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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Restaurant of the Week: zPizza, Claremont

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The Laguna Beach-based zPizza chain opened a location in the Claremont Packing House this spring in the old Maui Wowi smoothie space. I’m a fan of the Upland location, featured here previously, and the Claremont location seems to have the same menu. What Claremont has over Upland is seating: It must hold at least twice as many people.

That makes for a more pleasant experience. Seating is so limited in Upland that even if you get a table, you don’t feel comfortable lingering.

I’ve been to the Claremont location a couple of times so far, once for the Monday special: two slices and a soda for $5. I had BBQ chicken and Napoli (pictured), preferring the latter. On an earlier visit, a friend and I ordered individual rustica pizzas. Mine was pear and gorgonzola, his was curry and candied yams ($9 each); his verdict, with which I would agree: “solid,” “very California” and “delicious.”

They also have sandwiches and salads, and traditional toppings like pepperoni too. Overall, zPizza is more California cuisine than pizzeria, but it’s a nice change from the norm.

Incidentally, Chino Hills used to have a zPizza, but it doesn’t seem to be affiliated with the chain any longer.

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Restaurant of the Week: Pizza n’ Such

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Pizza n’ Such, 202 Yale Ave. (at 2nd), Claremont

Not to be confused with Pizza ‘N Stuff in La Verne, its closest cousin by punctuation, Pizza n’ Such has been a Claremont fixture since 1979, family owned and operated.

A college and family favorite, the restaurant occupies a prominent corner downtown in a former bank, later a pharmacy, built in in 1912 — 100 years ago this year! — across from Starbucks and the Village Grille. In a nice touch, the blade sign on the corner is an altered and restored version of the pharmacy sign that hung there for many years.

The interior includes a wooden bar with beer and wine, green booths, dark wood, a high ceiling, original moldings and hanging lamps and fans. It’s classy but casual.

I end up there probably once a year and once had a birthday lunch there with a group. I went in recently for lunch because I had a birthday coupon for a free medium pizza as long as I ordered a starter. So I got the house salad ($4) and then a medium with spinach (usually $14).

Their crusts are soft and doughy and the pizzas generous with the tomato sauce. The result is a bit bland, but fair. By personal preference I’m more of a thin-crust guy, and with zPizza, Union on Yale and La Parolaccia all in the Village, Pizza n’ Such might be my least favorite Village pizza. (Prompting a question: Why hasn’t someone capitalized on the local nomenclature to open a Village Pizzeria?)

Pizza n’ Such, though, is a lot of people’s favorite, and if it’s not my first choice, and often I kind of overlook it, I’m always happy if a friend suggests meeting there: Oh, yeah, Pizza n’ Such.

Service is friendly and generally provided by high school or college students. Besides pizzas, they have sub sandwiches, salads and pastas, and for dessert they have Dr. Bob’s ice cream, a local favorite. That’s the n’ Such.

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Restaurant of the Week: Fattoush

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Fattoush Mediterranean Cuisine, 428 Auto Center Drive (at Indian Hill), Claremont

Debuting in December 2011, Fattoush is next to the new Super King market. The two of them add a welcome touch of the Mediterranean to the neighborhood.

My friend had the mezza platter ($14, pictured above), a sampling of appetizers, which has, clockwise from left, tabbouli, falafel, spinach pie, grape leaves, hummus and baba ganouj. I sampled them myself and we agreed they were all good to very good. The tabbouli, which appeared to have been made moments before, was especially fresh and tasty.

I had the shawarma combo ($12.50, pictured below), which had beef and chicken with tahini sauce, garlic dip and a house salad. Pita bread for both of us was also delivered in a basket. The beef and chicken were both marinated and flavorful. The salad, which can be ordered separately, was okay but nothing special.

My friend, who’s Turkish and knows the food, really liked Fattoush and wants to go back. I would eat there again too.

The interior is modern and minimalist, with parquet floors, two-tone walls and subtle pink lighting near the ceiling, evidently a hipster touch. They have table service and you get actual silverware and plates. The menu is more ambitious than the restaurant appears to have originally planned; a copy handed out to my friend before the opening had more sandwiches and fewer entrees, and everything was $1 or $2 cheaper.

Now you can get shrimp kabobs ($18) and lamb chops ($20). But you can also get a rotisserie chicken sandwich for $5.59.

The restaurant’s website can be viewed here and the menu here.

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Restaurant of the Week: Norms

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Norms, 807 S. Indian Hill Blvd. (at Auto Center), Claremont

Norms, which opened in Claremont next to the 10 Freeway in August, was the most-anticipated Inland Valley restaurant arrival since Five Guys Burgers in Rancho Cucamonga.

All this fuss for a sort of upscale Dennys? This says a lot about the essential working-class character of the valley, as well as the numbers of repatriated Angelenos in our midst, as Norms’ 18 locations are scarce in our part of L.A. County.

The 24-hour diner, heralded by a very un-Claremont sign that looms over the freeway, is still busy a month after its opening, so timing your visit carefully is advised.

I had breakfast there with a friend recently. At 8 a.m., the restaurant, which has an occupancy of 221 seats, had plenty of empty booths, but by the time we left at 9, every seat was full and there was a line to get one. Ditto with a lunchtime visit a few days later; at 11:45 a.m., 25 people were waiting to be seated and there was a line at the cashier to pay. By 1 p.m., when we left, the crowd was thinning out and the pace slowing.

It’s a comfortable, coffee shop vibe, with browns and oranges in the color scheme, plush booths, counter seating and tiled walls. One friend said the interior, with its high ceilings, hanging orange lamps and expanse of windows, reminded him of the old Henry’s drive-in. There’s a surprising amount of outdoor seating as well, wrapping halfway around the building.

At breakfast, I had the Jump Start ($4.99), with eggs, bacon and toast. It was what you’d expect. For an extra buck I could’ve had the Bigger Better Breakfast, which comes with eggs, pancakes, ham, bacon and (not or) sausage. That’s a lotta meat.

My friend had the Country Cookin’ ($8.79, pictured below) with chicken fried steak, his baseline meal, and two eggs and hash browns. On a 1-to-10 scale, he gave the steak “a good 8.” The steak was processed rather than made on the premises, but the gravy was pronounced “excellent.”

Coffee, at $2, was a little steep, my friend said, but Norms is making a fuss about the quality of its coffee, and refills were offered every few minutes.

On my lunch visit, I had a tuna melt ($7.69), my own baseline sandwich by which to judge a diner. It was a decent version and the fruit on the side, thin-sliced crescents of melon, provided a nice balance. My friend had the Avo Gobble ($8.29, pictured at bottom), a turkey and avocado sandwich. (At Nancy’s in Rancho Cucamonga they call something similar the Turkado.)

That friend’s verdict: “The food’s pretty good. Everybody’s nice and friendly. They come by and ask how you’re doing.” Of the crowd, he said: “You wouldn’t know there was a problem with the economy.” He also observed that the diners didn’t look like Claremont people, being working-class types and retirees.

I’m looking forward to dinner there sometime, and maybe to a middle-of-the-night visit too, if only I could stop sleeping soundly and induce insomnia.

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