Whither Restaurant of the Week?

My regular Thursday account of a meal(s) at a restaurant has been on hold during the pandemic, for obvious reasons. Although one reader did suggest modifying the concept to Carryout of the Week, ha ha — which I didn’t pursue.

The break has been welcome on my end. During the first part of the pandemic in particular, I was in something of a state of shock and relieved to just get columns done under these crazy circumstances. Not feeling obligated to write RoWs was one burden I was delighted to shed.

After restaurants reopened, a bit prematurely in my opinion, they had to revert to takeout and delivery, or offer outside dining, now that no inside dining is allowed.

Before the shutdown, I had two RoWs written and scheduled. Because the restaurants were closed, I put the posts on ice. In late June, as restaurants began opening up, I scheduled the posts for early July. Then restaurants were ordered closed again July 1 and the posts were put on ice again.

At this point, with the two posts not getting any younger, I may as well run them. At least the two restaurants are kind of open. The posts are scheduled for Aug. 6 and 13.

After that, we’ll see if the RoW continues. There’s a lot riding against it.

My eating habits have changed for the better, the result of which is that I’m less omnivorous than before. (I’ve almost entirely given up bread, for instance, which would make it tough to review a sandwich shop.)

For the foreseeable future, there are obvious logistical issues in writing about restaurants that are only half open and from which food might be taken to go, but taken only so far. Whether I’m working from home or the office, I’m not traveling with hot food more than 5 or 10 minutes, which has tightly limited my choices.

One possibility is to drop the now-venerable name Restaurant of the Week and simply use the restaurant’s name for the title. That way I can skip weeks if necessary and no one can cry about false advertising. Or I could come up with a new name completely.

Suggestions are welcome — as are your thoughts on the whole matter, including about dining out during the coronavirus era.

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Remembering China Gate

Upland’s China Gate for years was considered by many — and certainly by me — the best Chinese restaurant in the area. I enjoyed at least a dozen meals there over the years. Finally in the past decade more exciting and authentic Chinese fare began showing up in cities like Chino Hills, Chino and Rancho Cucamonga. Before that, China Gate was as real as it got out here, and it was popular too.

The restaurant lasted roughly 40 years before closing in March 2018 as part of a shakeup of the Mountain Green shopping center. I’d heard the restaurant’s original owners had sold and that the quality may have slipped. Regardless, I meant to write something here or in my column but it just slipped through the cracks.

I did, however, take some post-closing photos, and what the heck, they may as well be shared here for posterity. Above is the exterior, which faced north.

Through the glass front door and windows I shot what was left of the very 1980s-looking interior.

And posted outside was the menu. A couple of people wrote farewell messages, a sweet touch. If you click on the full menu, you’ll get a larger version of it in case you’d like to scroll through the offerings and reminisce about a favorite.

Former Montclair resident Grace Corcoran remembers. She emailed me in April asking about the restaurant:

“Last year I was in Upland, looking forward to lunch at China Gate on Mountain; I simply can’t explain my deep disappointment to learn it was no longer there. They had a dish on their menu that consisted of steamed fish in a light white sauce with a hint of fresh basil flavor. It was the most refreshing and delicate entrée I’ve ever had in a Chinese restaurant. For the past year I have searched the internet — in vain — for a recipe for this dish. I have experimented in my own kitchen trying to replicate it. In all cases I have failed.”

I couldn’t help her, but she reminded me of China Gate, which led to this blog post. If you remember China Gate too, here’s your chance to comment.

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Column: Rain, rain, go away! Or keep falling, others say

As raindrops keep fallin’ on our heads, unless we stay indoors that is, I decided to write about the rain, which is becoming part of our lives almost as much as March did (in its 887 days). I posed the question on Facebook as to how people were handling the rainy weather and if even fans of rain were having second thoughts. Dozens of replies came in. I write about that in Friday’s column.

I went out in the light showers of Wednesday late afternoon and Thursday morning to await a passerby holding an umbrella. Got a not-quite-sharp enough photo Wednesday and a good one Thursday after a lot of tromping around my neighborhood. Not surprisingly, people prefer to go for a walk when it’s dry.

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Restaurant of the Week suspended

In 2020 I’d managed to post a Restaurant of the Week every Thursday like clockwork. That was possible after putting in a full day early in January writing 3 1/2 of them, and then writing one a week after that. That gave me enough of a cushion that even on vacation I didn’t skip posting one. I wondered if I could keep the streak going a full calendar year.

Of course that was before everything changed. As I write this Wednesday morning, from the comfort of my sofa, I have two ROWs ready to go, with notes on one or two more. But with L.A. County restaurants ordered closed except for takeout or delivery, and S.B. County restaurants likely to follow, what’s the point?

Part of the pleasure of writing them is the ambience of the restaurant. I generally end the post with an interior photo. The posts are designed around the restaurant experience, not the takeout or delivery experience.

For now, I’ve postponed the posts, scheduling the two already written for May 7 and 14, which can be changed forward or backward as the situation changes. Let me know what you think.

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Restaurant of the Week is BACK

You’ll find a fresh Restaurant of the Week, my first of 2020, here on Thursday morning!

I caught a break Monday. Usually I’d have spent the day starting in on Wednesday’s column (due Tuesday at 1 p.m.). But because I was going to Monday night’s Pomona council meeting, and would be writing that on deadline Tuesday morning, that gave me Monday’s daylight hours free.

So I wrote a somewhat complex ROW on the Rancho Cucamonga food hall, which I scheduled to appear Thursday. With that done by early afternoon, I decided to keep going, starting blog posts for the other four restaurants for which I had notes, by which I mean choosing the category, looking up and writing the info that you see in bold with the address and hours and scheduling them for upcoming Thursdays, bam, bam, bam.

From there, I managed to write two of them, for spots in Upland and Chino, and edited/placed photos for a third, in Ontario. Wednesday afternoon, as I write this, I edited/placed photos for the fourth, in Montclair.

This means three ROWs are in the can and two more are in progress. How long I can stay ahead, I don’t know — I’ve had backlogs before and then caught up — but at least I’m off to a good start for 2020. Now if I can only find time to drive east of the 15…

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Favorite restaurants of 2019

Looking back at 2019, I wrote 36, an even three dozen, Restaurant of the Week posts. It may not quite have lived up to the weekly billing, but two of every three weeks were covered, with the usual complications — vacations, holidays, illness and the press of column deadlines — accounting for the other weeks.

I ate at restaurants in all the Daily Bulletin cities: Chino, Chino Hills, Claremont, La Verne, Montclair, Ontario, Pomona, Rancho Cucamonga and Upland, with at least two restaurants per city, plus a stray venture to Moreno Valley (for Portillo’s Hot Dogs).

Most of the 36 were pretty good, and if you want to look back with me, search for “Restaurant of the Week” in the search bar and they should all come up in reverse chronological order.

Memorable places (in a good way) include Vita Italian, Slummin’ Gourmet and Luchador Urban Taqueria in Pomona; Old World Deli and Daddy O’s in Upland; Fourth Street Mill in La Verne; Creme Bakery and Pepo Melo in Claremont; House of Fortune in Chino; Take Ur Seat in Chino Hills; Pola’s Mariscos in Montclair; and Mr. Dumpling and Fat Burrito in Rancho Cucamonga.

For what it’s worth, the places I’ve returned to at least once, and sometimes regularly, are Slummin’, Luchador, Old World, Daddy O’s, Creme, Pepo Melo and Fat Burrito. Although in some cases that’s a function of geography as much as interest. If I lived in Chino Hills I’d be at Take Ur Seat all the time.

As always on these visits, I did not announce myself, was virtually never recognized, to my knowledge anyway, and paid my own way. Also, I’m not a professional reviewer. Doing this is more of a hobby than anything else, not even really part of my official duties or workday, although I try to write them on a Wednesday at work if able. (The columns occupy more of my time and mind, including anxious thoughts, sometimes in the middle of the night, than might be obvious.)

In some ways my interest in the ol’ Restaurant of the Week has slackened. But I keep going. I’ve gotta eat anyway, and it’s useful for me personally to get out of my comfort zone by trying new places. And I know readers rely on me for these, or at least enjoy them or identify me with them. So it’s useful for me professionally to do these, even if it’s a pain some weeks and I often feel like I’m letting people down for one reason or another.

That sense only increased in 2019. Some years I’ve produced this best-of list (which I’m writing at 7 p.m. on New Year’s Day, by the way) as a long item for my column. This year I don’t feel quite right about that.

That’s because in mid-year my columns began appearing in the Sun as well as the Bulletin, and I didn’t manage to venture even to Fontana for a meal, much less Rialto or San Bernardino. I’m a little sheepish about that. (Sun territory is, essentially, east of the 15 Freeway.) In fact, a year ago this list appeared in the Bulletin, and perhaps also in the Sun; either way, a Rialto reader emailed in disappointment that I hadn’t been to her city, and I understood.

In my defense, many of my Restaurant of the Week meals are consumed on a lunch break from our office in Rancho Cucamonga, or on a weekend venture from my home in Claremont. Rialto, Fontana or San Bernardino are a little far for a lunch hour and haven’t figured into my evening or weekend plans. It’s not meant as a slight to anyone there or any restaurants there.

Still, no point in parading the lack of restaurants in Sun territory in front of my Sun readers via my column. I’ll just keep things low-key in this space and vow to do better in 2020.

In the meantime, bon appetit, and where did you enjoy dining in 2019?

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No Restaurant of the Week

With notes in hand for three restaurants, I was going to write my weekly restaurant post on Wednesday to appear this morning. But I came down with a cold and took yesterday off. I’m back at my desk today with hopes of scraping together a column by deadline. Look for a Restaurant of the Week next Thursday, and sorry for missing a week.

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