By Judith Salkin
You could call Jack Srebnik, owner of Maracas and The Slice restaurants, and co-owner along with Todd Flood of JT’s Diner, crazy. He gave up the relatively sedate life of an accountant to work for Sysco Foods and then jumped into the restaurant business where over the past 25 year he’s opened more than a dozen restaurants in Santa Monica and the Coachella Valley.
Srebnik owned the 17th Street Café on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica, a popular hangout in the SoCal beach town, for more than 25 years. When his life circumstances changed more than a dozen years ago, he exchanged the coast for the desert and he jumped into the Coachella Valley’s restaurant scene. Not a man who likes to sit still, his most recent gustatorial venture is bb’s at the River, an 8,000 square foot space that was formerly occupied by Acqua Pazza. While he’s made only a few changes to the space, bb’s at the River offers a fresh take on dining at the popular mid-valley shopping and dining center. And unlike most of the others, bb’s isn’t a chain restaurant, and it has its own distinct personality.
First is the name. The restaurant was named, Srebnik said, as an homage to his financial partner Barbara Boyajian, “She’s a great lady who has always wanted to see her name in lights.”
If you’re looking for a spot to relax, enjoy a classic cocktail with a twist and a classic comfort or exotic dish for dinner, bb’s can offer all of the above.
The interior of the restaurant offers a mix of tables and booths, with the central bar area, and the patio, “One of the best spots in the valley,” according to Srebnik, offers the feel of a sidewalk café that offers guests amazing views of the nearby mountains while still shielding them from foot traffic of the River’s busy walkway.
Drinks at the bar take advantage of restaurant manager Anthony Nespoli’s long career in the food and beverage business here in the valley. Nespoli has helped design the bar’s menu of classic cocktails and stock of above average well drinks. His choice of on-tap beers and 20 for $20 wines is impressive for the value of the beverages.
All Signature Cocktails are $10 and like the food at bb’s, portions are well-worth the price. After talking about the selections from on-top craft brews to the classic cocktails, we settled on bb’s Margarita and bb’s Mule. The mule was made with New Amsterdam Vodka, Bundaberg’s Ginger Beer and Blood Orange sodas and fresh lime juice and garnished with a wedge of fresh blood orange. The margarita was a different take on this classic, with muddled cilantro and cucumber, El Charro Silver tequila, Ancho Reyes Licor (a fine layer of underlying heat) and Triple Sec. The mule offered a nice kick of sweetness from the blood orange soda and the margarita was a truly nice departure from the traditional with the cucumber and cilantro flavors floating to the top of the tongue.
There was also a nice change of pace in the Bloody Mary, made with the bar’s in-house mary mix. This one offers a slightly “beefy” background flavor and less of the sting of hot sauce, but perfect as an accompaniment for Sunday Brunch.
For the lunch, dinner and weekend brunch menus, Srebnik transferred the menu – and Chef Carlos – from the former 17th Street Café.
Menu prices are reasonable and portions sizes are more than ample. The menu is a mix of both comfort and exotic foods that evoke memories of the America’s melting pot culture; a visit to bb’s at the River should be on your list of places to try. There is a bit of everything on this menu – appetizers, pasta and pizza, entrée salads and entrees that are big enough to share, but you might not want to.
We started out with Ahi Tartare, stacked like a poke with super-fresh fish, a layer of creamy avocado chunks and freshly chopped tomatoes topped with shredded daikon radish. We paired it with the Kalbi beef appetizers, bits of cross-cut beef short rib meat, accompanied by a fresh shredded slaw of white and purple cabbage and a slightly sweet soy-based dipping sauce. While the original intent was to sample both, we couldn’t help but finish them leaving nothing but the plate and rib bones behind.
A surprise arrived at the table in the form of a dish of house-made chicken-spinach ravioli topped with a creamy tomato sauce. Little pillows of dough filled with the flavorful chicken mix with the sauce that brought out the sweetness of the meat. This one is available in both appetizer and entrée portions on the menu.
Dinner was mix a of Balsamic Grilled Atlantic Salmon, Pot Roast and Potatoes and Roasted Lamb Loin and yes, most of each dish came home to be enjoyed again.
The salmon was nestled on a bed of fluffy mashed potatoes and topped with a mix of freshly sautéed veggies drizzled with the balsamic sauce. The fish itself was light and flaky, while the veggies and potatoes added depth of flavor vastly different from most salmon creations. “You don’t usually think of serving fish with mashed potatoes because they’re heavy, but this works,” Srebnik said.
The pot roast was perfection. Fork tender with a great gravy and carrots roasted with the meat. Pan dripping are the basis of this gravy, with the small bits of the meat to be found in the rich sauce. It was served with perfectly sautéed Blue Lake green beans and pan-roasted potatoes. And it reminded me of the Shabbat dinners my sister made when I was a child.
The third dish was a surprise, one that’s worth going back to bb’s: roasted and rolled lamb loin stuffed with spinach, feta cheese and pine nuts and served with garlic mashed sweet potatoes and hand-cut steamed veggies. The veggies – a mix of cauliflower, broccoli and carrots – soft in the mouth, but not over cooked, and the sweet potatoes had that wonderful undertone of garlic to offset a bit of the tuber’s natural sweetness.
But the lamb! Amazing! A quarter-inch thick cut of sweet lamb loin stuffed with the tangy, salty feta and spinach and just enough pine nuts to add to the mix of flavors.
To top it all off, a quartet of bb’s best desserts: a decadent flourless chocolate cake, creamy New York cheese cake with strawberry compote (on the side), tangy lemony tart with fresh whipped cream and light-as-air tiramisu (generally not a dessert I would normally order, but this one is so creamy and gently flavored I would put it on my dessert list at this dining spot).
If you haven’t tried bb’s at the River, do so soon! The food is great, the atmosphere friendly and accommodating, and like Srebnik’s other valley eateries, it caters to all ages of valley diners. It is a valley gem that definitely should be discovered by anyone who loves good food!