and accessible. The Nature Conservancy, perhaps, or maybe some local philanthropists could throw in together.

Right now, we are lucky to have a playground. Let's play.

***

A difference of opinion about calling the tri-tip melt at Sequoia the best sandwich in town from John Bertolucci:

"That tri-tip you mentioned recently is not as good as the Philly cheesesteak. The cheesesteak comes on a grilled roll with melted cheese and grilled onions and bell peppers. The kicker is that the cheesesteak comes with a dipping side of warm marinara tomato sauce.

"I am with Wyatt Ross; I enjoy most of your stuff."

***

Caroline Reid wrote about the column in which a fellow movie-goer received a text in the middle of "Saving Mr. Banks."

"Loved the column today until you sounded apologetic about being annoyed about the cell phone conversation.

"Here's my take:

"1) Go to the movies with a baby at home when you feel secure about leaving the baby with someone for 2.5 or 3 hours.

"2) Turn your cell phone off at the movies out of consideration for others.

"(3) Tell the person who is caring for your child that if there is a real emergency, send the police to the theater (or a good friend).

"(4) The minute the movie is over, check for messages.

"Until we 'curmudgeons' stand up for our rights, this will continue to happen."

I understand, but I wanted to try the olive-branch approach. I've employed the nuclear option, and probably will again, but it doesn't leave a particularly good taste in your mouth.

I thought a few kind words might help if, for no other reason, than to stem the rising tide of ill will in me.

***

Nancy Bellue, a neighbor and friend, suggested that we spotlight people in the service industry who provide good service because their jobs are important and their kindness can splash color on an otherwise drab day.

Kasey, at Starbucks on 24th Street, is one of those people. She calls customers by name, knows what their favorite drink is and has a million-dollar smile to boot.

***

Can you remember a year with no Tule fog? It's hardly sporting to take issue with 72-degree days but this year is a singular one. Fog and rain would not be unwelcome.

***

I suggest attending the free choir concert at First Presbyterian Church downtown at 6 p.m. Monday.

The concert, celebrating the Martin Luther King holiday, will feature a blend of several different gospel choirs along with the choir from First Pres as well as members of The Bakersfield Master Chorale.

The voices should be glorious.

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