Restaurant of the Week: Zaky Mediterranean Grill, Claremont

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Zaky Mediterranean Grill, 806 S. Indian Hill Blvd. (at Auto Center Drive), Claremont

Zaky has locations in Rancho Cucamonga and Upland, both of which I like for casual Lebanese food. They took over the former World Famous Grill (!) in what some call Claremona, the portion of Claremont below the 10 Freeway. There’s a Starbucks and Denny’s next door.

I hadn’t been to this one, but it’s similar to the others, only a little more stylish (what would you expect from Claremont?), and with a visible grill. That’s the first thing you see upon walking in, before you even get to the counter to order.

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Zaky’s has wraps, kabob and shawarma plates and rotisserie chicken. Baklava was displayed in a case.

I got the two-skewer chicken plate, with hummus and rice as my sides ($12), plus a small soda. They have a Coke Freestyle machine where you can mix and match. (For the record, I got Vanilla Coke Zero.)

Immediately, a skewer of chicken was put in the grill before my eyes.

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My food took a little while, but it was well worth it the wait. Chicken is their specialty, and they know what they’re doing. The sides, pita bread and garlic sauce — oh, that garlic sauce — were all fine too. My only regret was getting two skewers: One would have been plenty.

They’re now selling pork kabobs too. The owner gave me a couple of pieces to try. Unusual, but well done, even though the traditional chicken and beef are my favorites.

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Restaurant of the Week: BC Cafe, Claremont

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BC Cafe, 701 S. Indian Hill Blvd. (at San Jose), Claremont; open 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily

Drive by BC Cafe any weekend morning and you’ll see people standing in small groups outside, waiting for a free table. It’s a big-breakfast spot, with roots dating to 1959 in Pomona, where it was named Breakfast at Carl’s, before moving north and shortening its name at some later point, the ’80s or ’90s.

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The name is somewhat confusing, incidentally. The owners attempted to brand the place as Kickback Jack’s, with a cartoon mascot of a Jimmy Buffett-like jackrabbit, but that’s only stuck at the second location, in Rancho Cucamonga. The website for both is KickbackJacks.com. But a change of the Claremont sign lasted a couple of weeks before the BC Cafe name was hastily restored.

I’ve eaten at both locations but primarily at Claremont’s, although not for years. For my birthday in March, though, I decided to treat myself to banana pancakes there.

BC was just as I’d remembered, even if the Howard Johnson’s behind it is now a Knights Inn. On a Monday morning, there was plenty of seating. The breakfast menu is extensive. They also have a variety of smoothies, not to mention a variety of milkshakes, on a beverage and desserts menu.

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I got one pancake, plus egg and bacon ($9.03). (You can get two pancakes with egg and bacon/sausage for $11, or the two pancakes alone for $9, but two would have been too many.) The sides were fine and the pancake very good, with bananas cooked right in, as I’d recalled, rather than placed on top as an afterthought, as at most restaurants.

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Figuring I ought to try them for lunch too, I returned a few weeks later, at about 1 p.m. There’s a sizable menu of sandwiches, burgers and salads. There’s also something called the “dirty” menu for both breakfast and lunch, where all the items have “dirty” in their names. It’s evidently less healthy items, although that’s muddied by “dirty kale Tuscany salad,” which hardly sounds like an indulgence. The print version is poorly designed and really should be rethought. Also confusing: The back of the staff T-shirts promote “dirty donuts,” but they’re not on the menu that I could tell, and I forgot both times to ask about them.

I ordered off the specials menu, a half Frisco baguette ($8.89), which is a roll with chicken, onions and mushrooms, all grilled. What is “Frisco” about this sandwich is unknown; it’s a chicken Philly without cheese. It came with fries, plus soup or salad.

There was a problem here: The first soup I ordered wasn’t available, and as for the second, the server returned and reported that they’d all been sitting for a while without heat and that she wouldn’t serve them. She recommended a salad, which I got, and which was fine. This may be a fluke, but it doesn’t say much for the kitchen. It does, however, say a lot for the server.

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Naming issues aside, the sandwich was quite good, and I don’t know how I would have eaten the full version. Besides the salad and fries, there was a cute little cup of tapioca pudding (awww), a pickle slice, an orange slice and a teensy box with two pieces of Beechwood gum. Such a deal.

So, BC Cafe has awfully long menus, the sort of thing that leads to suspicion of overreach. Except both my meals were really good.

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Restaurant of the Week: Saca’s Mediterranean Cuisine

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Saca’s Mediterranean Cuisine, 248 W. 2nd St. (at Harvard), Claremont; open daily

In business since 1992, Saca’s has always been a fast, affordable option in the Village. Many were the evenings that I stopped in for a falafel sandwich and spent under $4. Right across from City Hall and the library, it’s had location going for it too. It’s been the closest thing the Inland Valley has had to a Zankou, at least until Zaky got going.

Not everyone liked Saca’s. One Claremont friend refused to go there, and while I liked it okay, I’m not sure I’d have traveled for the privilege. In 2014, the founders retired and sold the small restaurant to a couple of neighbors, who are French. The interior was lightened, the menu updated and the hours expanded. Saca’s is now open for a late breakfast and on Sundays.

I’ve been in a couple of times since the handover and, in a possibly heretical comment, found the falafel improved; before the crust was crunchy to the point of seeming burnt, but no longer. Recently I went in for a Sunday lunch with three friends, none of whom had ever eaten there.

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The menu has pita sandwiches, salads, rotisserie chicken and platters, and it’s friendly to vegetarians, vegans and people who want dairy-free and gluten-free items, all marked. Our table got a falafel salad ($6.29, above), falafel sandwich ($4.89), maza platter ($8.29) and lamb shawerma platter ($10.39).

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Everybody liked their food. The most poetic said of his salad: “It was fantastic. It was light, delicious and invigorating.” The sandwich man said he was very happy with his order, above, although he admitted there might have been too much of it; not trusting Saca’s, he had spent $2 to add more of almost everything to his sandwich, which he then had to eat with a knife and fork.

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The maza platter, above, had two falafels, hummus, two dolmas (grape leaves), a small salad, pickled turnips and two pitas. The friend who got that liked it, only being disappointed by her $3 side of rice, which didn’t have much taste.

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My lamb platter was the most expensive thing I’ve ever ordered at Saca’s. It had small strips of lamb, rice, pickled turnips, hummus and two pitas. Somehow I was expecting more from this plate, but it was good enough. Oh, and we got pieces of baklava ($2) — the bakery case is right by where you place your order — and I got a Moroccan mint tea ($1.59). Invigorating!

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Restaurant of the Week: Eddie’s Pizzeria

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Eddie’s Pizzeria, 1065 W. Foothill Blvd. (at Towne), Claremont

Eddie’s replaced a Straw Hat Pizza a dozen years ago in the Stater Bros. center in Claremont, and I had slices there at lunch a few times before moving on. In more recent years, a friend has raved about the place. Finally we met up for lunch.

The interior is much as I remember it: a faux New York with ceiling fans, street-like signs and lampposts. Cute. We settled into a red booth and examined the menu, which has pizza, pasta, salads, soups and sandwiches, including burgers.

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We decided to share a medium Eddie’s Special ($17.45), which has sausage, onions, tomatoes, black olives and ricotta, and also an order of bruschetta ($8.45), which my friend said was a personal favorite that had rotated onto the menu again.

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The bruschetta was pretty good, a nice appetizer. The pizza was good too. “I love the ricotta. It’s like little bursts of creaminess,” my friend rhapsodized. We each took home two slices, and mine made for a light dinner a few nights later.

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The sign says Eddie’s New York Pizzeria, the original sign, but the website (eddiesnypizza.com) calls the place Eddie’s Pizzeria and Eatery. I wouldn’t say the pizza is New York style, but it’s thin crust, and it’s good. There are some weekly specials that are tempting, like cioppino on Fridays ($19), roasted half-chicken on Mondays ($14) and meatloaf Italiano ($14) on Sundays, each with roasted potatoes or fries, quinoa or the daily vegetable.

Since its opening, Eddie’s, which I believe from the start was an offshoot of Spaghetti Eddie’s in Glendora, has been folded into the group that owns the well-regarded Tutti Mangia in the Village, which may account for the upgrade. So, while I’m not raving about Eddie’s, I’m glad I returned, and I may be back again.

Near the entrance, by the way, there’s a Ms. Pac-Man machine.

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Restaurant of the Week: A La Minute Ice Cream

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A La Minute, 532 W. First St. (at Cornell), the Packing House, Claremont

A La Minute, with locations in Redlands and Orange, opened a branch a couple of years in Claremont’s Packing House, sharing a former art studio space with Augie’s Coffee, another Redlands-based business.

It was only recently that I checked it out, walking over with a friend after lunch at Crepes de Paris a few doors down. The interior space is large and airy, with modernist communal tables where people sat with furrowed brows staring at their laptops, and winter decor: faux branches suspended from the high ceiling with snowflake designs and lights hanging down.

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One person handles the coffee and espresso orders at one register, while at the other end of the long counter, someone else takes care of ice cream orders. They make nitrogen ice cream from scratch for each order, like at N7 and Sub Zero in Rancho Cucamonga. Flavors offered appear semi-permanent compared to the more seasonal N7.

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I got orange honey and my friend got salted caramel, both small ($5); a medium is $6, large is $8 and a pint is $10. You can watch the maker in action, with billows of nitrogen pouring from the metal bowl, occasional pouring and stirring, like your food is being prepared by a chemist.

It’s not merely a show, though, as the results are excellent. The orange honey had drizzled honey and bits of orange. The salted caramel had an intense caramel flavor. We both were happy with our choices. We could have had one size bigger for an extra buck, but that’s why America is in the shape it’s in. The small was delicious, but plenty.

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Restaurant of the Week: Uno Tre Otto

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Uno Tre Otto, 114 N. Indian Hill Blvd. (at 2nd), Claremont; open Tuesday to Saturday, 5 p.m. to closing

This is the former La Piccoletta, known as the little place in the alley (Alley 39, to be precise), pretty much in the center of the block bordered by First, Second, Yale and Indian Hill. It’s a small building with a trompe l’oeil mural outside and one small room inside.

La Pic opened in 1977 and once had a reputation as Claremont’s finest restaurant, but in recent years it’s changed hands several times; a friend and I had an inconsistent meal there six years ago on the one time I tried it. (It’s out of my usual price range.)

Now it’s been acquired by John Solana and Brad Owen, who have the Back Abbey and Union on Yale; Solana owns Petiscos with another partner. That makes four Village restaurants under Solana’s ownership. He and Owen quietly took over La Pic in 2014 when it became available and in November, after 38 years as La Piccoletta, changed the name to Uno Tre Otto and focused the menu on regional Italian with local ingredients.

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A friend and I had dinner there earlier this month. The interior looks much the same: rustic, with no windows and an open kitchen, seating 38 in an intimate space. It’s one of the more unique interiors in the valley.

The menu is small and is anticipated to change along with the availability of ingredients, many of them supplied by Amy’s Farm in Ontario, whose proprietor is Owen’s wife.

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The kitchen sent over a free starter, thinly sliced persimmons with lemon, vinaigrette and parmesan. (Forgive the quality of the photos; the lighting is dim.)

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From there we shared wild fried shrimps ($15), four whole shrimp with lemon, garlic, parsley and chives.

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My friend had fazzoletti ($16), a pasta with kale-hazelnut pesto.

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I had pork osso buco ($26), with carrots and polenta.

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We then shared a dessert, persimmon bread pudding with creme fraiche ($8).

This was quite a meal, and in a lovely setting, on white tablecloth, the fanciest meal this hole-in-the-wall diner has had in a while. We were impressed by every item. My friend was effusive, saying she had never particularly liked persimmons or kale before but loved their uses here, and describing the charming environs as “kind of like being in a book.”

On our way out, after paying, I introduced myself to a man who turned out to be Owen, who’d been dining informally with his wife and three of his children. Our waitress, we learned, was his sister-in-law. All in the family.

While a meal of $40-plus per person, and that’s with only water to drink, isn’t something I’m likely to repeat soon, those with more ready cash, or celebrating an occasion, might want to give the place a try. They encourage reservations to (909) 624-1373.

I hope to write a column on the restaurant in the near future, but in the meantime, there’s this blog post.

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Restaurant of the Week: The Rim

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The Rim, 400 Auto Center Drive (at Indian Hill Boulevard), Claremont

The Rim recently filled an empty space next to Rounds Burgers in the Super King center off the 10 Freeway in Claremont. The restaurant has been figuring out what it wants to be, but the emphasis seems to be on natural, sustainably sourced ingredients in a fast-casual setting.

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It’s appealing inside, with comfortable and attractive tables and chairs, decor and lighting, and clean. You order at the counter from a printed menu that has changed at least a couple of times as dishes, and entire categories of dishes, are added or subtracted. Salads, sandwiches, pastas and bowls are on the menu, as are smoothies and other juice drinks. (I found a menu online, but I think it’s a previous one, with paella but not pasta.)

There’s little more one needs to say about the Rim’s essential weirdness other than 1) you can get fettucine alfredo and a boba drink and 2) it appears at this moment to have locations in only two places: Claremont and Kansas City.

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On my first visit, I got an item they were pushing, a bourbon chicken bowl (a mere $3 at dinnertime as a promotion). It was a bowl of chicken all right, plus rice, and that was it. But the price was right.

They’ve been putting specials on a chalkboard outside the restaurant, dinner-only it appears, and usually they’re two-for-one, which may be good for you but doesn’t assist the solo diner like myself.

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I’ve been back two more times, once for a seared tuna sandwich on ciabatta bread ($8), which was very good. It came with a side of (why not?) mashed potatoes. I don’t know what that’s about. To drink I had a taro smoothie ($3.25), also good.

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Most recently, I got a tuna bowl ($8), with seared tuna, quinoa, sliced carrots and a hardboiled egg. It was a little dry, and maybe an egg over easy would have been better, but I ate every bite. Twice I’ve got a watermelon mint drink ($2.50), cold and refreshing.

Three visits and I still don’t quite have a handle on what they’re trying to do, and maybe neither do they. I don’t know how to describe the Rim, but it’s certainly different, and you might want to give them a try, if a little uncertainty doesn’t dissuade you.

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Restaurant of the Week: Sanamluang Thai Cuisine, Claremont

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Sanamluang Thai Cuisine, 710 S. Indian Hill Blvd. (at San Jose), Claremont

It might seem baffling that Sanamluang, which has long had a popular restaurant at 1648 Indian Hill Blvd. in Pomona, only a few blocks south of the 10 Freeway, would open a second location a half-mile away. Even Starbucks tend to be placed farther apart.

But the second Sanamluang, which opened in December, seems perpetually busy, as a glance through the windows while driving past reveals at almost any hour. Any restaurant with late-night eats — it’s open until 11 p.m., and on Fridays and Saturdays until 1 a.m. — near a freeway exit and hungry college students is a good bet.

(It’s hard to tell if the original location is still busy as its shopping center is in the midst of a renovation and the restaurant facade and entrance are framed by scaffolding. I blogged about that Sanamluang in 2010, where one perhaps ill-advised line drew a flood of testy comments.)

I met two friends at the new location for lunch recently. The former Bakers Square, and Sambo’s, has a new exterior that with its angles and color scheme matches the look immediately south of the 10 with Norms and more. The interior has been lightened and brightened. It’s very inviting with its airy feel, photo murals of Bangkok and natural light.

One had the No. 44, duck stew noodle soup ($8, pictured below), another the No. 74, Chinese broccoli fried rice ($7, below that). I had No. 1, koo chai, steamed rice buns with vegetables ($7, next to bottom), and No. 59, chapo, which is barbecued pork, roast duck and deep-fried pork belly over rice ($9, bottom).

I’m a fan of both my dishes and liked these versions. The vegetarian said his broccoli “was very fresh,” while the soup eater, who was getting over a cold, made liberal use of the table’s condiments, especially the Sriracha-style chili sauce. He said with satisfaction, “It got my sinuses where I wanted them.”

We got there before noon and by the time we left, the place was buzzing. It’s deservedly popular and a great addition to town. As the soup eater put it, “It’s the nearest thing to soul food in Claremont.”

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Restaurant of the Week: Hoch-Shanahan, Harvey Mudd

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Hoch-Shanahan Dining Hall, Harvey Mudd College, 301 Platt Blvd. (at Dartmouth), Claremont

I’ve dined and dished about the dining halls at Claremont McKenna, Scripps and Pitzer colleges in Claremont, but I’d never been to Mudd’s until last week, when I ventured there for lunch with a friend at the colleges.

Mudd evidently didn’t have a cafeteria until 2005, when Hoch-Shanahan opened. The LEED-certified Dining Commons, as it’s known, is 28,000 square feet and boasts “open exhibition kitchen areas, seating for nearly 500, a state-of-the-art pizza oven and a rotisserie oven,” according to the college; hours, pricing and more are on the same page.

Aesthetically, it’s among the best of the cafeterias, with a high ceiling, big windows and lots of natural light, similar to McKenna’s. Mudd may get the edge because its setup is so user-friendly. For one thing, there’s an electronic menu board above each food station, letting you decide quickly based on the offerings if you want to get in line.

Items this particular day included pizzas, flatbreads, rotisserie chicken and pho, the Vietnamese beef noodle soup. They also had burgers and other sandwiches, a salad bar and more.

I got flatbread, pizza, chicken with sauteed mushrooms, mushroom caps stuffed with spinach, and a salad; my friend had some of the above plus the soup, creamy potato green chile.

“On a consistent basis, the soups are really good,” my friend said. “At Pitzer they have two soups a day; here they have three.”

She pointed out two other features that may be unique to Mudd: an Icee machine and a Karl Benjamin painting. Both classy touches.

For dessert, they had fresh-baked cookies, three kinds of fancy ice cream, strawberry shortcake, chocolate pudding, brownies and more. Cost for lunch: $13 for guests like me. Pretty good for all you can eat, and the food is really good. They even have a rack of newspapers, including the New York Times, to read.

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Restaurant of the Week: The Junction

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The Junction, 1 N. Indian Hill Blvd. (at First), Claremont

The first block of the “new Village,” just above the railroad tracks, has struggled a bit, with several tenants having come and gone. Even a cupcake shop failed there. If you’re driving south on Indian Hill and notice a shop over there, it’s too late, because a second later you’re over the tracks and out of downtown.

The Junction, a fusion eatery, took over in July from the cupcake shop and half of an organic foods store. “Garlic Butter Escargot” reads one window sign. “Rosemary Infused Lamb Rack” reads another. So they’re ambitious. I met up with a couple of friends there recently for lunch to give the place a try despite wondering if the location might doom it.

It’s got a snazzy interior, sleek and modern, lots of block with red accents, a bar and plenty of seating. A kind of light show plays on the entry floor, images undulating like a lava lamp. A second version plays on the bar top, and that one is heat-sensitive, so that if you wave your hand over the bar, the image shimmers. Our server cracked that drinkers find it fascinating, sometimes too much so.

The bar, incidentally, serves wine and beer, the latter including several local beers on draft from Dale Brothers, Claremont Craft Ales and Rok House.

As for the menu, it’s wide-ranging. They have  some small-plate appetizers, a few pricey entrees such as cod, prawns, lamb shank, pork chop and a steak, a New York cut grilled over sea salt for $55. They have a couple of pages of fusion foods, mostly Korean-based, that are lower cost.

I got the Junction bowl ($9), a bowl of bibimbap (rice, kimchi, green onions and a fried egg) with Korean barbecue beef. I liked it, and it was filling enough that I took one-third of it home for a light dinner.

Despite my urging one friend to get the $55 steak, he got a Mexican pizza with Korean barbecue ($9). Some would say this fused one too many cuisines. It had peppers, onions, tomatoes, jalapenos, cilantro, sour cream and more. He liked it, although he didn’t understand why the pizza was separated from the pan with paper, which he ended up partly eating.

The other friend, a vegan, got the mango avocado salad ($12) and truffle fries ($12). She liked both and was excited to see how many vegan-friendly options there were. “We get options, with an S,” she said, impressed. Our server confirmed, without being asked, that the items were vegan and mentioned several other items that could easily be made for vegans.

We’d met at noon and when we left around 2 p.m., the restaurant was largely occupied. While I don’t see myself returning for the $55 steak, I see myself returning. Looks like the Junction is a modest hit and may prove that block can field a winner.

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