There are some cool townhouse apartments in the Mill Creek area that are available for lease, and I’m afraid if I moved in, my budget would be destroyed in a month, maybe two, as the temptation to spend all disposable income would be irresistible with the restaurants located just a short walk away.
Yes, we’re talking Café Smitten, Angry Barnyard BBQ, the original Goose Loonies and now a simple grocery store/restaurant called Dot x Ott that is a perfect companion to its neighbors in food quality and emphasis on fantastic ingredients. The whole place is a Disneyland for foodies, full of the kind of unusual items you usually find at Whole Foods but here without the corporate testing, pricing, market research and all that rot, just a passion project from a couple who care about food who also found a great chef who is a real artist.
Visit. Soon. If you haven’t already. Word of mouth on this place was solid from out of the gate, with my neighbor Laurence making a point of raving about it in his front yard, and that almost never happens.
Of course there are questions and the first is likely to be the name. The website has an FAQ page that provides answers. The page tells us “Growing up, owner Jessie Blackwell’s neighbors, Dorothy and Otto, or Dot and Ott as they went by, were like family. Otto handcrafted a wooden rocking horse for Jessie and her sisters when they were young. To this day, it sits in Jessie’s baby’s nursery, and is played on almost daily by her children. When coming up with a name for the restaurant, it is the first thing that came to mind and holds a special meaning.” Jessie owns the place with her husband Jeremy.
The produce comes from Pickalittle Farms, which we noticed on the east side of the 99 near Houghton Road while driving back from Los Angeles recently. The website notes they go beyond organic to emphasize “nutrient dense” food. There are vegan and vegetarian options and the menu will vary based on what’s available. There are breakfast, lunch and dinner menus, delivery is something they’re working on and the chef is Take Koto, a native of Japan who moved to San Francisco as a boy, worked all over the state as well as overseas and was recently sous chef at the Padre.
We visited on a Tuesday night and half an hour into our visit every table inside was full. There’s a nice patio outside but as we had already entered the Hades days of Bakersfield summer, no one was willing to abandon the comforting, soothing presence of our friend, Mr. AC.
The place is just beautiful, full of attention to detail such as the cloth covers on the wooden chairs which are not going to stick to your skin if you’re wearing shorts. The tables looked like white-grey quartz, a perfect tonal accent for the black and white plates our food was served on. The cement floor, the white walls with tasteful dark trim, the pendant lighting, the inviting produce and dry goods area where you can get items like date sugar, coconut flavored oatmeal, kale flour, local honey or eggs and butter from France that is billed as “literally the best butter in the world.”
There’s even a cool mural with bears out in the parking lot. Any city needs great public art like stunning murals, and it’s so great to see Bakersfield embracing that.
The food from start to finish was as impressive as the surroundings. We started with fried cauliflower florets ($10), and my companion selected the blackened Cajun salmon ($30) as her entrée while I chose the short rib carrot risotto ($21), and from the reasonable wine list we ordered a bottle of District 7 chardonnay ($25) from Monterey.
Right now, cauliflower is enjoying its peak years, following kale and broccoli, our past veggie stars, and being nudged along by beets (which did show up in my entrée). Heck so many pizza places are offering cauliflower crusts that it’s hard to avoid this staple. The way the kitchen here prepares the starter, it can convince even those who find it to be dull (me) to embrace it and enjoy it. The batting is light, like a tempura, and my companion noted how it was fried perfectly, not too long to make the vegetable weak or soft, and the two dipping sauces were amazing, a house made dill ranch that was addicting and spicy aioli that packed a noticeable but not overwhelming heat. Coming back and not ordering this does not seem likely.
As you may have read in the Los Angeles Times, the central coast has had a most productive salmon season, so the kitchen took advantage of that to present a blackened version with all the substance and musical notes you expect from wild salmon. I can’t tolerate farm raised in any version now, and not for the health concerns raised by some food writers. The menu told us it would be presented on greens and spring vegetables. It looked like it was resting on a bed of finely chopped onions and cabbage, cooked spinach under that and maybe more. I’d read that we should be eating more purple fruits and vegetables, and this worked well with the salmon. I loved the way it was presented, with a Cajun beurre blanc sauce drizzled about, almost encircling it.
My entrée had a similar blend of artistic appeal and fantastic flavor, the carrot puree blended with the very creamy risotto, small chunks of the beef with gravy in the center and encircling that bits of farmer cheese, kale, roasted spring beets of various colors (red, yellow and purple). The design really elevated the risotto, and the thinly-sliced beets combined to create a comfort food note to the whole entrée.
Desserts are rotating based on availability of ingredients, and we had to try the stone fruit torte ($7), made our waitress said with white and yellow peaches, served with house made ice cream. There were thin slices of the peaches on top and we each sampled them, marveling at how different they were from all the standard store bought peaches we’ve been eating in recent years: not as sweet, not as soft, but with more flavor. It’s as different as vine-ripened backyard tomatoes from the greenhouse variety.
I forgot to mention that the whole experience began with a powerful grace note: house made bread grilled over an open fire, served with pesto butter. My companion was particularly impressed with the slight smokiness on the bread, which had grill marks but no butter.
Walking out, you feel hipper having dined here, in a place that really reminds you how satisfying quality food can be in the hands of people who love to prepare it with real artistry. We have another contestant in the Best New Restaurant of 2019 contest.
Dot x Ott can be recommended for a fine dining experience.