Restaurant of the Week: Lobster Grill

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Lobster Grill, 3210 Chino Ave. (at the 71), Chino Hills; closed Mondays

I’ve passed by Lobster Grill when seeing movies at the Harkins 18 but only visited recently after a positive comment on FB from reader David Saw about the lobster rolls. As a lobster roll fan, I figured I should give the place a try.

On my first visit, though, I went with something different. The menu is much like Pacific Fish Grill elsewhere in town, with seafood plates and sides, and the style is fast-casual, bringing the cost down. So I ordered grilled swordfish ($12) with garlic butter sauce, rice pilaf and steamed vegetables; it comes with a thin piece of garlic toast.

Pretty good, and on a third visit my order was very similar, only with mahi mahi ($12) instead. I didn’t like it as much and the vegetables are kind of boring.

Now, how about that lobster roll? That came on my second visit: the sandwich, New England style, with fries ($11). This is a cold roll with a kind of lobster salad, on a warm piece of folded bread that will remind you of Sizzler’s “Texas toast.” I prefer the Connecticut style of lobster roll, which is served warm, but this was a good New England roll, with a generous helping of lobster. The fries were tasty too.

The menu is slightly more seafood-intense than the local competitors, with clams, mussels and oysters on the half-shell, and with Cajun buckets ($28 to $35). That said, I’m a little wary of ordering oysters from a place that doesn’t really specialize in them, and for the same reason I’ve shied away from crab legs and such.

Overall, I prefer Pacific Fish Grill. But Lobster Grill is all right for the basics, and the parking is easier than at the Shoppes, where Pac Fish is. Candidly, I don’t remember much about Fish-O-Licious, so I’m not sure where it rates in the Chino Hills spectrum (as opposed to the Chino Spectrum Marketplace) of cheap-ish seafood joints.

The Lobster Grill interior is pleasant enough, orange plastic seats and paper-covered tables, although lately I’ve just been happy for the air conditioning.

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San Dimas center now fresher, easier

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Sometimes I’ll shop at the Fresh and Easy in San Dimas, which is at Bonita Avenue and San Dimas Canyon Road. I used to go to one in Upland, but after the chain’s drastic cutback, the next-nearest F&E is in Fontana. The San Dimas store is in a newish center, built circa 2008, around the time of the recession, and has been otherwise unoccupied.

But no more. On my last visit, suddenly there were tenants: Butter Cafe and Bakery, My Nail Spa and 3rd Street Pizza, all visible above, left to right. One or two storefronts are still unoccupied, but this was a vast improvement. I go to the center about once a month and don’t believe any of these were there my previous visit. (Based on its website, Butter is worth a look.)

A Fresh and Easy manager, who had been transferred from the closed Day Creek store in Rancho Cucamonga, told me that unlike many locations that were leased, the grocery chain owns the whole center. “We’re not going anywhere,” he said.

Good to hear.

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Column: From rape victim to addict to survivor

Alisa Kaplan was the victim of a gang rape in 2002 that made news around Southern California and beyond for its shocking nature. The Rancho Cucamonga teenager successfully weathered the two trials it took to convict the assailants but descended into alcoholism and drug addiction. Now sober and advocating for victims herself, she’s published a memoir and talks to me for a long, emotional Sunday column. It’s the first time I’ve written anything quite like this, and the first time we’ve run an editor’s note warning readers they’re about to encounter graphic language. Be prepared.

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Restaurant of the Week: Spike’s Cake Shop

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Spike’s Cake Shop, 660 Fairplex Drive (at Holt), Pomona; open daily

I had never noticed Spike’s, which turns out to be within a minimall I pass all the time, and had I seen it I wouldn’t have thought to go in. But the chef and co-owner of Pappas Artisanal Sandwiches in La Verne advised me that he gets his rolls from Spike’s and that they make excellent burritos there. I made a point of going.

The sign, hard to see due to foliage, appears to be repurposed from a Spike’s Teriyaki. As one Spike’s observer put it, the name might sound inauthentic, but “you don’t get more authentic than saving some coin and using the previous sign.” Point made. Neon signs at the entry tout tacos, burritos, bionicos, licuados, tamales, champurrados and “sanwiches.” No hours are posted, but they seem to be open seven days, and well into the evening.

The doors are perpetually open, with plastic hanging strips to keep out flies. The interior is confusing on a first visit, not to mention subsequent visits: Your clockwise view is of refrigerated cases with pan dulce and bottled beverages; a small open kitchen with a grill and a stove with a couple of pots; a line at a counter to order; and a cake counter. I wondered if I had stepped into the wrong place.

If you want pan dulce, then you take a tray and tongs at the pickup counter. You probably won’t get a tray liner. Otherwise, you get a beverage and get in line, even though virtually everyone in front of you will have a tray of bakery items, and at the register, where there is no menu posted, you’ll attempt to order a torta or a burrito, the ease of which will depend on your facility with Spanish or the employee’s facility with English. You’ll pay and get a receipt, you’ll listen for your number to be called out in Spanish, and probably won’t hear it.

But once you get your burrito ($5.50), you’ll find it long and slim, wrapped in a springy, light and fresh tortilla. A carne asada burrito will contain a kind of stew with rice, beans and bits of meat, a style closer to what I believe is the Mexican version of a burrito than I’ve ever had. An al pastor burrito was meatier. Both were surprising and intensely satisfying, among the best I’ve had, although fans of Chipotle-like stuffed burritos may find them baffling.

The second time, I also got a puffy sweetbread (50 cents). I liked it but have very little experience with pan dulce. A Pomonan whose office has been sampling panaderias hadn’t heard of Spike’s either but, after a couple of visits, was impressed enough to rate it second best in town after Panaderia La Mexicana. And the tri-color cookies at Spike’s were rated No. 1.

Seating consists of a few small uncomfortable tables with swivel seats and a counter for four by the door, which is where I’ve sat. There’s usually a few carts with stacked trays of pan dulce, perhaps cooling, out on the floor as well.

Spike’s is one of the more visually confusing places I’ve eaten, up there with the chaotic Porto’s in Glendale. For the adventurous, the food is good enough to be worth the hassle. You’ll probably want to take it to go, though.

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“Special assignment”

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My assignment isn’t quite as special as the firefighter’s, and definitely not as dangerous. To explain this note in today’s print edition, my column for Wednesday was very different, and on a sensitive but newsworthy subject, one potentially of interest to our sister papers around LA. So we decided to hold it to run Sunday, where it will have more impact anyway, and make sure we’re presenting it right.

That’s a good call, even if it meant forgoing a column for Wednesday.

Now, I’ve got to get to work on Friday’s column, as well as tomorrow’s Restaurant of the Week blog post.

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Pomona book signing — in Pomona

If you’ve never attended a performance by the Pomona Concert Band, think about attending Thursday’s. First of all, it’s the last show of the season, and secondly, I’ll be there selling and signing my book, “Pomona A to Z.”

I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me last year to do this, but a few weeks ago, leaving a Food Truck Thursday night at Fairplex and thinking about the concerts in the park nearby, the idea came to me. Linda Taylor, the band’s conductor, agreed.

It could very well be that everyone at the concert will have my book already, there being a lot of overlap between their crowd and my crowd — but my guess is there’ll be some who’ll have no idea a book about Pomona exists. And that’s where I come in.

The concerts are a community staple and, as I’ve written before, a kind of small-scale Hollywood Bowl experience, as listeners fan out on the grass on blankets or lawn chairs in front of the bandshell at Ganesha Park (1575 N. White Ave.) to watch the band perform under the stars. The music might be a little corny or old-fashioned for your tastes, and I’ll admit I’m more of a Glass House guy myself, but there’s no denying the charm or community feeling here.

The show starts at 8 p.m. and I’ll try to get there around 7. Come say hello, even if you have my book. If you don’t, bring $20.

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Column: Gabby Ontario councilman likes last word, among others

Sunday’s column is about last week’s Ontario City Council meeting, dominated by the loquacious Paul Avila. There’s some other Ontario news from the meeting, an explanation from a councilman about why he flew from LAX, and a plug for my Thursday book signing in Pomona.

Incidentally, I was startled Sunday (after returning from a three-day weekend in San Diego) to open my Daily Bulletin and find this column was our A1 lead story. As the saying goes, it must have been a slow news day.

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