In recent months we've written about so many interesting downtown restaurants, and you'd certainly have to include The18hundred in that group.
It's not just the decor of the beautiful historic building at the corner of 18th and Chester Avenue. The menu that regularly gets tweaked is perfect to meet the desires of those who prefer trendy cuisine with health-inducing ingredients from a kitchen that can make Brussels sprouts seem like a fantastic dining choice. There's a reason that people wait patiently outside for a table if they must, as at 24th Street Cafe. Service could use a bit of work, but that's an easy fix.
We visited recently on a Friday night without taking advantage of the waitlist provision you can find on their website (we highly recommend doing that, though be aware that they will not seat you until your whole party is present).
We got the last table available probably because it was early and soon there was a decent line outside. The dining room isn't that big, and some hardy souls were even dining out on that sidewalk patio. Owners Maya and Foti Tsiboukas have done a fantastic job with this place.
We first wrote about the place when it opened back in 2019 and it's only gotten better in both decor and a revamped menu. We ordered an appetizer of caramelized Brussels sprouts ($9), my companion selecting the Southwest quinoa bowl ($12) and I chose the wild caught mahi mahi entrée ($24).
Confessing my biases, I've never really understood the appeal of Brussels sprouts. In fact, I've regularly given them up for Lent, which I believe is not really supposed to be a way to approach that religious tradition. But what the kitchen does here with these makes this bowl so incredibly appealing that in one preparation I not only comprehended the appeal but would order the creation again.
The globes were sliced in half and caramelized with a balsamic reduction that was an inspired choice and tossed with dried cranberries, bacon pieces and Parmesan cheese. You might think it too sweet with the balsamic and the fruit, but it wasn't with the smokiness from the bacon and the slight creaminess from the cheese. Frankly it will be a must-order when we visit in the future.
Now when we talk about the exceptional quality of the food, you need to take into account the value of these prices; $24 for my dinner seemed like a robbery given its quality. The grilled mahi mahi filet was covered with a Cajun beurre blanc sauce (not too much, not too little) and resting on a bed of decent rice pilaf, a trail of the sauce forming a comma to the side on the plate, with a mound of sauteed spinach (with tomatoes and purple onions) making for a presentation you would expect at a much more expensive restaurant.
In the past we've loved the other house specialties: the crispy roasted half chicken ($20) and the cast-iron rib-eye ($28) with the grilled asparagus and garlic mashed potatoes. In these days of crazy inflation, it just seems like we should be paying more, especially with the restaurant's emphasis on fresh, local ingredients.
My companion's bowl was another winner: quinoa with corn, black beans, crispy tortilla strips and small bits of roasted sweet potato that she noted were wisely chopped so small that it helped all the flavors and textures blend together.
We got the sauces on the side, which we recommend, as they are so different: a chipotle vinaigrette and an avocado cilantro dressing. Both seem made in house, and they are so radically different if you put one sauce on one side and the other on the remaining portion it will seem like a completely different dish.
The atmosphere has creative verve and personality with its "Stay Cool Bakersfield" slogan and that cool picture of the Bakersfield Motorcycle Club posing on Chester Avenue that looks like it was taken in the era when Butch Cassidy was discovering the two-wheeled wonder.
The natural brick walls, pendant lighting coming down from the high ceilings is accented by all sorts of colorful touches, such as the amazing multicolored, varied-depth tile work underneath the bar countertop.
The beer, wine and cocktail lists are similarly hip. And those milkshakes, which we didn't sample on this visit, are worth the calories and they've expanded the sweet options with four desserts, including "mo donut bites" ($8), cinnamon sugar doughnuts with caramel and chocolate dipping sauces.
Lest this just be a big valentine, I have one issue: The service needs work. The place is adequately staffed by a black-shirted crew but almost all the glitches came here. The bowl was presented well after my entrée was brought to the table. There was no real follow-up to confirm the food was OK. Getting the check was tough, and then the wrong check was presented.
I was looking at all those patient folks waiting outside for our table and thought there should be a greater emphasis on turning the tables over faster without rushing the customers.
My companion decades ago worked as a waitress at a prominent local restaurant, and she thought our server never showed any of the necessary hyper-awareness of customer needs, the kind of antenna-out treatment you routinely get at places like Mama Tosca's. Sure, everyone was pleasant, but with prices like this turning the tables to keep the lights on is more important than ever.
That is an easily fixable issue. The18hundred can be recommended for a fine dining experience.