Frugatti’s has become such a Bakersfield institution that the shopping center where it's located was recently named for the restaurant: Welcome, Frugatti Plaza. And why not? I mean, who can even remember what that prime real estate, at the corner of Truxtun and Coffee, was called before?
The imagination and evolution at Ralph Fruguglietti’s Italian family restaurant must be contagious, considering the entire complex underwent a lengthy and impressive remodel, transforming the entire exterior to a bit of Santa Barbara right here, with Spanish touches and bright white paint. (One quibble: The huge block letter signs on all the businesses look more Las Vegas than that Mediterranean coastal retreat. Go to Santa Barbara and see how subtle the design czars there have made all the business signs there.)
But let's go inside Frugatti's, shall we?
The menu has continued to grow and change since our last column three years ago. The welcome list of fitness entrées the restaurant started on a trial basis has been bolstered and made permanent, and some other old favorites usually offered as specials now have a place on the menu. For our most recent visit, we sampled a few of those. My companion ordered the beef braciole ($20.95) with a side salad ($4.29) while I couldn't resist the sausage ravioli Bolognese ($19.49).
My companion’s entrée is a fascinating old Italian creation of thin strips of beef rolled with prosciutto, garlic, Parmesan cheese, parsley, browned and simmered in a tomato sauce, served with wide pappardelle pasta and the same house made Bolognese sauce found on my pasta. It reminded me of a German childhood favorite of mine, rouladen, made with thin but slightly tough cuts of beef with bacon instead of prosciutto. The menu says Fruguglietti grew up eating this on Sundays, and it’s a treat no matter what day of the week it is. It has a reputation for being a dish Italian moms specialize in. We’d order it again in a heartbeat.
My pasta had a similar formula for success: great ingredients combined with balance and charm. I love Italian sausage in any form, and stuffed inside a ravioli pillow is a great way to present it; of course the pasta was al dente, as it always is here, and as it always should be. The secret ingredient that made it so interesting were a couple of mild imported cheeses and fresh broccolini.
My companion ordered the house salad because she loves the freshness of the vegetables, the simple mix and the house-made balsamic dressing. Frugatti’s was an area pioneer of balsamic dressing, introducing it before it made it to other competitors and the fast-food restaurants.
Other wonderful dishes we've had here in recent times are the Margharita Napolitano Pizza ($14.99), made with only Italian ingredients. It's the closest thing I’ve found in this city to pizza the way it tasted on my visits to Italy. It’s a simple creation, with San Marzano tomatoes and Buffalo mozzarella, olive oil and basil.
The Fat Sammy red pepper-lemon cream sauce is so good, though I've got to feel some slack in my belt before I order that since I’m sure the calories are substantial in this cream sauce that works so well with that salmon baked in the wood oven. A healthier choice is the Atlantic cod baked with garlic, capers, onions tomatoes and olive oil, all wrapped in foil.
Other old favorites include the chicken breast with pinot grigio mushroom sauce ($21.99), the chicken piccata ($21.99), the Colorado lamb medallions (wood-oven baked, topped with garlic butter, $23.59), the great steak salad, a ”Filet tip Caesar” ($15.49), the meatball lasagna ($19.49), and that bacon/artichoke heart/tomato pizza that we’ve been buying for 20 years.
There are many other innovations since we last wrote about this place. The restaurant has streamlined online ordering, adding an E-club offering that emails discount offers. In addition, there are family dinner packs along the lines of what Café Med has been doing for some years now.
The craft beer offerings are now respectable, if limited by the few taps they have. They make up for that reality with a long list of bottle offerings. The wine list is a respectable mix of Italian and California options at reasonable prices, a philosophy they’ve embraced for a long time. And though you can expect a wait on a weekend night, they’ve expanded the outdoor enclosed seating area over the years and use the cell phone pager system to notify you when your table is open.
The fitness menu has been amped up to the point that you have nearly two dozen different pastas, pizzas and entrees to choose from. And if fitness is the last thing on your mind, the desserts (especially the carrot cake) are all worth those calories — the highest praise you can give, really, to that part of the meal.
Seats are still hard to come by at the popular restaurant. It was actually kind of fun to wait. We ambled over to the bar and got a drink while watching everyone work so hard, including doing the thankless tasks of drying out the racks of cleaned beer and wine glasses, sprinkling parsley on the plates waiting under the heat lamp, chefs working that wood-burning oven moving pizzas and pastas in and out. Despite all that, there was one glitch in service: My entrée was brought out lukewarm while my companion’s entrée was the prefect temperature. I know it’s difficult for such a busy kitchen to time such things, but it’s almost preferable to serve one plate first if there’s a glitch in the process.
Still lots to like. Frugatti’s can be recommended for a fine dining experience.