Restaurant of the Week: Lettuce Toss It

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Lettuce Toss It, 15934 Los Serranos Country Club Drive (at Torrey Pines), Chino Hills; closed Sundays

The above is, by the way, the most high-falutin’ street location of any of the hundreds of Restaurant of the Week posts here, but pay that no heed. This is simply a restaurant, one where you order at the counter, in a fairly ordinary neighborhood, even though there must be golf nearby. It’s not in the shopping center on the corner of Soquel Canyon Parkway but in a small complex north of there.

With that out of the way: Lettuce Toss It, a pun business name of which I approve, is one of the few places in these parts that specializes in salads. I had lunch there recently with two friends.

There are 16 pre-designed salads, some of which sounded good to me; I almost opted for the Strawberry Sweetness before deciding to go for the Toss It Your Way, in which you pick the lettuce, six toppings and a dressing ($8.50).

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My choices, for the record, were spinach, with walnuts, raspberries, oranges, pineapple, strawberries and sun-dried tomatoes, topped with raspberry vinaigrette. (This was my attempt to recreate the Panera summer salad I like.) Very good, and very colorful, although the sun-dried tomatoes, as I suspected at the time, didn’t really go with the salad as composed.

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A friend also built her own salad: spinach, green and black olives, tomatoes and green peppers, adding grilled tofu ($1.50) and avocado ($1.25). “I really outdid myself,” she bragged. The vegetarian had been here twice previously and liked her salad.

The third got a salad-sandwich combo: half a JJ’s Ham and Swiss (plus sourdough, mustard and romaine) and the half Cobbler Gobbler Salad (turkey, bacon bits, cheese, tomato, romaine, egg and avocado). I don’t know why there’s not a scoop of peach cobbler in the Cobbler Gobbler. Price was not noted.

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“Soooo good,” he reported. “I walked in full and thought I would eat only half, but I ate the whole thing.” He’d been here once before and, unaccountably, had a cheese quesadilla, which he said he liked.

The menu has sandwiches (which include my baseline sandwich, the tuna melt, and yes, I almost ordered one), which come with a side of chili, fruit or a salad, as well as wraps and baked potatoes. And quesadillas. And cookies (3 for $1.50): We had the chocolate chip, three of them, and enjoyed them.

We all liked the place, which opened a couple of years ago and is popular enough to have expanded into the vacant storefront next door, vastly increasing the seating capacity. The menu is well thought out and the name catchy, which made me think Lettuce Toss It is a chain, but it’s not. Maybe it will become one. Until then, check them out in Chino Hills, and bring a copy of a Lettuce Now Praise Famous Men.

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Restaurant of the Week: The Meat Cellar

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The Meat Cellar, 665 E. Foothill Blvd. (at Claremont), Claremont; closed Mondays

Located at the eastern entrance to Claremont, in the plaza with Blue Fin Sushi, Meat Cellar is a butcher shop that also cooks food to eat in or to go and sells wine. As a frequent visitor to the Starbucks next door, I noticed Meat Cellar as it was going in earlier this year and have been in for dinner three times — which will tell you right there that I like the place.

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There’s simple seating and you order at the register, past the butcher case. There are a half-dozen specials on the board plus a short printed menu, and they will also cook anything in the case that catches your eye. On one day, the specials were lamb chops, salmon tacos, BBQ pork sandwich, halibut, and muscles mussels with fries, ranging from $12 to $21.

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Twice I’ve had steak frites ($19, above), a hanger steak atop a bed of fries, the first time because it sounded good, the second time because I remembered how good the first one was (I was not disappointed). My other visit I got herb-crusted tenderloin with mixed greens ($17, below), another winner.

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Generally I’ll eat a steak maybe twice a year. I’m not one for the formality, or pricing, of a steakhouse, or one who wants to get a mediocre steak at a cheesy family restaurant. Meat Cellar makes it simpler for me. Also, due to ordering at the counter, tipping doesn’t seem necessary, which makes the meal more affordable (by, well, 15 to 20 percent, right?).

They serve beer (from nearby Claremont Craft Ales) and wine. On my visits, the music has been cool, with lots of Bowie, Tears for Fears and the Smiths. The restaurant has no freezer, with all items delivered daily, and all the meat and poultry is organic, antibiotic-free and, as appropriate, grass-fed and pasture-raised.

I like it — but then, I said that up top.

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Remembering Wilson’s in La Verne

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Wilson’s on the La Verne border was first a sandwich shop, opening in 1930, and later a broiler, or steakhouse. It closed in 1962 and four years later the renovated building opened as La Paloma, which is still in business 50 years later.

The accompanying, undated images are courtesy of the La Verne Planning Department. The one above seems to be the earliest. Click on it for a larger view. The sign at the far right reads “Pure Orange Juice” and the fruit stand appears to be to the left. I really want to go back in time, travel narrow Route 66, pull over at Wilson’s for a sandwich and pie, and check out the orchard behind.

Below, a Wilson’s Broiler image and, at bottom, a Sandwich Shop postcard that shows patio dining.

There’s some history about Wilson’s in this La Verne Community News issue (see page 4) and this La Verne Magazine story, although the latter is more about La Paloma.

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Bookfellows writes ‘The End’ to its store

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It was bad enough when Brand Bookshop closed in July 2014, but now its across-the-street neighbor on Glendale’s Brand Boulevard, Bookfellows, is closing at the end of this month.

Bookfellows was likewise a used bookstore, a bit more clean and orderly than Brand, specializing in fiction, especially genre fiction. Its science fiction selection in particular was the stuff of legend, with shelf after shelf of mass market paperbacks from the ’60s to the ’80s, arranged alphabetically. Ray Bradbury logged more than 20 in-store appearances, and it was easy to see why he would like the place.

The store had sections for certain prized characters, such as Sherlock Holmes, not just the books but Holmesiana such as pastiches and studies, and for classic fantasists like ERB, Lord Dunsany, Talbot Mundy, Clark Ashton Smith and the like. In many ways, this was my favorite bookstore around L.A., and the fact that it was near Brand Books and in the same block as the Alex Theatre added to the allure.

Well, the Internet has eroded the brick-and-mortar book business, making the store, open since 1999, increasingly untenable. The owners, Malcolm and Christine Bell, sell on the web too and decided to focus on that. (It’s known online as Mystery and Imagination Bookshop.) Good for them, but too bad for those of us who love wandering the stacks, carrying want lists but willing to be surprised.

I made a pilgrimage there from Claremont July 2, the day after getting back from vacation, to see Bookfellows one last time. Everything was 70 percent off. Much of the best stock was gone by this point, but if I were in more of a book-buying frame of mind (and didn’t already have a few unread books from the store) there would still have been finds.

Most of August Derleth’s Solar Pons mysteries were there, in multiple copies, and six or eight of S.S. Van Dine’s Philo Vance mysteries, which I’d never seen. A short spinner case had nothing but Agatha Christie books. Thee were short shelves of P.G. Wodehouse and Ross Macdonald.

Ultimately, I bought Lester del Rey’s “Marooned on Mars,” a ’60s paperback, as a memento to the glory that was. The store is due to close July 30. The LA Times wrote a nice feature on them.

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