After a little more than one year of jumping hurdles and countless hours of idle work, the doors to The Baler Steakhouse are now open for business.
The restaurant officially launched last year on Black Friday, Nov. 25, at 500 San Benito Street in downtown Hollister. But an official ribbon cutting ceremony was held Feb. 22 by the San Benito County Chamber of Commerce to welcome the newest restaurant in town.
The Baler owners Raul and Yvonne Escareno had always envisioned a theme based on the Great Gatsby in an attempt to take guests on a trip back into the 1920s.
The dark royal blue walls and gold trimmed pillars along with the burgundy Victorian dining chairs did a great job of setting that tone.
“The whole theme, lettering, ambience and the music wanted to take people back to that era even though we weren’t around,” Raul Escareno said. “Trying to get as close as we could without getting too old school.”
They also wanted to give the City of Hollister a more upscale restaurant but without having to break the bank.
The Baler can put a dent in your wallet, which was one of the few negatives for me when it came to rating the restaurant overall.
However, this spot offers reasonable prices for a good quality meal compared to a night out at Mastro’s Steakhouse in San Jose where dinner for four people can run up to $1,000.
“We wanted to give people that feeling of a million bucks without really spending a million bucks,” Escareno said.
The cocktails–listed at $15 each–are made with top shelf liquors such as Tres Generaciones tequila used in Le Vie en Rose (lime, Sprite, fresh grapefruit and a splash of orange juice served in a Tajin rimmed glass) and others such as The Gatsby (Tippin Mandarin vodka, grapefruit juice, muddled orange and cranberry juice).
The house specialty is the Hayburner: made with smoked ice, Elijah Craig bourbon, torched orange peel, sugar, angostura bitters and Luxardo maraschino cherries and delivered in a smoked out glass dome that is then lifted before serving it to the guest, which can be quite the spectacle.
The fruit juices are all made in house and they don’t use any sweeteners. Escareno said craft cocktails are not just cool looking drinks, but it’s something the bartenders take time and dedication to create.
For starters, the menu offers classic salads such as Cesar and side salad, as well as a salmon and Baler salad that has harissa seasoned chicken, tomato, cucumber, beets, red onion, avocado, bacon crumbles and ranch served over a spring mix.
The appetizer section includes Baler Fries, Tequila Prawns and a pair of rice bowls to choose from: Chicken Curry or Teriyaki Salmon.
Specialties on the menu feature slow roasted marinated boneless short ribs served with garlic whipped potatoes and seasonal vegetables.
Escareno was influenced by other cultures to create some of his other dishes such as the Pork and Prawns, a pan seared tenderloin and prawns simmered in a wild honey dijon cream sauce.
I had to see what the fuss was about.
The pork–which was braised to perfection–and the jumbo prawns were simmered in a sweet tangy dijon cream sauce. It was a delectable combination of new flavors all at once, sort of like a surf ‘n’ turf only minus the red meat and fancy lobster tail.
“A lot of people would say pork and prawns, it doesn’t go,” Escareno said. “In your mind, it says no, no no. But once you try it, you’re like ‘yes, yes, yes.’”
It was definitely the right decision.
Escareno sources most of his ingredients from local farmers. The beef comes from Harris Ranch and the chicken is Mary’s Free Range Chickens out of Pitman Family Farms.
The 34-year old longtime chef said he will slowly introduce new types of meat such as Kurobuta pork and Wagyu beef as the demand gets higher.
Some of his influences might also come from unexpected places such as hearing someone talk about reminiscing on a dish they used to have as a child.
“I just wanted to put Raul’s twist on things,” he said.
One dish Escareno put a twist on is the Cajun Ribeye, which is a 10 ounce steak smothered in a cajun dry rub. Once it’s cooked, they top it off with a rich cream sauce that will have you licking the plate.
My dad, Manuel Reyes, had his steak layered with mushrooms and red onion that added a nice touch to an already delicious cut of meat.
“That was pretty freakin’ good,” said Reyes after taking a second to fully comprehend what he had just eaten.
The Baler offers classic cuts such as a 14-ounce New York strip or a filling 22-ounce porterhouse steak. For those more adventurous–and with a deeper pocket–there’s also the 48- or 52-ounce tomahawk steak that can run anywhere up to $150.
All cuts include seasonal veggies, side of herbed mushroom demi-port sauce and a choice of either whipped potatoes, mushroom risotto or fries.
Unlike the first restaurant he opened, Escareno had to create The Baler from scratch. He didn’t know the process of permits and requirements within the City of Hollister, which helped the restaurateur jump through the hoops to reach his goal.
“There’s a lot of money behind it all,” he said. “Honestly it was the City of Hollister that got us through it.”
Escareno believes things didn’t get moving in motion until the city officials saw his vision of what The Baler could ultimately be.
He had some doubts about being able to open up, especially after going down a dark path that led to alcoholism. Escareno has been sober for more than a year and can be around the booze without giving into temptation.
Escareno is currently helping his 55-year old father, Raul Escareno Sr., start a new church where they congregate at The Baler. He’s hoping soon to move into a building right down the street from the restaurant.
“It’s a lot on my plate but it’s not like I’m getting paid all this crazy money,” he said. “If you’re gonna do something, you’re gonna do it right and you’re gonna give it 100%.”
Despite the hardships and near downfalls, he feels like they’ve got a special place where people can feel loved and welcomed like family.
“My goal is to show people can change, dreams are possible and there’s no such thing as a bad meal,” Escareno said.
The Baler Steakhouse
Where: 500 San Benito Street, Hollister
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 4:30-9pm
Rating: 4.5 out of 5