Restaurant of the Week: Bardot

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Bardot, 206 W. Bonita Ave. (at Harvard), Claremont

For 21 years the corner of Bonita and Harvard was home to Harvard Square Cafe, perhaps the quintessential Claremont restaurant: largely outdoors, urbane, cozy and slightly boring. But the cafe closed in 2012 and after extensive renovations, interrupted by weeks or months when nothing appeared to be happening, its replacement, Bardot, opened in March.

Co-owner is Alain Fournier, who founded Harvard Square before leaving it to other hands in 1995 and opening Caffe Allegro. Bardot is updated with a more modern look: more white, more light. The interior has a bar as its centerpiece. (Longtime residents, by the way, will remember the distinctive brick building as the Village Theater.)

As with Harvard Square, the patio — now shaded by a canopy — seems to be the spot, especially if you want to be one of Claremont’s beautiful people, the envy of anyone walking or driving past. A friend and I had dinner there recently and chose the patio.

Bardot’s menu has small plates, salads, sandwiches and a few entrees; it’s described as French fusion, but there are only a few French dishes, perhaps because even Claremont can’t support an outright French restaurant. Main courses range from $14 to $38. There’s also wine, 16 beers in bottles or on tap, and a selection of cocktails.

We stuck to the lower end of the food spectrum with $14 entrees: My friend had the croque monsieur sandwich with tomato bisque soup, I had the portobello sandwich with fries (both pictured below), and we liked them both. She had a Pomona Queen beer ($7), I had a refreshing water (free).

Judgment: We liked the place, and the food was fine, although we weren’t blown away.

Two minor but noticeable downsides: The overhead misters are overactive and practically enveloped my friend in a cloud of spray. (See photo at bottom, shot on a different evening, for an example. When we ate, the misters ran until about 7 p.m., kind of late given the mild temperatures.) Also, the chairs are a couple of inches lower than the bench seating around the perimeter, and consequently the table was a couple of inches too high for comfort for me.

Overall, though, the patio ambience is so pleasant that as long as the food and service are acceptable, which they were, Bardot was worth the splurge. “It’s so nice out here,” my friend said contentedly, and I had to agree. I don’t know if any passersby or motorists envied us, but I like to think they did.

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Restaurant of the Week: Bua Thai

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Bua Thai Cuisine, 450 W. First St. (at Indian Hill), Claremont; open daily.

Meeting a friend for dinner recently at Bua Thai, I snapped an exterior photo and, during our meal, took a photo of my dish, thinking cleverly that I would add them to an old, pre-photo blog post here to spice it up. But it turned out my memory had deceived me, and I’d only mentioned Bua here in passing rather than having made it a Restaurant of the Week.

Well, I’ve got the photos now, so why not write a post? Bua opened in 2007 as part of the Village expansion. It’s in a strip of shops fronting the parking garage, which at the time seemed like a novel use of space that would otherwise be concrete pillars and more cars.

I’ve eaten at Bua Thai four or five times, and to be honest, I’ve never been particularly excited about it, as the food is only so-so. (A friend once called it “Thai food for people who don’t like Thai food.”) So-so would describe a lot of places in the Village, though, and it ought to be said that the service at Bua is reliable and the ambiance stylishly modern and inviting.

In other words, you could get better Thai food by driving south on Indian Hill to Pomona’s Mix Bowl and Sanamluang, but if you want somewhere to eat before or after a movie at the Laemmle a block away, and you don’t want to move your car, there are certainly worse places than Bua.

This visit I had stir-fried ginger pork ($8.50) and my friend had Thai barbecued chicken ($8), a half-bird. I wish I’d taken a photo, because it looked delicious. Mine was comforting and I took half home.

Service was quiet and unobtrusive. A patio, well-screened by plants, looks inviting, and the restaurant has lots of windows. Most offer views of First, but one on the east side shows you the parking garage’s elevator. I guess you could people-watch, although you’d be better off doing so from the patio or from a window seat along First.

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Restaurant of the Week: Beer Belly Deli

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Beer Belly Deli, 590 W. 1st St. (in Packinghouse), Claremont

The location is less obvious than a beer belly, being tucked away in an interior corner of the Claremont Packinghouse, able to be found only through directional signage. Owned by the people previously behind the popular T Phillips Alehouse in La Verne, Beer Belly Deli is not a delicatessen, but a casual hangout spot with lots of beers — a dozen on tap and 50 in bottles — and sandwiches.

It’s a neat space, with high ceilings, a skylight, high-top and low tables, lots of wood and an attic-like space with clocks, trunks and other antique-y items visible.

I’ve eaten here twice since its opening last month and had two very different experiences.

When you walk in — and there are two entrances, incidentally — it’s not clear what you’re supposed to do. The first time, for a late dinner, we were quickly invited to sit wherever we liked. Service was prompt, professional and discreet. We split a flatbread with artichoke and roasted tomatoes ($10), tasty and the perfect amount of food for a light dinner. My friend got a Duvel beer ($9) and said it’s a hard one to find on tap. (I had an ice water and found it light and refreshing.)

I returned a few days later for lunch so I could try a sandwich. Well. It was 2 p.m. on a moderately busy Saturday, and the staff seemed overmatched, based on the poor service and shouts from the kitchen about food waiting to be delivered.

I seated myself at one of the communal tables, no employees being in sight. After five minutes, with no help forthcoming, I flagged one down to order an iced tea and request a menu. I got them, but that was the last I saw of him. Meanwhile, a family of five essentially surrounded me at the communal table — was there really nowhere else to sit? — and I volunteered to move down a few seats so they could sit together and not talk over me and my magazine.

When their order was taken, I got the server’s attention (25 minutes after my menu was delivered) and tried to order a pulled pork sandwich — which they were out of. I changed that to a reuben (misspelled “ruben” on the menu) and hoped for the best.

The stranger opposite me said he’d ordered a reuben 50 minutes earlier and still hadn’t received it. “This is going in my review!” he said. (I think he has a blog.) Ten minutes later he complained and a server said his sandwich was almost done; he canceled his order. She returned and said his two beers would be on the house and he was given a $20 gift card. He told me he hadn’t had any intention of ever coming back but that maybe now he would.

A reuben soon arrived. This was within 15 minutes of my order, an acceptable amount of time, although I’m not so sure it wasn’t the other guy’s reuben. (I didn’t notice until the bill came and it specified “no cheese” that mine hadn’t had cheese. Someone ordered it that way, but not me.) Helping salvage the meal, the sandwich ($12) was pretty good: not enormous, but generous with the corned beef, and served on a tasty marbled rye. Reubens aren’t easy to find in these parts and this might be the best I’ve had in the area.

The bill also charged me $1.50 for my side of fruit, even though the menu didn’t specify an upcharge for any sides from the list that come free. A server said that should have been explained and removed the charge.

I’d have complained about the whole experience (which is very unlike me) but it didn’t seem fair to get my bill waived and then write an honest piece here. So I paid my bill.

You have to expect some kinks when a restaurant opens; that’s the tradeoff for trying a place early. This was a perfect storm of kinks, though, even if you have to think the owners’ track record means the place will soon have its act together.

Would I return? Based on the first experience, yes; based on the second, no. So, maybe, but not right now. If you’re interested in trying it, you might enjoy it, but be prepared to assert yourself simply to be waited on.

* Update, March 2014: A going-away dinner for a colleague took place here. Service was good for a Saturday night and three tables of 26 people. I had a mushroom and goat cheese burger ($13), which was only okay, tasting like a pre-made patty and sliding around and off the outmatched potato bun. To be fair, another friend had the same thing and thought it was great. A friend who’s a veteran of these Restaurant of the Weeks had a veggie stack and wasn’t impressed. So, this place is a fun night out, comfortable, but the food is variable.

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Restaurant of the Week: Petiscos

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Petiscos, 211 W. 1st St. (at Harvard), Claremont

Occupying a tiny white house dating to the 19th century, when it was a railroad ticket office, and in more recent years home to Shrimps and Village Attic, Petiscos opened June 3. Directly across the street from the Claremont Depot, it’s the third venture by John Solana, the man behind Back Abbey and Union on Yale, which revolutionized dining in Claremont.

This one is a taco stand, the house serving as kitchen, and a fenced area behind holding picnic tables for dining, napkins in metal lunchboxes at each table. Restrooms are in the back and a plane from a kiddie ride is suspended in the air by cables. I don’t know why, but it’s cute, which might be reason enough.

The menu is simple: tacos, tortas and grilled corn, with beer, wine and sodas. No salads or sides. Tacos are $4 to $8, tortas are $8.

I’ve eaten here twice so far, both times with friends, and have had almost all the tacos: pork, beef, chicken, snapper and halibut. I’d order any of them again, with the pork, garnished with a slice of pineapple, my favorite. (Halibut and pork are pictured below.) A friend who got the veggie tacos (black beans, potatoes, jicama, onions, eggplant, zucchini and chiles, pictured at bottom) said the potatoes remind her of tacos she’s had in Monterrey, Mexico.

Petiscos is a rare casual eatery in the Village, although, befitting its name (which means “appetizers”), the tacos probably won’t fill you up, and you might find them a little pricey. But then, they use quality ingredients, in chef-driven recipes. Friends wish there were side dishes, like a salad (if you’re a vegetarian, all you can get is the veggie tacos and corn).

“It’s a fun atmosphere. I like the outdoor seating. This is my second time here and I’ll be back,” one said. “Don’t come with a big appetite. It can put a damper on an evening if you leave hungry,” another said.

I suppose if you leave hungry, you can always head to Back Abbey or Union on Yale.

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Restaurant of the Week: 50/Fifty

50/Fifty Asian Fusion Cuisine, 201 N. Indian Hill Blvd. (at 2nd), Claremont

The new restaurant by the former owner of Bangkok Blue in La Verne, 50/Fifty opened in Februaryxx in Claremont’s Village West, in a space previously occupied by a wine shop. Relatively small, it’s got floor-to-ceiling windows along its frontage and a menu posted in the window, both inviting touches.

I met a couple of friends there for lunch recently. The atmosphere is quiet and restful. The color-sensitive one described the walls as pumpkin and the cloth napkins as coral. I’ll take her word for it.

“Asian fusion” seems like a misnomer; the dishes strike me as original spins on Thai and other Asian cuisines rather than true fusion. We got wok-fired Asian noodles ($12), Mandalay curry with chicken ($12) and Joyce’s beef and vegetable stew ($15). One or two bites into the latter, the foodie who ordered it said, “This is amazing!” And it was, the beef tender and flavorful. That dish might qualify as fusion since it’s a sort of American beef stew with Asian touches.

The noodles and curry weren’t amazing but were good. My accompanying brown rice was the best I’ve had. One had an Thai iced coffee and really liked it.

We shared some of our dishes, but I returned a week later on my own to get the stew for myself, and it was just as good as the previous week. I look forward to more meals here. The prices here are a couple of bucks too high, but this is Claremont’s high-rent district and thus understandable. The service was polite but too reserved.

My friends, who faced the windows, liked the view; someone had to have their back to the windows and that was me. They kept remarking on what was going on outside, such as a fellow diner who went outside to take a call and spat on the sidewalk. “I feel like I’m missing out,” I lamented.

“Is that orangutan going to slip on that banana peel?” one friend said by way of reply, pretending to look over my shoulder. “He might drop that wedding cake!”

I didn’t even turn around.

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Restaurant of the Week: I Like Pie

I Like Pie, 175 Indian Hill Blvd. (at 2nd), Claremont

A bake shop named I Like Pie? I’m in, especially since it’s within walking distance of my house. Situated between Le Pain Quotidien and Loving Hut, two of the most frou-frou restaurants in the valley, I Like Pie faces the courtyard fountain in the new part of downtown Claremont, near the theater.

Their pies aren’t wedge-shaped and served on a plate but rather small, round and served in a paper cup, like pills at a doctor’s office. In other words, they’re cupcake-sized. Dessert pies are $4.50 and savory pies are $8. They’re displayed in cases, you order at the counter and they heat them for you if you like. There’s minimal seating, usually enough but crowded at times when movies let out.

From the savory pies I’ve had butternut squash with goat cheese and a shepherd’s pie with turkey, mashed potatoes and carrots, both with tasty fillings in a flaky crust and good for a light meal. (The shepherd’s pie wasn’t heated thoroughly but the counterman put it in again.) From the dessert pies, I’ve had dulce de leche apple and creamy pear with honey drizzle, which were as delicious as they sound. A friend had glazed apple custard and called it sweet and satisfying.

They make sweet pies in 4- and 8-ounce versions; savory pies are 10 ounces. Selection by flavor and size varies by day, but at times they also have variations such as turnovers, toaster tarts, galettes (tiny, free-form pies) as well as traditional round pies for sale in full.

I Like Pie also has scoops of Dr. Bob’s ice cream for $2 and brewed-to-order Intelligentsia coffee, so they care about quality ingredients. It’s hard to break out of the wedge-shaped Platonic idea of pie, but I have to say, this is good stuff. I like it.

The shop’s name comes from a 1941 jazz tune by the Four Clefs, “I Like Pie, I Like Cake.” Listen to it here.

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Restaurant of the Week: Rounds Burgers

Rounds Burgers, 885 S. Indian Hill Blvd. (at Auto Center Drive), Claremont

The premium burger wars are heating up in Claremont, where the Village’s Back Abbey and Eureka have been joined by Rounds, which opened in January near the 10 Freeway and Norms.

The only other location is in West Hollywood, a rare moment of hipness for Claremont; Pasadena and Sherman Oaks locations are said to be coming soon. The chain’s website is here.

I met a friend at Rounds in Claremont for dinner on a rainy Friday night recently. It was busy, but not as busy as Back Abbey or Eureka, where requesting a table at that hour might have sent a greeter into hysterics. At Rounds, where you order at the counter, there was still seating available. The feel is LA-ish, what with the centerpiece being a communal table. The seating is much more comfortable than a Five Guys and the music volume more restrained.

They have some burgers that can be ordered right off the menu, but they also provide slips  and pencils (a la The Counter) with which you can build your own burger in six steps, choosing from an array of sauces, toppings, cheeses and buns. It’s a little like doing homework, or maybe voting, as there are bubbles to fill in next to your choices, but it’s preferable to standing at the counter and trying to wing it.

I got a 1/3-lb. beef burger, cooked medium rare, with Swiss, mushrooms and pesto mayo on a fresh bun, as a combo with fries and drink ($9.65); my friend had a turkey burger with bleu cheese crumbles as a combo ($1 less because my mushrooms counted as a premium topping).

We liked ‘em both: good burger, substantial bun, above-average skin-on fries. The burgers are made by hand and the buns are baked on the premises. Another friend opines that the result is somewhere between The Habit and Umami, or between fast food and gourmet, and priced accordingly.

(Somewhat pretentiously, though, the servers will tell you you can’t drop any toppings from the selection burgers because it would “harm the flavor combination.” Yet you could fill out a slip and come up with the same sandwich without the objectionable topping. Which part of “build your own” don’t they understand?)

While perhaps not as good as Eureka or Back Abbey, and with a more limited menu, Rounds makes pretty good sandwiches, and cheaper too, and you won’t walk in hearing the wait for a table is an hour. You might find the setting more restful and the attitude better. At the same time, Rounds isn’t in the Village, isn’t yards from the movie theater and it doesn’t have the style or beer selection of the other two places. Depends what you’re looking for. I like all three but I’m happy Rounds is here.

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Restaurant of the Week: Euro Cafe

Euro Cafe, 546 E. Base Line Road (at Mills), Claremont

Not every worthwhile restaurant in Claremont is in the Village. Case in point: Euro Cafe, located since 2004 in the Vons center on Base Line. Far from the most obvious spot for a bistro that touts itself as the only Portuguese restaurant outside L.A., but there you go.

It’s been a few years since I’ve eaten there, but I recently returned for lunch with friends. The cafe is small and L-shaped, but it’s homey and there’s some outdoor seating. Also, there’s a mural whose scene seems to incorporate France, Spain and Italy, reflecting the influences on the cuisine.

They have breakfast, salads, soup, pastas, panini sandwiches, espresso drinks and weekday specials of a Portuguese bent. One of us had a pasta fresca special ($8.45), with penne, sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, onions and Brussel sprouts. (He said the dish may have turned him into a fan of Brussel sprouts, no small feat.) Others had the vegetarian panini ($7.75) and Linguica panini ($8, pictured), and I had pasta Portuguesa ($8.45), with penne, onions, bell peppers, garlic, tomato and sausage. We all liked our orders.

We overheard a couple of other languages being spoken at other tables. It’s safe to say Euro Cafe is the most continental spot in Claremont. And why not? Up on Base Line, it’s in almost foreign territory.

 

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Restaurant of the Week: Crepes de Paris, Claremont

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Crepes de Paris, 540 W. 1st St. (at Oberlin), Claremont

A touch of Paris now graces Claremont in this crepes restaurant in the Packing House. It’s part of a small chain — based in Orange County, there’s a location in Victoria Gardens — but this version, which opened in August, has a lot of charm, some inherent to the Packing House and its wooden floors, floor to ceiling windows and plank-like walkway, some attributable to the restaurant layout and decor.

Outside are cafe tables and a take-a-book-leave-a-book cart; inside are wicker chairs and tables with tablecloths and fresh flowers. At the counter I ordered a spinach crepe ($9) and a blood orange soda bottled in France ($3.25).

A good, light meal, made more enjoyable by the French movie projected on the far wall on a flatscreen TV bordered by a “Cinema” frame. It was “The Red Balloon,” followed by “Chocolat.” For more free entertainment, you can watch them make your crepe through a window into the kitchen. A sign by the window encourages customers to mail postcards from Paris for display.

A reader of this blog was at another table with her family. She thought her St. Louis crepe could have used a sauce, but her crepes suzette for dessert was pronounced excellent. You can view the menu here; it has no descriptions, so it’s not very useful.

One of my fond memories from my trip to Paris earlier this year was buying a crepe with Nutella and banana from a sidewalk stand. It was served in a paper cone for walking. The prices at Crepes de Paris aren’t as good — $6 to $12 for a savory crepe seems high to me — but then, you won’t get jet lag visiting Claremont.

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Restaurant of the Week: Union on Yale

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Union on Yale, 232 Yale Ave. (at Bonita), Claremont

Union on Yale is the second restaurant in the Village by John Solana, who opened the gastropub Back Abbey in 2008 (see my writeup here) and kicked the dining scene in the pants.

Union on Yale, which opened in late 2011, takes the place of Casa Flores, a nursery, across from Rhino Records and uses the old nursery area to excellent effect as outdoor dining. The majority of the seating is outdoors on compacted dirt or concrete, some shaded by trees or an overhang, with a fire pit and, of all things, a bocce ball court.

The menu changes seasonally, meaning that any items mentioned below probably aren’t available now — my meals were in the spring, not the summer — but perhaps they will be again, and anyway you’ll get the general idea. I’ve had three meals and have enjoyed them all. (Find the current menu on their website.)

My first visit I had grilled scallops ($12), wood-fired and presented on a bed of arugula, which proved to be more of an appetizer than an entree. So I ordered a roasted pear salad ($8, pictured) on frisee lettuce. My friend had a turkey, avocado and bacon sandwich ($12), stacked high, with tasty fries. A baby beet salad ($9) has oranges and candied walnuts, and even yours truly, who wrinkles his nose at beets, went back for seconds.

They do pizzas ($13 to $16), baked in a wood-burning oven, that come out charred and delicious, in a credible replica of the Pizzeria Mozza style. I’ve had three: an all-mushroom pizza called the forest floor, which beat the CPK version; one with roasted sweet peppers and housemade sausage; and one with asparagus. That was a friend’s idea, but I didn’t mind at all. (They do have a pizza with pepperoni.)

I’ve tried a couple of desserts ($8 each), the poached pear (pictured) and the citrus menage, which arrived in a mason jar and was as delicious as it was adorable.

The idea is that this is locally sourced, European peasant food, good for sharing and presented in a relaxing outdoor atmosphere. They also have cocktails ($10) and wine by the glass, plus tap and bottle beers. Union on Yale is pretty much unique in our area. Like Back Abbey, it’s closed on Sunday, other than for brunch, but that’s how they roll.

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