Restaurant of the Week: The Junction


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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Restaurant of the Week: Collins Dining Hall, Claremont McKenna College


Collins Dining Hall, Claremont McKenna College campus (roughly Sixth and Mills), Claremont

Cafeterias at the Claremont Colleges are open to the public and well worth a visit, if you don’t mind eating alongside vibrant youngsters who are almost uniformly toned, healthy and better off than you. (I kind of mind, but I make the occasional exception.)

I’ve previously posted about Scripps and Pitzer’s cafeterias and have eaten at Pomona’s, pre-blog. Recently I scheduled a lunch at CMC’s cafeteria with a campus friend, my first meal there. Describing where things are on a college campus isn’t easy, but we entered on foot at Mills and Sixth, northwest corner, followed a path a few yards northwest and were soon there.

You pay upon entering: $13 if you’re on your own, $7.50 if you’re the guest of someone on campus. The choices are almost dizzying. There are six stations: @Home, Farm to Fork, Expo & Options, Grill, Stocks and Ovens. That means, respectively, American comfort food, vegan, ethnic, burgers, soups and pizzas.

I opted for @Home in part because there was no line, unlike Expo and Grill, getting a pork chop with mashed potatoes and vegetables, plus a salad with some fruit. My friend, who’s vegetarian, got roasted pepper hummus, a tomato salad and basmati rice.

Even the beverage station was an ode to plenty. I bypassed the sodas, vitamin waters and tea to get a strawberry lemonade, and then kicked myself for not seeing the two aguas frescas.

The dining room, while crowded, was also lovely, with floor to ceiling windows looking out over the campus and providing lots of natural light.

When we left, the cafeteria was mostly shut down (they close between meals) and the soft-serve ice cream machine was already shut off, darn the luck. They still had two kinds of cookies, two kinds of cake and one kind of cupcake. I took a chocolate chip cookie. It was dry and quickly abandoned. It was the only disappointing part of the meal.

So, it’s a cafeteria, and it’s cafeteria food, but probably not like anything you remember. Like Claremont’s other dining halls, Collins rivals any buffet in the area.



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Restaurant of the Week: Alamir Flatbreads


Alamir Flatbreads, 426 Auto Center Drive (at Indian Hill), Claremont; open daily

Alamir joined Fattoush in 2013 as Middle Eastern restaurants seeking some synergy from the Super King market, which took over from the former Albertsons below the 10 Freeway and which caters to Middle Easterners. Alamir previously was located in Anaheim.

It’s kind of bare inside, lots of tables and not much else, and was pretty quiet on a recent Wednesday evening. But I was confident because of a reader’s recommendation. Alamir has about two dozen flatbreads, round like pizzas but smaller, lighter and much cheaper.

I had the zaatar and cheese, which is dried thyme, sumac, sesame seeds and olive oil ($2.50) (you read that right). “Is this really 10 inches?” I asked, to make sure I was getting an entree at that price. I was. The version without cheese is a mere $1.75.

After a trip through the pizza oven, the flatbread was done. It looked like a pizza but with a thin, soft, floury crust. (Bottom one in the photo below.) It had a little too much dry spice for my taste, like if you shake on too much oregano, but it tasted good, and I liked the concept and the price. I would get a different flatbread next time, though. My big-spender friend had the chicken chipotle flatbread, which was $6. Showoff. It had a very light sauce, spicy cheese and boneless chicken chunks. A chicken fan, he said he really liked it.

Other varieties include kafta, plain cheese, scrambled egg and cheese, sojouk and kafta. They also have a traditional veggie pizza, calzone, and triangles with spinach or cheese. Most of the items are $6 or less. See the menu here; the website’s out of date, but the menu is fairly current.

A little different, but interesting, and the prices can’t be beat.



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Restaurant of the Week: Bardot


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


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


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



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: 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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