Thursday, January 19, 2017

California lawmakers plan to turn the state into a "laboratory of resistance" to a Trump administration, good news for local eaters like Uricchio's Trattoria and Sequoia Sandwich Co. and dealing with an upswing in downtown smash and grab car break ins ...

 * ... ONLY IN CALIFORNIA: Well, you knew this was coming. Expect California to evolve into a "laboratory of resistance" (in the words of the New York Times) to resist the policies of a President
Donald Trump. The Times even went so far to refer to it as "Calexit," a clever take off on the Brexit vote when the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. But this is serious stuff and an all out war between a rebellious state and the federal government could quickly turn ugly and cost the state potentially billions of dollars in federal aide for programs like the infrastructure rebuilding that the Trump team is championing. Here is an example of what is not helpful: Sheila Kuehl, a member of the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors, is urging government workers to disrupt Trump programs that don't suit California's needs in what she calls Operation Monkey Wrench.

* ... SEQUOIA: The 18th Street branch of Sequoia Sandwich Co. is within weeks of opening its new kitchen and catering site next to the popular downtown eatery. The expanded kitchen will allow greater capacity but it will also feature "to go" salads and sandwiches so folks don't have to wait in line during those noon crunch times.

 * ... APARTMENTS: The upscale new apartment downtown, called 17th Place Townhouse, has set its ribbon cutting for Friday, January 27. The 44-unit complex features apartments in the 1,200 square foot range and will put to the test the idea that people will start viewing the area east of Chester Avenue as suitable for downtown living. I think it's a good bet that this project will be wildly successful. The developers are Ward 4 City Councilman Bob Smith (a big advocate of urban infill) and his son Austin Smith.

 * ... SPOTTED ON TWITTER: "Just realized my cat could be covered in tattoos and I wouldn't even know."

 * ... HAPPY EMPLOYEES: When was the last time you dined in a restaurant and your server gushed about the quality of the food and how each dish is made individually with fresh ingredients? Not to mention how nice and caring the owners are and how they treat their employees like family. It happened to me the other day while dining at Uricchio's Trattoria, and server Ashley Bledsoe shared her pride at working at the family owned eatery. (Bledsoe has worked at chain restaurants where meals come frozen and prepackaged and was amazed at the attention to detail at Uricchio's). All this just further buttresses my belief that the best food in town comes from locally owned kitchens. So hats off to owner Claire Porter and her late father, Nick Uricchio, who had the vision to bring quality food and white glove service to downtown Bakersfield.

 * ... CRIME: Something has to be done about the recent rash of smash and grab robberies involving cars and trucks in the downtown area. In the past month, I have heard of no fewer than six people who have had their car windows smashed while parked downtown in the early evening. These are not late night crimes but rather all this is happening in the 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. hours on 18th, 19th and 20th streets as folks are dining at places like Jin Sushi, Muertos, The Mark, The Padre Hotel and other popular downtown venues. This is the kind of petty crime that will drive people away from our emerging arts district.

 * ... MEMORIES: Lamar Kerley shared some memories about growing up and visiting the old Thompson's Pet Land, located on the northwest corner of 19th and O streets in the 1960s and 1970s.
"I think there is still a mural of a Toucan above the corner door.  Every weekend day that I could convince my mother to drive my brothers and I downtown, we would spend hours gazing lovingly at the tropical fish, the reptiles, the puppies and kittens. This store was nirvana for us, and many other Bakersfield children. We could pet the puppies and gaze at the large parrots, knowing that they might snap off our fingers if we put them too close. Looking at this store, I am flooded with the fondest of memories. I bet that I am not alone."

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Another storm will bring steady rain and snow to California through the weekend, Rod and Julie Crawford take me on a tour of the Silver Fox Starlite Lounge, and Cafe Med gets some 5-star love from a customer

 * ... RAIN AND COLD: Brace yourself because we are in for yet another weekend of steady rain, snow in the mountains and possible road closures. Is this California? Is this the Kern County I have
known for so many years? The rains this winter have been spectacular - and needed - but we are desert rats here and occasionally I admit to missing those morning when it is 80 degrees at 6 a.m. Let it rain, and snow, but when the sun returns, I will welcome that too.

 * ... SPOTTED ON TWITTER: "I love my husband. But, what really motivates me to stay married is how much weight I'd have to lose to date again."

 * ... SILVER FOX STARLITE: I took a tour of the old Silver Fox Lounge that is being lovingly restored by Rod and Julie Crawford, the couple who turned Pyrenees Cafe into one of the most popular spots in town. The couple purchased the 18th Street restaurant across from Mexicali (it had been renamed the Castaway Lounge and its iconic Silver Fox sign donated to the Kern County Museum) and are determined to return it to its nostalgic form of 40 years ago, when the best places in town were venues like The Town Casino in the old Padre Hotel, Suds Tavern, The Mint and of course the World Famous Alley Cat. "The Fox definitely won't be the dive that they once knew but not so nice that you are going to feel under dressed," Rod said. Longtime restaurateur and Crawford friend Andrew Willingham is helping in the restoration and will likely help run the place. My bet: expect the Crawfords to deliver a menu of outstanding food and service, served in a lively, homey atmosphere with plenty of outdoor seating. The new Silver Fox Starlite Lounge should be opened by sometime in February.

 * ... 18th STREET REVIVAL: The Silver Fox Starlite Lounge is just the latest in the gentrification of 18th Street, already home to Mexicali, The Goose Bar and Grill (formerly Goose Loonies), Bill Lee's and an expanding Sequoia Sandwich Co. Add the upscale new apartment complex just a few blocks west, and a new coffee house called Cafe Smitten that looks about to open, and you have an urban renaissance that is transforming 18th Street east of Chester Avenue. Will this corridor become one of the "it" places to live downtown?

* ... SPEED RECORD: Last week I wrote about a man who set a land speed record on a bicycle here in 1941. As it turns out, Harvey McCown said the late Vince Clerou was part of it. "The car not only 'paced' the bicycle, but had a wind screen mounted on it. That way the car was braking the wind and the rider only had to focus on his speed. Vince grinned and chuckled about the wind coming around and 'probably' pushing the rider to a higher speed. The car driver had to be very skilled to maintain the speed and not cause a problem for the rider. The race car driver was in town for a race at the race track at the old fairgrounds. The area is now south of Sam Lynn Ball Park. The big mound that used to be there was the grandstand for the race track. I seem to remember the name of Barnie Olfield, but that may just be the passage of time enhancing the story telling."

 * ... CAFE MED: If you think customer service is dead, consider this note from Nick Phillips who recently visited Cafe Med his wife Celeste and their 3-month-old son Adonijah. They showed up without a reservation and waited for a bit until the staff set up a fresh table for them in the deli area.
"While waiting for our table, about six passersby stopped to compliment us on our handsome baby boy. One more approached, with a friendly smile and familiar presence, to kneel down and admire Adonijah - Adonijah's feedback was a very intent stare. The food was delicious and the service great. We were amazed at how many friendly faces we had encountered in one evening, not to mention the fact that our baby had not complained the entire time!" When the check came, a stranger appeared to intercept the check, wished them a happy new year and told Phillips to save his money for a special date night. "Stunned, surprised, and slightly scared, my wife and I were feeling very blessed. I rose to give the man a hug and a big thank you, learning that his name was Kenny. We would like to thank God, for blessing us and preparing such a perfect evening. We thank Kenny, for such a thoughtful act of kindness. And we thank Cafe Med, for great service."