Bakersfield Mass Ave.

I’ve been wanting to try Bakersfield since it opened about six months ago and the buzz began.  One of the things that’s been keeping me from reviewing Bakersfield is that it is usually incredibly crowded and I have very little patience for that sort of thing.  A friend of mine recently had cause to celebrate during a very low-volume time of day (about 5 on a Tuesday), so I voted to try this place out.  Photo Jun 04, 5 14 27 PM

A lot of people don’t know this, but Bakersfield is actually a chain, albeit a small chain, with at least one branch that I know of in Cincinnati.  The concept of the restaurant is ” …inspired by a city (Bakersfield, CA) known for spawning an era of music called the Bakersfield Sound. The “Sound” was a reaction to the slick, pop country music coming out of Nashville. It was firmly country but had more of a rock n’ roll influence, and was a bit less polished than other records of the time.”  This means there is always pretty loud country music playing in the restaurant.

The interior has a Restoration-Hardware-Meets-Rodeo feel to it:  it wants to be gritty and cowboy-industrial but tries way too hard.  There are giant upended barrels for tables.  That said, the whole restaurant opens to the outside via massive windows lining the front wall, which compensates for the lack of outdoor seating and makes this a great spot for a summer night drink.

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The Bakersfield theme gets a little confusing at this point  “Bakersfield CA was a small agricultural city with Mexican influence. Therefore Bakersfield will be throwing down Mexican-influenced street fare with a focus on tacos, tequilas, and whiskeys.” Now, I love whiskey, but the thought of drinking it with a taco is just plain confusing for me.  Nevertheless, they have their story and they’re sticking to it.  The menu consists of basically tacos and tortas.

Christina and I decided on house margaritas, which I had heard were good, and chips and guacamole.  I’d had their Milanesa torta on a previous visit and was rather underwhelmed, so I decided to try a taco on this trip.  I picked the crispy mahi taco with tabasco lime sauce and citrus slaw.  Christina ordered the short rib torta with caramelized onions, chihuahua cheese, arugula, black beans, and roasted tomatillo salsa.

I’ll start, as did our meal, with the positive, which is that our drinks and guacamole were outstanding.  The guacamole comes in a cup that looks small but must contain two whole avocados.  This guacamole is one of my favorite restaurant guacamoles-giant chunks of avocado, lots of garlic, no raw onion.  Aces.  Photo Jun 04, 4 30 26 PM

The margaritas were perfectly sweet and salty and disarmingly strong.  Even with the chips and guacamole, I had to walk this one off for a bit.  It was delicious and at $6, put Bakersfield right near the top of my list for a drink with friends.

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The meal got a little disappointing from there.  My fish taco was beautiful but tiny-literally a 1 oz piece of fish-and the taste was a bit subtle for me. And $4 for that tiny of a taco is a little ridiculous.  The whole thing was over in 2 bites.

Photo Jun 04, 4 48 38 PM

Christina’s torta was more substantial and reasonably priced.  The braised shortrib was very sweet and barbecue-like, but the flavors were unremarkable.  It was a fine sandwich, although nothing the more authentic tortas I’ve had.  Not that authenticity is a requirement for me at all, but don’t have expectations of a sandwich like the ones you’d get from Super Tortas.  Basically this torta was like eating a good pulled-pork sandwich.  Photo Jun 04, 4 48 21 PM

Another note, which I’m sure was a fluke but probably would have improved my experience a significant amount, was that the limes served with everything I ate seemed to be having a really rough day.  You can see in my photos:  absolutely not one drop of lime juice could be elicited into my cocktail or onto my taco.  I love citrus juice and I think limes are actually kind of a big freakin deal for a Mexican place, so I hope this was just a one-time bad order.

I will never suggest Bakersfield if a friend asks me for a good place for Mexican.  But If I’m on Mass Ave on a warm summer night and I need a drink and a snack?  Absolutely!  It’s got an outdoor feel, cheap tasty cocktails, and decent snack food.  There’s a reason this is where the beautiful people are.

http://Bakersfield Mass Ave. on Urbanspoon

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The Best Chocolate in Town? Yep!

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I could forgo writing any narrative at all and just admit to you that last week, I visited The Best Chocolate in Town three days in a row.  But brevity of speech has never been my strength, particularly where food is concerned, so let me regale you.

My foodie friend Annie and I have visited TBCIT several time for Truffle Tuesdays (or Thursdays, or whenever we feel like chocolate.)  Last week we visited on a Thursday.  The shop is at the “new” end of Mass Ave ***(I’ve been in Indy for some time now, long enough to say things like that.  When I moved here, Mass Ave’s public shops extended a good 2 or 3 blocks less to the northeast than they do currently.  I consider the northeast end, past 45 Degrees, to be “the new end”)***

They offer an amazing variety of truffle flavors (think cinnamon basil, honey lavender, even Sun King’s Wee Mac!) as well as other confections, gelato, and warm beverages.  Things I have sampled recently include:

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Spicy (Mexican) Cocoa:  I’m a huge fan of Mexican Hot Chocolate, which for those of you unfortunate enough to have never tried it, has cayenne pepper and cinnamon (or some combination of aromatics and spicy heat).  Until TBCIT started making it, I always counted on La Chinita Poblana for my fix, and I would still be hard-pressed to pick a favorite, although they are certainly distinct.  TBCIT also makes a mean regular hot cocoa, and let’s face it:  anytime someone asks “Would you like whipped cream on that?”  you’re making a great decision.

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Chocolate Dipped Pretzel: TBCIT uses nice big Snyder’s of Hanover-style pretzels for dipping and offers white, milk, or dark chocolate varieties.  While I liked the SIZE of the pretzel, it’s heartiness made the confection actually rather difficult to eat.  Like literally use-your-molars-difficult.

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Sea Salt Caramel and Bon Bons:  The peanut butter bon bon was quite delectable (top left in Nancy’s box)  and clockwise the sea salt caramel also met rave reviews.  We also sampled a sugar-free peanut butter cup (not pictured) that was actually quite heavenly.  There must have been Splenda or something in the chocolate shell because it was mildly sweet, but overall the confection lacked any of the overly sweetened quality that technically sugar free treats sometimes have.

From 1:00, clockwise:  Lemon Chiffon in Dark Chocolate, Cookies and Cream in white, Coconut Curry in white, Nocturne, and White chocolate cheesecake in dark chocolate.

From 1:00, clockwise: Lemon Chiffon in Dark Chocolate, Cookies and Cream in white, Coconut Curry in white, Nocturne, and White chocolate cheesecake in dark chocolate.

Truffles:  These are what TBCIT is famous for, and the reason picking a treat takes 20 minutes.  I’ve sampled several of their varieties over time, so I’ll just make general comments and then list the ones I have liked the best (Hint:  it’s all of them).  In general, I like the truffles here, as evidenced by my return visits.  And they certainly live up to their claim as the best chocolate in town, at least to the best of my knowledge.  But I hail from the land of Fannie May, and I wouldn’t say these are the best chocolates I’ve ever had by a decent shot.

For my personal taste, the outer shell of TBCIT truffles tends to be a little on the thick side, making it somewhat tough to bite.  The ganache filling, depending on the flavor, is sometimes a bit dry.  If this were any other food, I would not even mention these textural issues, because they are slight.  But truffles are a piece of candy the size of a Reese’s cup at 10 times the price, and are by their nature something that needs to be EXECUTED.  To me, a truffle needs to have a ganache that is not oppressively dense, but not light and fluffy either.  By way of a standard, I’d say a happy medium between fudge and a 3 Musketeers bar.  The shell needs to be a rich chocolate with just the right fat content to feel luxurious and silky in your mouth.  I expect my tooth to glide through the interface between shell and ganache without a hiccup, and that component is missing from TBCIT truffles.  They are just a bit too sturdy, in my opinion, for a luxury food item.

That said, what their truffles lack in structural subtlety, they make up for in ingenuity.  I have always been impressed with the creativity of the confectioners in blending interesting flavors into their truffles without overtaking the chocolate flavor.  I never order, say, Ginger Wasabi, and regret that I didn’t just get a regular chocolate truffle, because the execution is that good.    You can view a list of their extensive truffle menu at their website, although I doubt all flavors are available every day.  I can personally vouch for the awesomeness of:

-Chocolate Malt

-Hazelnut

-Nocturne (their SUPER dark, which I’m a junkie for but though their version to frankly be quite dry)

-Espresso Cardamom

-Coconut Curry (TRY THIS ONE!)

-Raspberry

-Milk Chocolate

-Balsamic Cabernet

-Lemon Chiffon

I’m dying to try The Gorg (gorgonazola filling!), any of the Cheesecake filling varieties, and Honey Lavender.  I also just saw they started carrying Lick ice cream (made in Indianapolis and normally only available at City Market or on trucks) so that will have to happen soon, too.

In summary (thought I’d never stop blabbing about chocolate, didn’t you??), I like this place a whole lot.  But for a great great truffle, that serene perfect expression of elegant chocolatey glory, I go elsewhere.

http://Best Chocolate in Town on Urbanspoon

Bru Burger

Tryin the Bru

So I had been to Bru for the first time a few weeks ago and LOVED their ahi burger but wanted to go back for several reasons. Most importantly, it was my foodie friend Kate’s birthday and we needed to celebrate. However, I was doubly glad to be going because

1. The ahi burger was great-like really great-but we all know a burger ain’t a burger less it bleeds.
2. Last time I went it was for a quick lunch-therefore no sides, drinks, or desserts were sampled. And as discussed in my last post, burgers are all about the accoutrements for me!

So my expectations were high. And overall, my visit was very, very enjoyable. But there were issues, so I’ll discuss those first.

1. The name. I mean really. This is a part of the restaurant group that owns Mesh, which I am a fan of, and Stone Creek Dining Company, whose ribs I would kill a second-degree relative for. But “Bru” is really an awful name.
2. The burgers stand alone. This is annoying. It’s always a LITTLE annoying when restaurants try to leeeeech money out of you by selling you $6 creamed spinach alongside your $35 steak. Couldn’t you just throw in a dollop of potatoes and not nickel and dime me, please, Ruth’s Chris? But it’s extra annoying at Bru. Because let’s be real: EVERYBODY WANTS FRIES WITH A BURGER. PERIOD. Doesn’t have to be a ton, but I’m paying $10 for a burger, throw me a bone. We wound up splitting a plate of chili cheese fries between 7 of us for $8, which is a totally fair price, but then it wasn’t split on the bill, causing hassle and potential awkwardness and honestly just give me a few $*&%JFHJ## French fries please. Thank you.

3. It was packed. On a Wednesday at 6. Congratulations to them for being popular, but there was only one exit (aside from an emergency exit) and it was unbelievable how poorly laid out the restaurant is. Constant banging in to other guests and servers, only one restroom per gender, not enough ordering computers so the servers were lined up 3 deep right next to our table where the computers were. It doesn’t seem like a big deal but if it was that bad on a Wednesday at 6… Also they don’t take reservations, which I understand but still chaps my ass a bit, especially since our group of 7 then had to wait an hour for a table. That’s why groups of 7 need reservations.

4. The kitchen seemed to have a really hard time with orders. 4 of our 7 got raw onion on their burgers despite asking for it to be withheld. One guy got mayonnaise despite asking for none. I got onion rings despite NOT asking for them, then alerted my server and was charged anyway and then had to wait for him to stand in aforementioned line to get it off my bill. None of it was a big deal, but that’s kind of a lot of screw ups!

Ok, so that’s the bad. Here’s the good news, and why I will be going back.

1. THE BURGERS WERE AWESOME! Our group tried several of the 765 burger options. **Note: “garden” means tomato, lettuce, and onion, and as you may have guess, elicited a huge eye roll from me**

Provencal (Basil aoili, red onion jam, herbed goat cheese, and sauteed mushrooms) This one got rave reviews from the birthday girl, who insisted I try the delectable aoili. I think it will be my next pick when I visit again.

The Beginning (American cheese, pickle, mayo, mustard, ketchup, and garden) Nobody complained or raved because their mouths were full!photo (21)

Black and Bleu Bacon Burger (Blackened beef, mayo, gorgonzola, and garden) This one got mediocre reviews from the eater for being really light on the gorgonzola-she said she loves bleu cheese and was hoping for some stinky cheese taste in every bite and that didn’t happen. She also ordered her burger rare and said although it was medium at best, it still was very juicy and flavorful. Overall, she was happy with the burger but underwhelmed with it as a Black and Bleu.

The Classic Bacon Cheeseburger (Thick-cut bacon, mayo, white cheddar, and garden) I was totally impressed by the quality of the bacon and the perfect flavor and juiciness of the meat. No grease running down my chin, but also no need to gulp water after every arid bite. Perfect classic.

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Memphis Barbecue Sandwich (Pulled pork, white cheddar, homemade BBQ, fried onion, and southern-style slaw)

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2. The booze was on point! Sadly I opted not to order a brew for several reasons, but the beer offerings were solid-you’ll just have to trust me. Two of our party tried signature cocktails. The birthday girl got a Pear Cosmopolitan, which I tried and loved for it’s very peary taste. Another girl got a Mole Manhattan, which was incredibly strong but mostly just whiskey without much of the spicy chocolate taste implied by the name. The cocktails made what would be a decently priced burger meal into a night-out-priced dinner, but this place definitely didn’t skimp on the alcoholic offerings.

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3. The sides were spiffy! I was informed by another member of our group that Bru makes all their own sauces (even ketchup and the whipped cream atop their desserts!) I was pleasantly surprised also that I wasn’t beaten over the head with this fact (“our signature house mayonnaise, our house-made ketchup” was happily absent from the menu and waiter’s lingo) The chili cheese fries and milkshakes were just scrumptious. I guess I’m tacky because that’s exactly what I want at a burger joint.

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4. The service was good. Not over the top amazing, but very adequate, polite, and friendly despite being obviously quite busy. At places this in-demand, I have increasingly found hostesses and waitstaff to cop attitudes, but that was not the case at all here and it made the experience that much more enjoyable.

We rounded things out by chowing down on Flying Cupcakes (ok, we got them before!!! I admit!!!) And the whole thing made for a lovely, lovely night. If you’re on Mass Ave and craving a burger, I highly recommend this place. Unless you’re on a budget. Or it’s Friday.

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http://BRU Burger Bar on Urbanspoon