Contributing columnist

A unique new restaurant described as "Chili's meets Iron Chef" is going up in southwest Bakersfield.

Wiki's Wine Dive & Grill is scheduled to open in February or March in the Grand Island Village Shopping Center at 11350 Ming Ave., just west of Buena Vista Road. It's the latest business venture by Mike Earhart and Rick Peace . Earhart is a former managing partner of the Bakersfield Outback, and Rick was the founder of the Kern County Relay for Life back in 1992. The two were among the founding group of what is now known as Village Fest and have been involved in many different charitable events over the years, a trend they hope to continue for other nonprofits at Wiki's. (Charities are mentioned in their mission statement.)

"Our goal is a casual, neighborhood approach to gourmet dining," Earhart said in a phone interview. "We want something relaxed, but with an exhibition kitchen where you can see the chef cooking, feel the energy. A place with a comfortable, lively feel, where you can come in dressed up or straight off the golf course."

The pair has been interviewing for an executive chef and narrowed the field down to six from 61.

"We had chefs apply from France, Chicago, Miami," Peace said. "Three of them had family in the state and wanted to move back. Four were from Europe. A lot from Las Vegas."

Half the menu, they said, will be chef-driven, with an emphasis on local ingredients and changes based on the season. The "wiki" half will be more casual. Expect items such as brined chicken slow cooked overnight, a fish of the day, a ceviche, hand-made pasta and weekly wine pairings. The 4,200-square-foot restaurant will seat 170 people indoors and another 40 on the patio.

The pair hope to have the place up and running by Feb. 1 to get in on the Valentine's Day business, but expect to be open by early March at the latest. They will start the hiring process soon.

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New and different

Joseph's , the venerable Italian restaurant downtown, is now offering gluten-free pastas. ... New and interesting at Trader Joe's : Dark Chocolate Candy Cane Truffles ($3.99), Kona Coffee creamy half-dipped shortbread cookies ($2.99), a "chocolate passport" set of eight bars from various countries (including Peru and Ecuador, $9.99) and a decent value chardonnay, Purple Moon ($3.99). ... Chick fil-A has brought back its seasonal Peppermint Chocolate Chip shake, which is definitely as good as it sounds. ... The third Lengthwise location, facing CSUB's south entrance at The Marketplace, opened on Nov. 10. It will have the same operating hours as the Rosedale Lengthwise Pub location (11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11-11 Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday). ... Papa John's has opened a location in the shopping center that's home to RJ's and the Rosedale Juicy Burger . A few years ago they had been in the northeast but that location closed. ...Applebee's has five new menu items, including Brew Pub Pretzels & Beer Cheese Dip, crunchy Green Bean Crispers served with two sauces -- cool and creamy BBQ bacon ranch and a zesty horseradish, lemon Parmesan shrimp, the new Napa Chicken & Portobello's, and lastly the Zesty Roma Chicken & Shrimp.

Frozen scene at the Icehouse

The Icehouse near the Garces Circle on North Chester would seem to be an ideal restaurant location, being a cool old brick building with history and all that, but it's amazing how many places have come and gone there over the years. The Sizzler there recently closed -- that actually outlasted the other high-end restaurants -- but the corner spot near the fountain has been vacant for some time even though it was home to some outstanding restaurants over the years. French chef Patrick Beck moved his restaurant Beck's to that location and renamed it Patrick's . Those were the days in the '90s when The Blue Note and Beck were fighting it out for the best restaurant in town. Bootleggers , a brewpub sister restaurant of Frugatti's , was also impressive when it was there in the late '90s. There was an Italian restaurant and nightclub at the site named Bella Italia in late 2004 that had to close after the owner/chef ran into legal trouble. Before the closure, they made a stunningly simple but authentic Italian pizza. McGee's Steakhouse followed that in 2005, and was similarly accomplished. New owners tried to keep it going in 2007, but eventually it, too, went dark.

Maybe the location is just too far north of the downtown dining scene, at least as its currently influenced by the First Friday and the Fox Theater events. It will be interesting to see if anyone takes the plunge there and tries again.

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