Restaurant of the Week: Bistro Roti

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CLOSED IN 2010

This week’s restaurant: Bistro Roti, 1041 E. 16th St. (at Upland Hills), Upland.

Bistro Roti is in the business center immediately west of Upland Hills Country Club. The name refers to the restaurant’s wood-burning rotisserie. I tried the place out for lunch the other day.

The interior is upscale-casual. A flat-screen TV was silently showing the Food Network and three other tables were occupied. The lunch menu has salads, sandwiches, pastas and pizza; the dinner menu is more ambitious with steaks, chops and seafood entrees from $16 to $45. They also do breakfast. (See the menus on the bistro’s website.)

I went casual with a tuna melt on sourdough with fries ($9.25). I’ve mentioned before that a tuna melt is my baseline sandwich. (This remained true even though Upland uses 16th Street as its name for Base Line, ha ha.) No, seriously, a tuna melt is what I tend to order to judge whether a place is putting any effort into its food.

Well, the Bistro Roti tuna melt displays real effort. It tasted like, and was, according to the server, made from real tuna, not tuna from a can. Chopped onions, celery and shredded cheese completed the effect. The fries were thin and crispy. At first I thought they were nothing special, but then I noticed I was finishing them. A small dish of ketchup was delivered rather than a bottle, a nice touch. The service was prompt and professional.

Bistro Roti merits further investigation. The only obvious drawback is that when you look out the windows, or sit out on the patio, your view is of for-lease signs in the center’s numerous empty spaces. A sign of the times. But the quality of the food proved distracting.

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Claremont’s new official flower

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It’s the Mimulus aurantiacus, or Sticky Monkey Flower, “easily found in our local foothills in abundance and in a variety of colors, yellow to orange to red,” according to the report to the City Council.

The idea of a city flower came from the Claremont Community Foundation as a way to celebrate its 20th anniversary. The foundation plans to distribute Monkey Flower seed packets. Six possible city flowers were identified by Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont, all California natives, and the Monkey Flower was its top choice.

Unafraid to make the tough decisions, the City Council named it Claremont’s official flower at Tuesday’s meeting.

The only other Inland Valley city flower I’m aware of is Ontario’s Charlotte Armstrong Rose. The rose was named for the wife of the founder of Armstrong Nursery, which began in Ontario circa 1889.

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‘Jaws’ glides into Pomona on Friday

Bom bom.

Bom.

Bom bom bom.

Bom bom.

Bom bom bom bom bom BOM BOM BOM BOM (chomp).

Just when you thought it was safe to visit downtown Pomona, this Friday’s free movie is “Jaws” — woo-hoo! — and starts at dusk, around 8:45. The movie is in the Thomas Street Plaza on West Second and Thomas streets. Bring a lawn chair or a beach chair. And it really is safe in downtown Pomona, btw, if not in the waters off Amityville where a great white shark…well, you know the plot. Don’t you?

You can see the complete schedule of downtown movies here.

If there’s a big crowd, be prepared to say somberly: “We’re going to need a bigger plaza.”

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Goddess of Pomona returns (permanently?)

The Goddess of Pomona blog is back. After shutting down in early June and putting her page off-limits behind a wall, G of P removed the wall (did someone proclaim “Ms. Goddess, tear down this wall”?) after the Pomona fire near her neighborhood.

Although she initially described her return as her “possible comeback,” she’s posted seven times since then. Guess it’s safe to welcome her back.

In the meantime, the go-to source for Pomona news and commentary online has become M-M-M-My Pomona. It presents a Lincoln Park-centric view of the city, understandable since that’s where its bloggers live, but it did good work on the fires and often has reports and chatter about council meetings.

(Pomona has a real blogging community with something like a dozen blogs, most of which link to each other. Claremont has a couple. If our other cities have local blogs, they’re keeping quiet about it.)

Wish I could be as positive about the Foothill Cities Blog, which attempted to cover the area from Pasadena to Claremont. After a good push, the blog sputtered, crashed, returned on a limited basis with contributions almost entirely from Monrovia (and, hmm, with Pomona and Claremont reversed in its west-to-east lineup of cities) and now hasn’t been updated since June 9.

It can’t be easy to stay motivated to produce a blog when you’re volunteering. Which is too bad, in my opinion; I like the competition and the alternative voices.

Granted, the utility of city-centered blogs as news sources is limited. Unlike newspapers, bloggers rarely phone anyone, show up at City Hall, request documents or pound the pavement. They just write about whatever crosses their field of vision. That’s fine, especially since most blogs are a hobby, but the result is no replacement for a newspaper.

Some bloggers come across like people writing in their underpants in darkened rooms, griping because all their questions about the world can’t be answered by the Internet. (“Mr. President, tear down this cave!”)

Still, the difficulty in keeping a local blog up and functioning in the long term ought to give pause, and perhaps already has, to those who were quick to proclaim the faults of the so-called mainstream media and the supposed superiority of the blogosphere, which would rise to take our place as local news sources. Maybe someday, but not quite yet, obviously.

Flawed we most certainly are, but hey, at least we’re still at it every day.

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A day in Glendale

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I really like Brand Boulevard, Glendale’s main drag, and spent half a day there Saturday.

I saw “The King and I” at the Alex Theater, the restored 1925 theater, which occasionally shows old movies (live theater, musicals, etc., fill the rest of the schedule). I’m unsure if I’d ever seen the whole thing before, but knew I’d seen bits and pieces of it on TV as a child. Not that you need me to tell you, but it’s a great movie with a surprising finale.

The same block is home to two excellent used bookstores, Bookfellows and Brand Books. At the latter, a browser in his 30s in the stacks seemed unfamiliar with the concept of used bookstores. He asked an employee, “Are these for sale or do you, like, rent them?”

My lunch was nothing special. Porto’s Bakery is excellent but it’s so crowded it’s hard to relax, and the sushi bar I’d intended on patronizing had closed down. In retrospect I should have gone to Thai in L.A., the movie’s Siam and modern-day Thailand being the same, but that thematic tie-in didn’t occur to me. Instead, I went to the new Panera outlet for its amazing strawberry-poppyseed salad.

After all this, I walked a few blocks south to the Americana at Brand, the cutesy shopping area created by the developer of the Grove by the Farmers Market in L.A. I enjoyed a slice of cheese pizza at Richie Palmer’s Pizzeria and a burger at Jewel City Diner, a small, circular diner with a bar looking out through plate-glass windows. Great for people-watching.

Americana is, like the Grove, too artificial for my tastes, but it’s okay. Have any of you checked it out?

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Fontana’s human cannonball

I didn’t know until my colleague Louis Brewster’s column today in Sports that Hugo Zacchini, “a former Fontana resident, commonly is credited with being the first human cannonball.” The Peruvian native died in 1975. His father, Ildebrando Zacchini, is said to have invented the compressed-air cannon used to propel humans in circus acts.

Well, for what it’s worth, Wikipedia repeats the story. Brewster just passed by my desk and I asked him about it. When he was growing up in Fontana, all the kids knew about Hugo Zacchini, who kept a cannon in his backyard.

I don’t know how this ties in with Emanuel Zacchini Sr., who according to his 1993 New York Times obituary was brought to the U.S. from Italy in 1934 by John Ringling, created a human cannonball act with his brothers (none of whom were named Hugo) and set a record in 1940 by traveling 175 feet at 54 mph. He was subject of the song “The Human Cannonball” by Loudon Wainwright III.

Flyin’ Zacchinis must be as common as zucchinis.

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Does Thomas Pynchon’s L.A. include Claremont?

Via LA Observed, I see that Wired magazine’s “Unofficial Thomas Pynchon Guide to Los Angeles” maps out real-life places connected to the famously private novelist’s life and work. I was pleased to see that “The Crying of Lot 49′s” fictional city of San Narciso, home to a college and an aerospace plant with the sublime name Yoyodyne, is identified as (possibly) Claremont.

Click on the bubble near Upland in the top map.

The Wired mapmaker is skeptical, but there’s a San Narciso College website hosted by Pomona College (www.pynchon.pomona.edu) in which the Pynchon-obsessed lay out an argument for why the college and town must be based on Claremont. The website hasn’t been updated in years but there’s still useful information there for fans.

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Ontario Plaza

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The old Ontario Plaza was built starting in 1956 at Mountain Avenue and Fourth Street and expanded in 1959 down to I Street. The nearly six blocks of shops and services marked Ontario’s transition away from the downtown core and into suburban-style shopping.

The Plaza was torn down in 1998 for a new development, also named Ontario Plaza, but with an Albertsons, Rite Aid and other shops.

Sunday’s column talks about the Plaza and notes many of the stores that were there. Feel free to comment here about your personal favorites or about any Plaza memories.

The photo above was shot Friday morning on the northeast corner of Mountain and Fourth. It depicts what I believe is the only surviving portion of the Plaza. The post office and Laundramatic were original tenants, arriving shortly after the Market Basket supermarket, and the signs and architectural style look like they might be original, don’t they?

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Restaurant of the Week: The Boiler

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The Boiler, 4665 Chino Hills Parkway (at Ramona), Chino Hills.

Reader Charles Bentley once asked us in vain about the presence of any New Orleans-style restaurants in the Inland Valley, after the demise of New Orleans Express/Crescent City Cafe. Well, we now have one, albeit with an untraditional take on the cuisine.

The Boiler, a restaurant offering “steam kettle cooking,” opened at the start of June in The Commons at Chino Hills. I had dinner there a couple of weeks ago with my Chino Hills friends. (Everyone should have Chino Hills friends.)

The interior is dominated by a U-shaped bar at which most customers sit. The menu is short and almost entirely seafood. They have gumbo, jambalaya, oysters and pan roasts, plus some pastas.

The sauces are made in advance from scratch and once you choose your item and the degree of spiciness from 1 to 10, they quickly steam it in a small kettle in front of you, put it in a big bowl and hand it over.

I had the pan roast house ($18.95) with shrimp, crab, lobster, clams and trinity in a tomato cream-based sauce. My friends had pan roast crab ($17.95) and pan roast clam ($13.95).

We liked the food and took home the extra. One remarked lyrically on the “layers of flavor.” We weren’t convinced of the accuracy of the spice levels, with my “4″ and another’s “7″ tasting about the same, but that’s fine. I never know what the deal is with the sauces they mix at your table at P.F. Chang either. You just accept the gimmick and move on.

The service was friendly, and the person who explained the concept to us and answered our questions turned out to be the owner. Surprisingly, this is a single-location business, although he hopes to expand. He developed the recipes at the Oyster Bar in Las Vegas.

Our group’s only quibble is that the prices (entrees $12.95 to $21.95) might be a couple of bucks high given the fast-casual setting.

You can view the menu online here.

And what is The Commons at Chino Hills? Just off the 71, it’s the latest happening spot in suburbia. There’s a Pei Wei (the 909′s sole survivor after the Rancho Cucamonga one shut down last year), a wine bar with live jazz named Wine Down, a Lucille’s BBQ, Corner Bakery, Wahoo’s and BJ’s, not to mention a Lowe’s and a Toys R Us, with more stuff coming, in theory at least (what with the economy and the developer’s bankruptcy).

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Hmmm

Friday’s column employs the word “blogosphere,” a word that denotes the virtual realm in which blogs such as this one reside. Spellcheck flagged it and suggested three alternatives: “bloodshedder,” “bookshelves” and “bloodsucker.”

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