I’m always grateful that readers are sending me emails telling me what’s happening so I can stay abreast of what’s changing in Bakersfield restaurants.
Earlier this year, reader Steve Bass kept us in the loop when the El Portal restaurant at the corner of Ming and Ashe in the southwest changed hands and his favorite veteran waiter George left. He thought the place was adrift at the time, we visited and found his take to have merit and wrote a column about it.
Steve wrote back since then to say things had changed, the restaurant had a new name — El Momento Bar & Grill — has been remodeled, has a new menu and, much to his delight, George had returned.
“I mentioned we relocated our Friday evening dinner to the El Portal on Brimhall,” he wrote. “Last week while we were at Brimhall, George was our server. Turns out he works both places. Anyway, he invited us back to Ming and said they’d been making some major changes ... it doesn’t resemble the old place at all. They’ve made major decorating changes, cleaned the place up and, generally, remodeled. George was there as were our old favorites, Chili (sic) rellenos and shredded beef. Both are more savory than at the Brimhall location. Brimhall is also loud. This is a factor when your wife wears hearing aids.
“Our group agreed that now that the Ming operation, no matter the name, is clean and the folks there are friendly and welcoming, we’d be moving back. George was his excellent self.
"It was our Friday night hangout for over 20 years. Hopefully, they can survive the old reputation and the downtime from remodeling.”
I understood his concern as when we visited on a Tuesday night we were the only customers in the place, besides two folks in the bar, and George was not there. Someday I’ll meet the legend. Anyway he was right about the place being spiffed up, with new chandeliers that my companion thought were hip and attractive. It is just far more inviting and the old place needed a face-lift.
There are also a lot more promotions, such as fajita Fridays ($9.95 for chicken or steak on a weekend night), live mariachi music from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursdays, and taco Tuesdays with karaoke and $1.50 tacos.
The new menu has a lot of “chef’s choices” and I was really tempted by one, the El Momento Cabana ($16.95) with three brochettes made with shrimp, chicken and bell peppers presented on a sizzling platter of vegetables with a Bacardi 151 rum splash and flamed at the table. Given the outside temperatures on the day we dined here, the fire in my face had limited appeal. My companion selected one of the combinations, the shredded beef and chile relleno ($10.55) while I chose a three-item combo with a chicken enchilada with green sauce, a soft pork taco and a chile verde sope ($11.95).
On both plates the kitchen seems to have taken it up a notch from our visit last spring. The sope was perfectly prepared with the corn disc holding the chile verde properly firm but still moist inside. The chicken enchilada had a nice green sauce and shredded, moist chicken inside, but I would have liked more of that sauce underneath the melted cheese. The small bits of al pastor pork were perfect in the soft taco, and the rice and beans were both satisfying and presented in a generous portion.
My companion did agree that the shredded beef was improved, really back to the El Portal standards, but we disagreed on the relleno, as she did not find the egg batter exterior too appealing. It happens like that sometime. I’m with Steve.
If you were chased away by some bad experiences earlier this year, give the place another try as there’s a whole new energy present.