PETE TITTL: 18 Hundred Percent Effort: Downtown Spot Continues to Thrive | Food

We’ve written about so many interesting downtown restaurants over the past few months, and you should definitely include The18hundred in that group.

It’s not just the backdrop to the beautiful historic building on the corner of 18th and Chester Avenue. The regularly changing menu is perfect to meet the desires of those who prefer trendy cuisine with healthy ingredients from a cuisine that can make Brussels sprouts a fantastic dining choice. There’s a reason people wait patiently for a table outside if they have to, like at the 24th Street Cafe. The service might need a bit of work, but it’s an easy fix.

We recently visited on a Friday night without taking advantage of the waiting list provision which you can find on their website (we highly recommend you do this, but be aware that they won’t seat you until your whole group has will not be present).

We got the last table available probably because it was early and there was soon to be a decent line outside. The dining room isn’t that big, and some hardy souls even dined on that sidewalk terrace. The owners Maya and Foti Tsiboukas have done a fantastic job with this place.

We first wrote about the place when it opened in 2019 and it has only gotten better in both decor and a revamped menu. We ordered a caramelized Brussels sprouts appetizer ($9), my companion selected the Southwestern Quinoa Bowl ($12), and I selected the Wild Mahi Mahi Entree ($24).

Admitting my prejudices, I never really understood the appeal of Brussels sprouts. In fact, I’ve regularly ditched them for Lent, which I believe isn’t really meant to be a way to approach this religious tradition. But what the kitchen does here with these makes this bowl so incredibly appealing that in just one preparation, I not only understood the appeal, but would order the creation again.

The globes were halved and caramelized with a balsamic reduction which was an inspired choice and tossed with dried cranberries, bacon bits and parmesan cheese. You might find it too sweet with the balsamic and fruit, but that wasn’t the case with the smokiness of the bacon and the slight creaminess of the cheese. Frankly, this will be a must order on our next visit.

Now, when we talk about the exceptional quality of the food, we must consider the value of these prices; $24 for my dinner felt like a steal considering how good it was. The grilled mahi mahi fillet was smothered in a Cajun beurre blanc sauce (not too much, not too little) and rested on a decent bed of rice pilaf, a streak of sauce forming a comma down the side of the plate, with a mound of sautéed spinach (with tomatoes and purple onions) for a presentation one would expect at a much more expensive restaurant.

In the past, we loved the house’s other specialties: the crispy roast half-chicken ($20) and the cast-iron sirloin ($28) served with grilled asparagus and mashed potatoes with garlic. In these days of crazy inflation, it seems like we should be paying more, especially with the restaurant’s emphasis on fresh, local ingredients.

My partner’s bowl was another winner: quinoa with corn, black beans, crispy tortilla strips and small pieces of roasted sweet potato which she noticed were expertly chopped so small they all helped flavors and textures to mix.

We took the sauces as an accompaniment, which we recommend as they are so different: a chipotle vinaigrette and an avocado coriander vinaigrette. Both look homemade, and they’re so drastically different if you put a sauce on one side and the other on the remaining portion, it’ll look like a completely different dish.

The atmosphere has creative verve and personality with its “Stay Cool Bakersfield” slogan and this cool photo of the Bakersfield Motorcycle Club posing on Chester Avenue that looks like it was taken around the time Butch Cassidy was discovering the two-wheeled wonder.

Natural brick walls, pendant lighting descending from high ceilings are accented with all sorts of colorful touches, such as the amazing multi-colored tile work and varying depth under the bar counter.

The beer, wine and cocktail lists are also trendy. And these milkshakes, which we didn’t sample on this visit, are worth the calories and they’ve expanded the sweet options with four desserts, including “mo donut bites” ($8), sugar donuts at cinnamon with caramel and chocolate sauces.

Lest it’s just a big valentine, I have a problem: the service needs work. The place is sufficiently staffed with a blackshirt crew, but almost all the problems have arisen here. The bowl was well presented after my entree was brought to the table. There was no real follow up to confirm the food was ok. It was difficult to get the check and then the wrong check was presented.

I looked at all these patient people waiting outside for our table and thought there needed to be more emphasis on turning tables faster without rushing customers.

Decades ago, my girlfriend worked as a waitress at a top local restaurant, and she thought our server never showed the necessary hyper-awareness of customer needs, the kind of aerial treatment you get regularly at places like Mama Tosca. Sure, everyone was nice, but with prizes like this, switching roles to keep the lights on is more important than ever.

This is an easily fixable problem. The 18hundred can be recommended for a fine dining experience.

Pete Tittl’s Dining Out column appears in The Californian on Sundays. Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @pftittl.

David H. Henry