The going wisdom for settlers (and Village People) is to go west but in the case of restaurants, that need not apply. So for Meir Brown, owner of Cafe Med, he set his sights east — way east — for his latest endeavor: taking over the restaurant at Rio Bravo Country Club.
Brown said he was approached last summer by the partners who had purchased the club in July 2017, saving it from foreclosure. They wanted to go in a different direction with the restaurant.
"It's a beautiful facility with the potential to do many, many things. There's a casual grill with bar downstairs and banquet capacity (space) upstairs. It had everything it needed."
Cafe Med at Rio Bravo opened in early November, focused on refining the overall menu toward fine dining. Breakfast and lunch are now served at Rio Bravo Grill from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Upstairs, Cafe Med opens at 3:30 p.m. for happy hour and 5 p.m. for dinner Tuesday through Sunday.
In addition to the regular menu, Brown has introduced a special pasta bar, both at the club and Cafe Med on Stockdale Higwhay.
Its centerpiece is a 75-pound wheel of Grana Padano cheese, in which the pasta is tossed as a finishing touch.
"It's a concept that is growing in Italy. I'm proud to be the first one to bring it Bakersfield. I specifically bought the big wheel for the pasta bar."
The process is simple with an emphasis on showmanship. Brown tosses cooked pasta in a sauce of butter, garlic and cream and keeps it warm. Then he scrapes the center of the wheel, accumulating bits of cheese. The next step is to enflame brandy, which is poured from a gravy boat above down into the wheel's center.
"We set the brandy to flame the cheese and melt it. Then we take the pasta and roll it in the Parmesan."
The pasta is tossed with spoons to gathering up more cheese before being plated.
While this takes place, a line chef prepares the pasta toppings selected by the diner, firing the protein and vegetables in a skillet.
Options include filet tips, shrimp, chicken and sausage for meats, sauces including Alfredo, pesto and tomatoes, basil and garlic; and add-ons such as caramelized onions, mushrooms, garlic, bell pepper, tomatoes and bacon.
The pasta bar is $25.95 and comes with salad and pasta with toppings. Rio Bravo also presents a dessert tray for a sweet finish. It is offered at Cafe Med (4809 Stockdale Highway) at 5:30 p.m. Wednesdays and 5 p.m. Thursdays at Rio Bravo (15200 Casa Club Drive).
Brown is currently splitting his time between the two restaurants, and said he has no plans to scale back in the southwest. In fact, quite the opposite. In addition to introducing the pasta bar there, he reopened the restaurant for Sundays and rolled out a new weekend brunch, a departure from the buffet offered in the past.
"We didn't like the idea," he said of being closed Sundays. "We had complaints from customers."
After Mexicali West, one of Brown's favorite Sunday spots, closed at the end of the year, he announced they'd go back to seven days a week.
Of the brunch menu, Brown is a fan of the variety of eggs Benedict, including chile verde and caprese as well as the green eggs and ham.
"It's a type of Benedict but instead of Hollandaise, we do pesto sauce."
Brunch is served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. (dinner options available until closing), with the endless mimosas and bloody Meirys served until 4 p.m.
Brown wants people come out to try the restaurant at Rio Bravo — "We need their support. We need them to come visit us." — but he's also investing in keeping Cafe Med thriving in the southwest.
"It's a restaurant that has been here for 28 years," he said. "Closing that down would be like cutting my heart out. That is still my home and my creation and I will never give it up."