Review: Bakersfield OTR
Navigating this whole “food blogging” thing can, even for someone who’s been doing it for four years, be difficult. There’s a great article I read the other day on the history of food writing, as well as the impact of bloggers on food writing. Some of it I agreed with, and some of it I didn’t. One of the things I wrestle with is “When do you post about new restaurants?” Here’s my thing: the first couple of weeks of any restaurant, even with “soft openings”, is a time for them to work out the kinks. I may go and eat at the restaurant, but I won’t write about it– I just don’t think it’s fair. However, there’s a lot of pressure to be “first” in this day and age of Yelp and Urbanspoon and other social outlets. I usually say “wait a month”– which is actually fairly traditional, considering I’m not a traditional food writer. By waiting a month, I generally end up pushing my reviews out even further, as I don’t want to have a review come out the same week City Beat or The Enquirer covers the same restaurant– that’s why it took so long for me to get around to writing about Abigail Street. I think I’ve amended my rule slightly: “Wait 3 weeks”. Does that seem fair to you? I know that you want to hear about places right away, but I can’t help but give the restaurant the benefit of the doubt as well. Let me know in the comments.
I’ve been smelling Bakersfield for weeks now, as they worked on their menu and had some soft openings. I’ve stopped in twice since they opened– once by myself, and once with both my mother and The Better Half. A tip: get there early. Even getting there around 6, both times I sat at the communal table. I have no issue with this– I like to eat at the bar if I’m by myself– but if you do, fair warning. The environment is very OtR– half of the old Metronation space was turned into Bakersfield. They kept the old brick, and did great things with lighting and the bar space as well as a mural near the booths to switch up the space. My mother commented that it looked a lot like the inside of Senate– a fair statement, probably because of the exposed brick and the shotgun architecture. There’s also a natural comparison to Nada: both serve tacos and margaritas. They’re different styles– Bakersfield is California, Nada is more fusion. But really, get both of those places out of your minds: Bakersfield is not either of those places.
There aren’t a ton of tables in this place– a few at the front, near a window that opens to a small patio on the street, a long communal table, a bar, a round communal table, and a few other scattered tables. If you go at peak time, you’ll have a wait, or else you can eat at the communal table. I’ve been there three times– twice at the round table, once at the bar. The trick is to get in early– no wait then. Or, you know, go the night the Moerlein Lager House opened to the public and everyone is there (the first time I’ve actually been able to physically see the bar at Bakersfield). Major credit is due for being open on Mondays– a rarity. The crowd is also pretty diverse (which my ever-insightful mother also commented on)– she often feels like she’s the oldest person at the restaurants I take her to, but there was a great range of demographics represented, which is what should happen at a place that is well-priced and in a diverse neighborhood.
Service is fast, friendly and efficient– this is a great place to get a quick bite. Start out with the guacamole, which is hands-down the best guacamole I’ve had in Cincinnati. It’s light, with a nice hit of lime and just enough heat. Wash that down with a margarita, which is easily the best margarita I’ve had here (outside of my own, of course). It’s not too sweet, a little sour, and made with real juice. Delicious. The pitcher of their regular margarita is reasonably priced– $22 and it provides two glasses for three people (The Better Half split one with my mom for her birthday, and it was perfect). A solo margarita is $6, and they have a premium version at $12– honestly, the “regular” is so good that I haven’t even been tempted to buy the premium.
Tacos are the feature, of course, and they come in varieties that will make carnivores, vegetarians, and pescatarians equally happy. The corn truffle (huitlacoche) taco is interesting, though it needs a bit more spice (easily amped with the provided, house-made salsas). The short rib taco is very flavorful, and the pastor is a nice combination of sweet and savory. My favorite is the cochinita pibil, which I tried on one server’s recommendation: it’s moist, spicy pork with kicky habanero salsa and balanced out with pickled red onions. The portion sizes look small, as their handmade tortillas are a little smaller than other tacos you may have had, but they are packed with filling– 2 tacos per person is plenty.
They have other things besides tacos, and honestly? They’re even better than the very good tacos. On Monday, I had a June salad (peppery arugula, oranges, jalapeno, pumpkin seeds and a cumin-lime dressing) which was light and refreshing (and just a little spicy). I followed it up with a short rib torta, which is now my favorite dish on their menu: lots of the short rib, tomatillo salsa, chihuahua cheese, and caramelized onions. It’s very hearty (a sandwich could serve two), and perfectly balanced with spicy, creamy, sweet and savory, all on a really fantastic crispy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside telera roll. Heavenly.
You also need to check out their barrel-aged cocktails. I chose a Manhattan, which had been aging since November, and it picked up a subtle flavor of the charred oak it was stored in. I’d love to try the Negroni (made with tequila instead of gin) as well. They have an extensive whiskey list, including some Ohio whiskeys (a Woodstone Creek that has the same kind of body and mouthfeel as Grand Marnier– I swear– is the highlight) and just about any tequila you can think of, as well as an extensive tap beer list (including $2 PBRs in a glass boot. Cute.).
They do not serve dessert– but you’d be well-served by going next door to 1215 (which I’ll write about later). What they do serve is really great– and a great addition to the Gateway Quarter’s burgeoning restaurant scene.