A reader who asked to remain anonymous emailed us about the Kabob House on White Lane. "I wanted to let you know that the Kabob House has expanded and is now a very nice sit-down restaurant. The food is still delicious, but business has been very slow. Anyway, maybe you can give it another visit to see if it's still worth eating there. Hopefully it will have a positive effect."

And yes, the interior has been completely transformed. Before it was like a small fast-food place; you could see the kitchen. Now that area is off limits to customers and a tastefully decorated dining room has taken its place with comfortable wooden-backed, cushioned chairs, tablecloths and Persian artwork. It's like a grown-up restaurant now, with some tables on the patio outside. It's at 4701 White Lane, open from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. Phone is 837-8330.

Reader recommendation

A reader who didn't leave a name sent an email touting the Pita House on Ming Avenue near Office Max. "(It's) wonderful fresh, fresh food. The Greek salads are so wonderful. I have eaten there many times. It is owned by a wonderful couple. The restaurant is clean, service is wonderful and very friendly. The shish kabobs on a bed of rice are so good, they have the best hummus, the creamiest I have ever tasted. The lamb is so tender ..."

It is a great option for a moderately priced dining experience. Thanks for the tip.

What's with the black pepper?

A reader named Carolyn wrote to question the overuse of black pepper in local restaurants. "Somehow or the other, chefs in Bakersfield have decided to douse everything in pepper. Unfortunately, there are some people like me who cannot tolerate pepper. I double over with cramps and have severe indigestion problems for many days afterwards. Tahoe Joe's and J's Place are among the worst. (Recently, I had to strip off the coating on chicken strips at Tahoe Joe's just to have something to eat.) Please, would you be kind enough to use your influence and encourage our otherwise wonderful eating places to stop the use of pepper? It really isn't necessary. A pepper shaker or packets on the table serves the purpose for those who want pepper on their food."

It's really kind of an interesting reaction, I think, against the use of salt and MSG as flavoring agents due to the health concerns and dietary restrictions. Another trend that's working against this is the salt-and- pepper-available-on-request-only trend you see in high-end restaurants, including the Padre Hotel, on the premise that the chef wants his art sampled as it has been crafted rather than with some automatic seasoning done by the customer, often before tasting. But when salt and pepper is used too liberally in the kitchen, the customer can't remove it.

Reasonable people can disagree on flavor enhancers, but all have the potential to overwhelm the other flavors of any dish. I remember reading a British food writer named Elizabeth David who went on a rant about vanilla, how it should be banned from food, and especially its overuse by pastry chefs. TV chef Anne Burrell prefers to use crushed, dried red pepper instead of black. I recall seeing her on TV once speaking against the tones it adds to food. When some foods are cooking, if salt isn't added at specific times, its presence can't be tasted at all later. Above all, I think thoughtful, strategic and deliberate use (and not overuse) is the best road.

New and different

Today is the last day for Mimi's Cafe's Valentine's Menu for two at $26.99, available 4-11 p.m. You get a choice of soup or salad, four entrees (Chicken Madeira, Beef Bourguignon, Quatre Fromages Ravioli or "Soul" Piccata) and a classic ensemble dessert ... California Pizza Kitchen has a special deal also ending today that includes an appetizer, two entrees and dessert for $30 ... Trader Joe's has a wonderful deep-dish pepperoni ($3.99) in the freezer section ... Read the news that Black Bear Diner is building its first Bakersfield location across from the Marie Callender's on California Avenue. We have visited that chain's coffee shops on trips to the northern part of the state and found their sweet cream-buttermilk pancakes to be an incredibly rich breakfast treat and some great dinner choices (pecan-encrusted trout and meatloaf made with pork and beef). They have 55 locations in nine states, most along the West Coast ... Del Taco has brought back crispy shrimp tacos ... Mike and Ike candies have revived two retro flavors, Cherri and Bubb, and Lem and Mel (lemon and watermelon), available now through April ...