Restaurant of the Week: Gyu-Kaku

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Gyu-Kaku Japanese BBQ, 7893 Monet Ave. (at Versailles), Victoria Gardens, Rancho Cucamonga

Gyu-Kaku (pronounced “gyew-kah-koo”) is a mainstay of Victoria Gardens, located between JC Penney and Fleming’s Steakhouse on the south end of the outdoor mall. I’ve been there a couple of times over the years but never for my blog. It’s not conducive to solo dining, although that can probably be done. When a Japanese American friend suggested dinner, I thought of Gyu-Kaku.

Reservations are generally a good idea here. Another good idea is to go during happy hour, which ends most nights at 6:30 (hours here), because most of the food is $1 off. Tables have charcoal grills, much like Korean BBQ restaurants, but here they leave you alone to cook your own food. You order a few meat or vegetable items, or a multi-course fixed-price dinner, and as the items arrive, you get to work.

We had prime kalbi short rib, N.Y. steak, shrimp, pork belly, chicken thigh, scallops, asparagus and spinach ($3 to $10 each), enough for a filling meal. Each was delivered with a verbal instruction, such as “five minutes on each side.” My friend set the timer on his cell phone. Tongs are provided.

So it’s a little bit of work, and you wonder how much to tip. But it’s also participatory and fun. The food was tasty, with the scallops being our favorite. The only item we didn’t like was the pork belly, possibly due to bum instructions: Five minutes on each side rendered the pieces crispy beyond recognition. The result was like burned bacon. Everything else, though, was spot-on.

It was a good outing. “It’s very social,” my friend said approvingly. Also, the restaurant is open late: until 10 p.m. daily and 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Give it a try. It’s even open on Christmas.

Below: wrapped spinach on the grill with shrimp, short ribs and steak waiting; below that, scallops and pork belly.

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Restaurant of the Week: The Supreme Plate

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The Supreme Plate, 9849 Foothill Blvd. (at Ramona), Rancho Cucamonga; closed Sunday and Monday.

New Orleans-style food is hard to come by in these parts, if we politely overlook Popeye’s. Then the Supreme Plate opened in a lonely stretch of Foothill Boulevard east of Archibald. It’s tucked away in a fairly dismal shopping center, Plaza de las Brisas, whose anchor tenant is a charter school. (It also has the very good vegan restaurant Bright Star and Competitive Edge Cyclery.)

Reader Bill Velto raved to me about the Supreme Plate or I might never have learned it existed. Even knowing where it was, I couldn’t find it at first; the only sign is painted on the door and window.

The interior is mostly nondescript too: stackable chairs, black vinyl tablecloths, minimal decoration other than an excellent mural in street art style. The staff, though, is gregarious, with Deep South accents.

The menu is almost entirely seafood: plates and po’ boy sandwiches featuring shrimp, oysters, crab, catfish and red snapper. My first visit, I got a catfish po’ boy (pictured below) with a side of Cajun fries and a soda for $10. Good stuff, although my preference is for a filet, not a series of nuggets.

I returned for dinner one night and brought a friend. I got the jambalaya ($11, pictured below middle), loaded with chicken, sausage, shrimp and more, and half of which I took home for a second meal. He got a shrimp and oyster po’ boy ($13). “You pay more, but you get more,” he said, taking home half his sandwich. “I was going to offer you half, but it was too good. I want it for lunch tomorrow.” Well, he was honest.

The oysters looked so good falling out of his sandwich, I went back for my own shrimp and oyster po’ boy (pictured at bottom). Those were some mighty oysters. The staff is small and my sandwich took a half-hour to arrive during lunch hour, as a few people were ahead of me; you might call ahead or visit at an off-peak time.

I’ll keep going back. They’ve got sides like cheesy grits and sausage, hush puppies, red beans and rice, and more, as well as gumbo on weekends and oxtails with rice. I hope this place succeeds — there are always customers, a good sign, and it currently has a five-star rating on Yelp — because it’s a good addition to the area. The Supreme Plate is supreme.

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Restaurant of the Week: Sub Zero Ice Cream and Yogurt

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Sub Zero Ice Cream and Frozen Yogurt, 10590 Town Center Drive (at Haven), Rancho Cucamonga

I’d never heard of or noticed this place, but DebB mentioned Sub Zero in a blog comment recently. Sub Zero uses a similar liquid-nitrogen process as the new N7 Creamery at Victoria Gardens. Rancho Cucamonga is practically all-nitrogen, all-the-time.

So I ate lunch at Panera at Haven and Foothill one recent afternoon and then drove north in search of Sub Zero, which is past where you’d think it would be, above the Town Center shops and behind the Mobil station in a small building with no other tenants.

Inside it’s a clean, modern space. I was the only customer at the moment — a few more came before I left — and an employee explained the process. They make their own ice cream in front of you, mixing the flavors in a bowl and then quick-freezing it with nitrogen from a giant tank. Sub Zero is coming up on its second anniversary in Rancho. The Utah-based chain is in seven states. Its founder has a chemistry background.

The menu has 55 flavors, plus mix-ins, or you can simplify things by ordering one of the combinations. Overwhelmed, I did so, getting the Bernoulli Brulee, with caramel, dulce de leche, vanilla and cinnamon flavor, Heath and Twix added. A small was $5.80 and came in a waffle bowl inside a cup.

She mixed the cream and ingredients in a bowl, telling me the ice cream is creamier in their process because it doesn’t have air bubbles. The nitrogen blast had a dry ice effect as vapor swirled around the counter. Perfect for that Halloween spirit.

I shot a video. (It came out sideways. Forgive me. But you’ll get the idea.)

Three scoops of ice cream was a lot for a small size. It tasted pretty good. Actually, I’m very happy with simply having someone hand-scoop my ice cream, and U look askance at Cold Stone and the whole mix-in trend, so I’m not sure I’ll ever go out of my way again to come here. (Although my receipt offers $1 off my next visit.) But the novelty was fun.

Now that I seem to be taking Rancho’s nitrogen ice cream parlors in chronological order, I’ll get to N7 sometime.

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Restaurant of the Week: Citrus Kitchen

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Citrus Kitchen, 10431 Lemon Ave. (at Haven), Rancho Cucamonga; closed Sundays and Mondays

This is in Rancho Cucamonga’s upper reaches, two blocks above the 210 and across from the Trader Joe’s center. Citrus Kitchen is in a small center with a few shops and restaurants, and a clock tower whose time is perpetually wrong.

I’d heard good things about Citrus Kitchen, which opened in spring 2014, and met a friend there for lunch recently. The space is small and seating is limited; nearly all the chairs were taken, and there was a line to order, a good sign.

They have seven basic meals of shrimp, chicken (several styles), salmon, tri-tip, tofu and vegetarian, which you order in either “snack” or “meal” sizes. With a snack you get one side, with a meal two, from a choice of 13. Snacks range from $6 to $8, meals from $9 to $13.50. You also choose one of their 14 sauces. The whole “choose your protein” bit reminds me of Dr. Grubb’s in Claremont.

In examining the menu, it was heartening to read the list of sides, which included couscous medley, local vegetables, vegan black beans, butternut squash saute, and kale and quinoa. There can’t be many places in the 909 with such an interesting assortment.

I got citrus shrimp ($8 snack) with kale and quinoa as my side; my friend opted for the citrus salmon ($8 snack) with the same side; he also got a second side ($3 for a small), baked shoestring fries. It took a good 15 minutes, long enough that I considered asking if we’d been forgotten, but it was during the lunch rush.

The end result was great, though. We both liked our seafood, the kale and quinoa was light and healthy, and the fries were crispy. It also seemed like a lot of food.

The only observation I’ll make is that one entire section of the L-shaped serving station doesn’t seem to be used for anything; if that remains the case, it might be worth removing it to put in an extra table or two. The restaurant seats about 18, including one outdoor table.

Nice spot, many healthy options and vegetarian-friendly. Upper Rancho has more fun.

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Restaurant of the Week: Boonsee Thai Kitchen

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Boonsee Thai Kitchen, 11368 Kenyon Way (at Milliken), Rancho Cucamonga

Boonsee is in the Vineyards Marketplace center off the 210 at Milliken, where there’s an Albertsons and other businesses. I’ve eaten at Anthony’s Italian Kitchen, a couple of doors away, so a meal at Boonsee Thai Kitchen would complete the “kitchen” portion of the center.

I had lunch there back in May, where I got the staple dish, pad Thai ($7, pictured at bottom) off the lunch menu. It came with a small salad and an egg roll. It was a good version, and a filling portion.

Recently I returned with a friend for dinner. She had kung pao with tofu ($8, below), which she liked, except for the celery. But then, she doesn’t like celery. I had pineapple curry with shrimp ($11), served in a bowl, with rice on the side. It was a yellow curry, mildly spicy, and they didn’t skimp on the shrimp. I fished out five and removed the tails, then discovered two more at the bottom.

So I could dub my meal “pleasantly shrimpy,” a phrase that would look good on a list of low-key descriptors in my Restaurant of the Week posts. We liked Boonsee, a cozy place. We also liked thinking of ways to use “boonsee” as a verb or adverb.

Rancho Cucamonga has only a few Thai restaurants (ones I know about are Thai Diamond, Thai T and Green Mango) and, while Boonsee isn’t breaking new ground, it may be the first or second best in town. It’s certainly the boonsiest.

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Restaurant of the Week: Paul Martin’s American Grill

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Paul Martin’s American Grill, 12574 N. Mainstreet (in Victoria Gardens), Rancho Cucamonga; open daily

Co-owned by the same guy behind P.F. Chang’s and Fleming’s, both also at Victoria Gardens, Paul Martin’s opened in June in the former Paisano’s/Sisley space by the AMC theaters. After two failed Italian restaurants, that spot has gone upscale American.

I tried it out for lunch recently with a friend who was a repeat customer at the Irvine location. The interior is swank, with low lighting, lots of wood, a full bar (photo at bottom) and a large wine rack. What they serve here is American classics, but done up in a modern ways, made from scratch, with seasonal and artisanal ingredients.

I had the three-mushroom burger ($14, below). The server said it was the best vegetarian burger she’d ever had, and I agreed. Delicious and juicy, the opposite of a lot of veggie burgers. (Candidly, when I ordered it I didn’t realize I was ordering a vegetarian burger, but when I asked about the mushrooms, and the server made the above comment, I didn’t change my order.)

My friend had the BLT ($16, second below), hardwood smoked bacon with romaine and tomatoes on a roll, and it was an excellent version, if you can swallow paying $16 for a humble BLT. “It’s so smoky and wonderful,” she said. “The bacon is amazing.”

I got a slice of banana cream pie for dessert, if only to see what a $10 slice of pie looks and tastes like. It was sweet and rich, and too much for one person; I’d have been better off taking half of it home.

Cocktails are $11 and are said to be great. There’s an extensive wine selection and some micro-ales. Of the other entrees my friend has tried, the brick chicken is especially recommended. The menu has salads, soups, burgers and sandwiches, seafood, chicken and steak; it’s tightly focused, with just a few examples of each. Dinner entrees range from $9 to $40. The lunch menu has three $12 items. And there are intriguing specials, like a three-course fried chicken dinner on Tuesdays for $22.

I would certainly return. Paul Martin’s is a good addition to Victoria Gardens and one of the finest restaurants in the city. Also, check out the restrooms. They’re austere, stylish and dimly lighted, like an art installation. How often can you say that?

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Restaurant of the Week: Mica’s Peruvian Sandwiches

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Mica’s Peruvian Sandwiches, 8880 Archibald Ave. (at 8th), Rancho Cucamonga

Located in the Aamco Plaza, an automotive center just below the Metrolink tracks, Mica’s is one of a handful of restaurants that seem designed to feed you while you wait for your car to be serviced. The narrow Mica’s storefront has been home to a revolving door of eateries, seemingly having a new occupant each time you drive past. Mica’s opened in March 2013, an eternity by that space’s standards, and the only reason it should leave is if it finds a better space.

Which wouldn’t be difficult. When you walk in, you’re practically in the kitchen. You order at the display case from a woman, presumably the owner, who takes your order on a tablet. Behind her, you can catch a glimpse of a small kitchen crew working away in a sort of corridor before the kitchen bends behind a wall. Seating is at an L-shaped bar around the walls or at a couple of high-top tables. (About half the dining room is visible in the photo at bottom. I’m tempted to say it’s shown actual size.)

In other words, you might want to take your food to go. I braved dining in both times. Reader Andy introduced me to Mica’s. We had lunch: He got lomo saltado in sandwich form (below), I got a chicharron sandwich ($5.79 each). Mine was pork, onions and sweet potato on focaccia bread. Wow!

The display case, by the way, has Peruvian cookies, empanadas, canned Inca sodas and mousse. The menu board is on one wall, below. Click on the photo for a larger view.

I returned another time for a late lunch. From 3 to 7 p.m. they were offering dinner plates, usually $9, with a soda for $7.07 with tax. I had the lomo saltado (below): beef, onions and tomatoes over fries. Very good, and great for the price.

During my mid-afternoon meal, when I was the only person in the restaurant, a family of five entered and filled the place. A small girl said quietly, “This is little.”

It is, but the taste is mighty. You can’t sit comfortably for long, but you gain the satisfaction at having found excellent food in exceedingly humble surroundings.

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* Update July 2014: I returned for the first time in a couple of months to find a much-improved interior (below): tables and stools that now seat 18. The wraparound bar seating was removed. A much better use of the space, I think, and I hope the investment means the restaurant is catching on. I ate a lomo saltado sandwich with fries and drink ($7.62 with tax) and thought it was great.

 

 

 

 

 

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Restaurant of the Week: Sushi Martini

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Sushi Martini, 8153 Aspen Ave. (at Foothill), Rancho Cucamonga

A former Italian restaurant that went through several incarnations (Spaghetti Eddie’s and Cucina Italiana among them) near Foothill and Haven is now reimagined as a Japanese restaurant and proving successful since its opening in January.

A friend and I had lunch there a few weeks back. The interior is casual but slightly swank with modern decor and hardwood floors. There’s a dining room with sushi bar, tables and booths and a lounge. Bottled beer, wine, sake and cocktails are offered.

He had a combo of chicken teriyaki and vegetable tempura (bottom) and liked it; I had the all you can eat sushi ($20). After a salad and miso soup, I had seven pieces of nigiri sushi and a cut roll, adding up to more than $20 worth of food. Below, left to right, is red clam, squid and tuna. I also had salmon, shrimp, mackerel, scallop and a salmon skin cut roll, one of my standbys, and a good version too. Some say the specialty rolls are better than the nigiri, but I rarely order those.

This was not the valley’s best sushi, but it was good enough, I’d rate it higher than nearby Omakase and Ken’s, and the deal was priced well. The atmosphere was comfortable and the service friendly. In other words, I would return.

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Restaurant of the Week: Tio’s Tacos, Rancho Cucamonga

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Tio’s Tacos, 7305 Day Creek Blvd. (at Base Line), Rancho Cucamonga

A small chain of family-owned Mexican restaurants, Tio’s has two locations in Rancho Cucamonga (10451 Lemon Ave. and the Day Creek location above), one in Riverside and one in Fontana, the latter of which I wrote about in 2011. I’ve visited the Day Creek Tio’s once or twice in the past but never wrote about it. I was pleased when some friends wanted to meet up for lunch there.

Like the other Tio’s, the decor incorporates folk art and colored tile, making for a nice visual experience, and has the sort of seating you’d expect at a sitdown restaurant. Among the decorative objects on the walls are photos of Cantinflas, one of Mexico’s greatest exports. We ordered at the counter — you can see the menu here — and the food was delivered to us. (I got a large horchata for $1.75, the result rivaling an oil tanker in size.) Three of us were given baskets of chips. We did not lack for chips. Good ones, too, and with a salsa bar.

I had a chile verde burrito ($4.99, bottom), which was really good and really filling. A vegetarian had potato tacos ($2.09 each; “tasty salsa”); one had a combo plate with a cheese enchilada and a fish taco ($7.39, below; “I thought it was fantastic”); the fourth had the Mexican chicken salad ($5; large but “very generic, soggy”). He added that he’d been to Tio’s before and would return.

Me too. After lunchtime conversation came to a close, your burrito-infused blogger went home, took a nap and didn’t need to eat again the rest of the day.

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Restaurant of the Week: Taco Hut

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Taco Hut, 9451 Foothill Blvd. (at Hellman), Rancho Cucamonga; other locations at 11815 Foothill, Rancho Cucamonga, and 1150 E. Philadelphia St., Ontario

Taco Hut is a Rancho Cucamonga mainstay, located in the AutoZone center between Hellman and Archibald. The signs say “Est. 1982.” Two other locations have opened in recent years, one in the Masi Plaza on the east side of town, the other in south Ontario.

I’ve been to the original a few times over the years. Because its absence from this blog was overdue to be remedied, a friend and I met there for dinner recently. The interior is more colorful and modern than I recall, presumably the result of a fire that closed the restaurant a few years ago until remodeling could take place. The walls have kitschy sombreros, serapes and miniature guitars as decor, as well as a fringe of hut-like straw. The glass-topped tables have serape-like fabric underneath.

The menu is extensive with the usual tacos, burritos, etc., plus seafood dishes, hamburgers and salads. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. I had an asada burrito ($7, below), my friend had a shrimp quesadilla ($10). “It was so good,” he said with satisfaction. My burrito was likewise quite good, the steak, fluffy rice and refried beans melding into a delicious whole.

Great food, and the service was exceptionally friendly. All hail the Hut.

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