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Old California Dining is alive in Baskersfield


2. What is Noriega’s?

It is the oldest Basque Hotel with a bar and restaurant in California. Noriega’s is across the street from the old Southern Pacific depot on the east side of Bakersfield. It has been there since 1893. The current owners bought it in 1932. It also has a fronton for pelota (ball in Spanish) more commonly known as Jai Alai, Basque national game. Noriega’s is a unique restaurant that serves the simple abundant food you could have found in most ranches and in homes in many small towns a generation or two ago with a distinct Basque accent. It is a wonderful experience. This is like a big Sunday dinner at my Grandmother’s or one of my Portuguese great aunts in the 1950’s.

The Basques (Vascos in Spanish and Portuguese) are the best cooks in all of Iberia and southwest France. They have a unique language unrelated to any in Europe and the highest global apportion of the Rh- blood type (35% phenotypically, 60% genetically.) Additionally, the Basque population has virtually no B blood type, nor the related AB type. They have a high rate of O blood group but this is probably due to isolation.

Generally they are thought to be descended from neolithic farming people who lived in southwest Europe in prehistory. They may be a major source of the R1b DNA grouping common among the people of Iberia and other parts of the Mediterranean. (Not surprisingly my maternal DNA falls in this group.) In Caesar’s Gallic Wars, he refers to the Basques as Aquitanii who were the dominant people in Southwest France and over the Pyrenees into modern Spain. There were Basque settlers in California from the beginning of Spanish settlement in the 18th century. After the gold rush more immigrated here and they are  the originators of San Francisco’s unique sour dough “French” bread. Until a generation ago, Basque shepherds raised sheep in California and Nevada but after Spain joined the EU that ended and now our shepherds are highland Indians from Peru and Bolivia. There are Basque communities across Latin America and even a few in the Philippines.

3. The place received a James Beard award as one of the few landmark places in California and was featured in a long article in the New York Times food section.

4. How it works:

There is one sitting for dinner, at 7:00 pm every night but Monday when the place is closed. The dinning room is large with three very long tables and parties are seated facing on opposite side of their table. The menu is fixed for each night, with two main courses changing daily, while the basic beginning is fixed by the seasons.

The cost is listed at $27 per person plus tax and tip. It includes all the food and house red wine. The courses follow one another and the meal takes about two hours or a little longer.

When you are seated on the table waiting are:

A tureen of cabbage and vegetable soup, a large green salad, a platter of cold tongue vinaigrette, a bowl of very spicy basque salsa picante, baskets of french bread, a bowl of herb flavored cottage cheese in the basque manner, a large bowl of pinto bean stew. It is the local custom to add the stewed pinto beans and salsa picante to the soup in your plate, some people even add a splash of red wine. The herb cottage cheese is a counter to the spicy salsa picante. Although many say they don’t know or like tongue, the plate is usually renewed two or three times because most of us have never tasted basque style tongue vinaigrette. Sometimes there is an American potato salad, other times a plate of a veg and garbanzo vinaigrette. After this they serve a steamed cauliflower in a hollandaise, a large platter of pasta or a Basque style rice dish plus a slab of mild blue cheese. On Saturday night, they bring out large bowls of oxtail stew and finally a bit later platters of basque fried chicken with garlic and garlic and parsley french fries. It is addictive and you don’t have to worry about vampires for a week after.

After that ice cream is served and coffee is available at the bar in the next room. The bar serves two drinks as favorites: a Picon Punch and a Moscow Mule served in a copper mug. A full selection of good liquor is available plus a selection of authentic Spanish and Basque liqueurs from both sides of the Pyrenees. The local market prices at the bar haven’t been seen in LA this century .

5. This is a rustic bit of old rural California that is well worth the trip. Bakersfield is only 90 miles from LA City Hall, so it doesn’t mean you have to stay over in Bakersfield.

Here is a link to the Noriega’s web site:  http://www.noriegahotel.com/

You can also check it out on Yelp and some other sites that rate restaurants. Since it is not a major tourist center motels in Bakersfield are quite reasonable as you can check out on any of the reservation web site.

6. Let us know if you would like to join us for this special nostalgic experience. 

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