KC Steakhouse has been a downtown institution since 1939, but in recent years the kitchen has taken it up a notch in ways that are pretty impressive.

Sure, long ago they added an amazing lobster macaroni and cheese made with smoked gouda, blue and American cheese that is a must order. But late this summer they started using dry aged steaks that combined with the trendy emphasis on local produce, whiskey and wine providers is evidence of a new verve and energy in the kitchen. If you have not been lately and you love expertly prepared classic cuisine, you’re missing out. There isn’t a smidgen of stodginess in what they’re putting on the plates. 

Let’s start with the buzz they created with the dry aged steaks. They didn’t actually do the aging themselves, getting two cows worth of the beef prepared by their butcher. But our waitress told us they sold out of it so quickly that they decided to continue the special. Best advice is to call in advance to see if they have the supply. We went on a weekday night and thought we’d be out of luck, but as it turned out the shipment for that weekend had just arrived that day.

“We’ve got it in all cuts,” our waitress said, and we were tempted by one of the nightly specials, a 16-ounce bone-in New York presented on a sizzling platter of thin strings of onions and green peppers ($52.95), while my companion was tempted by the lemon chicken breast ($22.95).

Of course, the interior is still memorable with its dark, dark, dark ambiance with the fireplace in the center, red tablecloths, live entertainment on many nights (here’s to live musicians!) and waitresses in short skirts. If a Dean Martin song came to life, it would look like this. But my general reaction to something like that is, “Don’t ever change, KC!” Genuine throwback atmosphere like this is what too many places try to mimic. Here, it’s the real article.

What I did love is the whole embrace of the oh-so-trendy farm-to-table movement that even extends to the bar where they were featuring an old fashioned made with a local whiskey (Bowen’s) and a Paso Robles winery named Tio owned by Andy Zaninovich (from a longtime local farming family). The cowboy potatoes I ordered with my steak came from Autonomy Farms, that exciting local organic farming operation. And based on taste alone, the chicken rice soup I was served before the meal had to have similarly sourced produce (celery, carrots, onions, corn, peas, in a not-too-salty stock). We’ll get to how good those potatoes were. And the great thing is the staff seems very knowledgeable about the food offered and points out this information if you ask.

Let’s get to the dry aged beef and why you should try it if you like steaks. It’s exactly what it sounds like: beef is aged, concentrating the flavor in magnificent ways. During the process, meat must be trimmed away, which is why it’s costly. Some restaurants have amazing operations. I remember visiting Legal Seafoods at the Prudential Center in Boston and seeing the racks and racks of steaks they were dry aging. Some didn’t look good. But the process creates chemical changes in the protein much like aging wine turns grape juice into something spectacular. I’ve met people who tell me they don’t like the sour or bitter notes they may have encountered. I like the loss of water, which doesn’t make the meat more dry, just the juices more flavorful.

What I was served was just great, and the treatment on the sizzling platter didn’t hurt. The onions and peppers had been cut so thin and were so caramelized that they were magnificent. The beef had strong flavor but not a discordant note— no off-putting bitterness in the least. I’m sure we’ve all had those steaks with little marbling that taste like nothing. This was the opposite, and all I can say is if people could get this beef regularly from KC’s they wouldn’t be able to handle the crowds.

The cowboy potatoes were similarly appealing with rosemary and squash. From the name, you might expect onions and pepper bits a la home fries. This looked odd, but it worked on the plate, helped by a sprinkle of rosemary. As my companion noted, vegetables on both dinners were expertly cooked, not too raw, not overcooked. Goldilocks’s time — just right.

My companion’s simple chicken dinner had a graceful, flavorful lemon-mushroom cream sauce and garlic mashed potatoes that were subtlety seasoned with the stinking bulb. The chicken breasts were sautéed in garlic, wine and butter to a nice brown crust before being crowned with the sauce. She almost ordered the stuffed and wrapped chicken ($25.95), the breast meat stuffed with chives and cream cheese and wrapped with bacon. It will be hard for her in the future not to order either. The skills of the kitchen staff are not just limited to the beef.

The meals began with hot beans, salsa, butter and slices of room-temperature sourdough bread. Our biggest complaint about the whole dining experience was my companion’s salad — spring mix and romaine with some croutons — which reflected minimal effort. Disappointing and dull.

Service was professional from start to finish from a crew that exemplified a welcoming professionalism. They look like they enjoy their jobs, which is always a plus in a restaurant.

KC Steakhouse can be recommended for a fine dining experience.

Do you have a tip, question or recommendation on Bakersfield restaurants, trends or food news in general? Email him at pftittl@yahoo.com.

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