Restaurant of the Week: Septembers

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Septembers Taproom and Eatery, 6321 Haven Ave. (at Lemon), Rancho Cucamonga

In the old McAlan’s Pub building in the Trader Joe’s and Vons centers, Septembers is a welcome gastropub with local brews and better than average food, concentrating on classic American sandwiches.

Reader Dave Paniagua, who had earlier drawn my attention to Ontario’s Corner Deli, alerted me to Septembers, and since I’m now a regular at Corner Deli, I took his tip seriously.

Septembers is quiet on a lunch hour, with a few people around the bar and only a few diners. They have beer and wine, plus some cocktails. The interior is pleasantly industrial, with high-top and regular tables under an exposed ceiling, distressed wood walls and corrugated steel accents.

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Virtually everything on the menu was potentially of interest to me.

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Well, not nachos, but you get the idea. It’s a a well-designed menu, too, isn’t it?

They have several set lunch specials, all for $8. First time I got one of those, a grilled chicken sandwich with fries. It was good enough that I returned the next week to order off the regular menu. I got a sloppy joe — how often do you see that on a menu? — that was made with chuck and brisket on a long roll ($14, first photo below). An excellent version of the old-school classic. The criss-cut fries, with your choice of seasoning (I got sea salt and vinegar), were addictive.

Next visit I got a shrimp po’boy ($14, second photo below). Served open face, it was overstuffed and strictly knife and fork. Good, yet maybe too much of a good thing. The side of mac and cheese was excellent.

I’ve gone back three times since, making this one of the best-researched Restaurant of the Week posts ever. The Italian panini melt ($14) was a little boring and so big I couldn’t finish it even if I’d wanted to. The classic burger ($11, third photo below) with onion rings was very good; two onion rings don’t sound like much, but they were very large. That time I finally had room for dessert, getting the apple crisp a la mode ($5, bottom); as you can see, they didn’t skimp on the ice cream. And most recently, the fish and chips ($12) were meaty.

I’m not a drinker, so in that sense this may be the most poorly researched Restaurant of the Week ever, but I can tell you they have local brews such as Dale Brothers and Hangar 24. Margaritas are $3 on Mondays, wines are $3 on Wednesdays and you can get a $6 sampler paddle of beers on Thursdays.

If no dish has wowed me, everything has been solid, and my impression of the place is positive. I appreciate that the chefs are using quality ingredients and raising everything up a notch. A sandwich and an iced tea will set you back about $20 with tax and tip. If you can splurge a little, it’s worth it.

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Restaurant of the Week: California Pizza Kitchen, Victoria Gardens

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California Pizza Kitchen, 12517 N. Mainstreet (in Victoria Gardens), Rancho Cucamonga

CPK was one of the original tenants at Victoria Gardens upon the center’s 2004 opening and more than a decade later, it’s still serving up barbecued chicken pizzas and more.

I’ve eaten there a few times, in part because it’s one of the most affordable sit-down restaurant at the VG. Recently I had dinner there and figured, well, why not take photos and write a Restaurant of the Week? CPK is pretty much the same everywhere, but we’ve only got two of them (the other one is at the Shoppes at Chino Hills) and the VG is a popular spot. Besides, I like CPK.

The menu has small plates, salads, soups, pastas and various pizzas, both usual and unusual, with gluten-free crust an option. And they have alcohol.

I got the wild mushroom pizza (price forgotten, but about $14), which has four types of mushrooms and two types of cheese, and I got it on whole wheat crust, which I’m not sure I’ve done before. That was a good move and made for a heartier crust. If you like mushrooms, this is a pretty good pie. Feeling flush, I spent $1.50 on a few drops of truffle oil; to be honest, any difference in taste to the pizza was negligible.

Service was friendly. It was a Monday evening, early, and the quiet was welcome. The faux rock wall, broad booths, focused lighting and open kitchen with a counter for solo diners add up to an ambience that could almost be described as swank.

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Minty!

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I’ve wanted to try the Thin Mint milkshake at Lazy Dog Cafe, a seasonal offering, but didn’t get to it last year. Last week, with the shake back on the menu, I went to the Rancho Cucamonga location (11560 E. Fourth St.) and ordered one with my lunch.

They’re $5, with $1 going to the Girl Scouts. It was as tasty as it looks, with a single Thin Mint cookie on top. The only slight disappointment is that the few crunchy bits at the bottom, which I’d assumed to be crushed cookies, were pieces of ice. Whaaaa? Whatever, I still recommend it. The shake is available through March 25.

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Restaurant of the Week: Lucille’s BBQ

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Lucille’s BBQ, 12624 N. Mainstreet (at Eden), Victoria Gardens, Rancho Cucamonga; also 4611 Chino Hills Parkway (at Ramona), Chino Hills

Lucille’s, a barbecue chain, was one of the original tenants when Victoria Gardens opened in 2004. And it’s still there, while adding a location in Chino Hills. Did you know the Signal Hill-based chain is owned by the same people behind the coffee shop chain Hof’s Hut? The gauzy story on the Lucille’s website about its origins under “Lucille Buchanan” is actually fiction, as the company admits. Ha ha!

I don’t feature chains here very often, but when there’s only one or two local locations, I’ll do it. In this case, a group of friends was celebrating a couple of birthdays recently at the VG, so I was there anyway. It was a Saturday night and the place was jammed.

Lucille’s is colorful and corporate-kitschy, with neon signs outside and quaint-looking advertising-type signs inside: “Good choices: FDR & BBQ,” “Was one mint julep the cause of it all?” The booths have coat racks and hanging lamps reminiscent of mid-century diners. But many employees wear earpieces to receive orders from their BBQ Overlords, or maybe Memphis, so it’s not quite cozy.

The food’s pretty good, actually. One of my friends swears the jambalaya is the best he’s ever had. My experiences there have been solid. The menu has barbecue, Southern specialties, sandwiches and salads.

That night I had a decent half-rack of St. Louis ribs ($24, below) and two sides: cheesy grits, boring, and collard greens, surprisingly good. When you’re done, they give you a hot towel, like at a Japanese restaurant, and that’s a nice touch, and better than Wet-Naps, for cleaning sauce off your hands.

I went back for lunch a few days later to try something else, getting a pulled pork sandwich ($12, below) with more of those greens. It was a meaty sandwich and I ate some of the pork with a knife and fork. This was a good choice.

There’s an adjoining bar, the Flying Pig Lounge, where they have a band every night playing blues. Otherwise, the sound system has blues, of the sleek B.B. King and Eric Clapton variety. They probably don’t know who Peetie Wheatstraw is.

We don’t have a lot of true Southern restaurants out here (J&J’s in Pomona is my favorite), making Lucille’s a credible barbecue spot by default. It’s a cartoon version of the South, sure. But so what? Cartoons are entertaining, and as chains go, Lucille’s is benign, and even fun.

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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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