WESTMONT – We’re halfway to the buzzer, as in the buzzer sounding the end of the Inaugural Westmont Restaurant Week, which draws to a close March 19. So with four days to go and nearly two dozen local establishments participating, you still have time to try something new or visit an old favorite at a great dining deal.
To recap, Westmont Restaurant Week is a 10-day affair with 23 restaurants participating. It’s an eclectic mix from craft brewery to coffee house, white linen to food stall, slow smoked to fast fired, and many in between. It also brings together chefs and owners with extensive credentials – "Hell’s Kitchen" participant, James Beard nominee, national and local barbecue champion, Jean Banchet nominee, "Cutthroat Kitchen" participant and many more, as well as graduates from many major culinary institutions.
I was off and running early March 9 as Westmont Restaurant Week began. While I haven’t made it to all of the participants yet, here’s a look at some establishments I have visited.
Walking into Brewed Awakening, I eyed the nearly empty muffin case with the saddest of looks and a single tear in my eye. Sensing my sadness, co-owner Sylvia Gennette said the magic words, “There’s a fresh batch coming out of the oven! Can you wait 14 minutes?” Now, I am often in a hurry for many different reasons, but I had 14 (and not 15!) minutes!
My short wait was doubly rewarded as my coffee began to cool to a drinkable temperature, and I was presented with not one, but three pans of steaming hot muffins from which to make my selection. Pistachio is a given, and today, Sylvia added a few walnuts to mix it up. Second choice, cranberry blueberry – just bursting with flavor, fruit and freshness!
During Westmont Restaurant Week, it’s two muffins and two tall coffees for $10! No extra charge for hot from the oven – you just have to time it right!
Citrus Diner took a few, four to be exact, of their most requested specials and put them on a Westmont Restaurant Week menu. Both breakfast and both lunch selections are available at all times. The Acapulco benny tops a traditional English muffin with not-so-traditional chorizo sausage crumbles. Back to traditional with two poached eggs, followed again by non-traditional with tomato, avocado, jack and cheddar cheeses and a dollop of sour cream.
The fig and walnut salad presents a nice contrast in calorie counts to my benny. The secret ingredient – well, not so secret since it is in the name – is figs. Bite-size pieces add sweetness and a contrasting texture. During Westmont Restaurant Week, select any one of the four choices for $10.
Harvest Pancake House & Grill
Who put "family" in family diner? Bill Tanglis and his daughter Gina at Harvest Pancake House & Grill. Harvest’s version of the All-American breakfast includes two eggs cooked to order and plated with two strips of bacon, two sausage links and American fries (scalloped variety) perfectly browned.
In place of toast, two vanilla-infused fluffy pancakes, the house specialty, arrived with butter and syrup separately. I am a syrup junkie, and after a thorough drenching, the combination of vanilla and the absorbed syrup is addictive. Add in a small, fresh-squeezed orange juice and coffee to complete the spread. During Westmont Restaurant Week, this All-American combo is $10…tell Bill and Gina that Gregg sent you!
J. Fleming’s Absolutely Delicious
While J. Fleming’s Absolutely Delicious is typically known for patio, dinner and lunch, Executive Chef John Fleming started weekend breakfast last year. Westmont Restaurant Week provided the perfect opportunity to try, and after my first visit, "there’s a new kid in town!"
With a complete breakfast menu, Westmont Restaurant Week 2017 features your choice of any skillet, omelet, waffle creation or French toast paired with a mimosa, Bloody Mary, coffee or juice for $10. The veggie skillet was served steaming hot with grilled veggies – shout out to the broccoli – a light cheese layer and eggs cooked to your liking. The veggies were fresh, cooked just right and added a depth of flavor so that meat was an afterthought.
Sides included several thoughtful bread choices including marble rye, thick-cut cinnamon raisin bread, sourdough and a biscuit, along with the usual gang of white, wheat and English muffin. Chef John has all meals covered with brunch (Saturday and Sunday), lunch and dinner options for Westmont Restaurant Week too numerous to list – not "just another new kid in town!”
At Cucinova, it’s assembly-line efficiency as you walk your pizza, salad or pasta right through the line to checkout.
I enjoyed the roasted veggie pasta, which allows for a choice between whole grain rotini (my choice) or spaghettini. Topped with a ladle of pomodoro sauce (red), roasted mushrooms and broccoli are added, followed by grilled vegetables.
The Westmont Restaurant Week menu includes a choice between three pasta dishes and four individual pizzas. Included is a refillable fountain drink and a couple of cookies all for $10, which offers some great menu options!
Hanbun is a thoughtful Korean eatery that features traditional Korean dishes through a modern lens. Located in the Asian food court on Pasquinelli Drive, Chef David Park has recently been nominated for a distinguished James Beard Award, the culinary equivalent of the Oscars.
With Tuesday through Sunday (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) lunch service, the menu is simple and straightforward. Pick two courses from the list, beginning with either a pork bun or a rice cake skewer.
Next, choose one main dish from three options – Korean ramyun (soup bowl), jjajjangmyum (noodle dish) or bibimbap (rice dish). Bibimbap is a traditional Korean “left-over” dish with peasant roots. Hanbun’s ingredients are all freshly made, as barley rice is topped with tender, moist chicken, vegetables and a soft-cooked egg. Your pick two at Hanbun will run you $10 during Westmont Restaurant Week (offered Tuesday through Friday); your enjoyment is priceless!
Woodgrain Neapolitan Pizzeria
In a hurry, Woodgrain’s pizza ovens will bake your pizza in less time – 90 seconds – than you will take making your unlimited topping pizza decision. Dough, sauce, perhaps 30 toppings and a few more post-bake make the decision process similar to the old kid in the candy store. I began with the standard dough and red sauce pairing.
Now the real work begins. Today it was sausage and Italian beef followed by mushrooms, spinach and red and yellow peppers from the veggie area. Fresh mozzarella was augmented with shredded mozzarella and a sprinkle of shredded cheddar for color. After 90 seconds in the 800- to 1000-degree pizza oven, I choose a light topping of arugula tossed with a bit of EVOO.
The pizza was plated bubbling hot, and as I walked to my table, the steam filtering up through the peppery arugula created an intoxicating vapor that made the last few steps almost a run. The crust is slightly charred with the perfect chew, and the toppings blended well under the melted cheese. But the memory of the aroma created by the heat rising through the arugula will stay long after the last bite. Grab an unlimited-topping pizza and fountain soda from the Coke Free Style machine for $10 during Westmont Restaurant Week, and tell everyone you created your own masterpieczza!
Amber Café continues to be a shining star in the Gemstone Restaurant Group. My Saturday evening dinner found Amber rocking with Westmont Restaurant Week diners, and the menu priced at $30 for three courses is star studded, allowing our table of six to sample all of the options.
Lightly sauced gnocchi were a delicious start, as the dish features a robust ragout of mushrooms and spinach and the right amount of cheese. Lamb sausage was plated in strips with a rich harissa sauce, which emphasized the turmeric and garlic.
My sage braised pork shoulder over a creamy, mashed potato-consistency polenta along with sautéed Swiss chard was fork tender. Pan-seared rainbow trout was the pick of three of six, and they all qualified for the clean plate club. The brown butter sauce with capers added a salty compliment to the gentle flavor of the trout.
Amber Café features a choice of four appetizers, four entrees and three desserts for the Westmont Restaurant Week special price of $30.
Bakersfield Wood Fired Grill
Under the Standard Market umbrella, Bakersfield Wood Fired Grill is a standalone fine-dining option. Upon entering, the interior ambiance is a wow factor with attention to detail surrounding every facet. Westmont Restaurant Week options include three for $30 or my four for $40 choice.
Popcorn shrimp are atypical, no microscope needed. Firm shrimp, lightly battered, arrive with two dipping sauces. A sweet Thai chili sauce is paired with a wasabi aioli, both packing some heat. The seared tuna salad features sliced medium rare tuna over mixed greens and joined with citrusy segments of grapefruit and orange along with avocado for creaminess and puffed quinoa for a slight crunch.
As a test bed for future menu options, the pan-roasted scallops was an outright winner! Perfectly caramelized scallops surround a bed of mandolined zucchini strips, topped with a roasted corn relish that features Calabrian chiles imported from Italy. The sweetness of the corn, the heat of the chiles and the duo of onion and garlic create the perfect trio, making this my favorite item of Westmont Restaurant Week.
The two-tone brownie arrived gooey warm and was topped with salted caramel ice cream. Service has always been attentive at Bakersfield, but our server TJ was at the top of the game. Pick your menu or bring a friend and do one of each…there will be no regrets!
Myths and Legends Brewing Company
My final stop of the first four days of Westmont Restaurant Week was at Myths and Legends, Westmont’s own craft brewery. With 10 brews on tap, I loved the colorful names and back stories. Samplers, four 4-ounce pours regularly $9, are a great way to try some of the newest crafts. Twenty-two-ounce bomber bottles are available, but during Westmont Restaurant Week, it’s samplers for $10 and you can make up your own stories!
For a complete list of participating restaurants and their menus, visit the Westmont Chamber of Commerce website at westmontchamber.com and click on the colorful Restaurant Week logo.
With nearly 100 dining options and the ability to truly “dine around the world in Westmont," here’s a great opportunity to step out and try something new. So here’s your final opportunity to get your friends together, loosen your belts and enjoy the many tasty dining experiences awaiting you in Westmont Restaurant Week. Don’t let time run out!
If you go
What: Westmont Restaurant Week
When: Through March 19
Where: 23 venues throughout Westmont
Info: Call the restaurant directly or visit westmontchamber.com
Dress code: Casual
Reservations: Variable – check with your restaurant
Wi-Fi: Available at most
Noise factor: Varies
Pricing: $ to $$$
For more restaurant action, follow @chitowndiner on Instagram.