Restaurant of the Week: Jack’s Urban Eats

Jack’s Urban Eats, 7811 Monet Ave. (in Victoria Gardens), Rancho Cucamonga; open daily

Victoria Gardens earlier this year gained a Jack’s Urban Eats, a self-described “urban cafeteria” with an emphasis on seasonal vegetables. It currently has 14 locations, all in California and most around Sacramento. The closest to us is Fresno.

At the mall, it’s just south of King’s Fish House along the street that got a hip makeover a year or so ago, with design-conscious pavers, benches and lights, and which has gradually focused its stores and restaurants to match the feel. I checked out the restaurant recently at lunchtime with friends.

There’s a faux brick exterior, a high ceiling with exposed duct work, tables and booths and a few outdoor tables. You take a menu and line up to order, then move down the line to pay and collect your food at the end.

They have salads, which you can build to order, sandwiches such as tri-tip, chicken, reuben, cheese steak and club, plates such as tri-tip (a specialty), chicken or turkey, and beer and wine.

I got the steak salad ($11.75), with tri-tip, mixed greens, cranberries and bleu cheese. I liked it.

Someone else was set on one item but impulsively ordered a summer special item, the Hawaiian chicken sandwich ($9.50). I would describe it, but I forgot to ask what was on it. Odds are good that pineapple and teriyaki were involved. He said: “Delicious. I want to come back and try one of their regular menu items.” His wife has had their banh mi and loved that.

Our second friend, a vegan on a repeat visit, ordered the grilled portabella sandwich ($9.75), with a mushroom, sprouts, tomato and grilled onion on a ciabatta roll, holding the provolone. “Second time I’ve had it. Still good,” she said. So noted.

Our only complaint was that at the height of the lunch rush, the restaurant was noisy with not just conversation but music. As people cleared out, talking became more comfortable. You’re too urban, Jack!

I kept thinking of Tender Greens, a similar but better cafeteria chain that hasn’t ventured east of Pasadena. Probably we’re not yet worthy. Nothing wrong with Jack’s, though.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Restaurant of the Week: Punch Bowl Social

Punch Bowl Social, 12635 N. Main St. (Victoria Gardens), Rancho Cucamonga; open 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. weekdays, 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturdays and 9 a.m. to midnight Sundays

The Denver-based Punch Bowl Social opened at Victoria Gardens in May in the vast former Toby Keith’s space with an entertainment zone and restaurant. There’s casual bowling (pins held in place by overhead strings), karaoke, arcade games and more. The dining, though, is of interest, with a menu by “Top Chef” judge Hugh Acheson, and the dining area evokes a ’50s diner. Is it any surprise I’ve tried it out?

The menu has breakfast, brunch, sandwiches, salads and Southern specialties including fried balogna sandwiches, pimiento cheese and chicken biscuits, but you’ll see “grass fed” and “hormone free” at various points, and these are obviously upscale takes on the food. There’s also a long beverage list, from beer and mixed drinks to “adult” milkshakes.

I was there for a late breakfast in May. First they give you a biscuit and housemade jam, maybe the strawberry ginger. I ordered the mushroom biscuit and gravy ($11), which came with a couple of eggs atop potatoes. I liked it..

In July, I returned with another friend for lunch. She got the A La Bama chicken sandwich ($13) and a grapefruit soda ($5), while I had the meatloaf ($13) and a black cherry soda ($3.50). She liked her sandwich. Checking my notes, I have this direct quote: “It was good.” OK, that’s not that helpful. But her sociopolitical message is a winner.

My meatloaf was a chef’s take on the humble dish, served atop mashed potatoes and with pickled radishes and carrots, all tasty and all probably better than your mom’s.

We should have tried the pie or another dessert, but after all that food, that wasn’t possible. The $40 lunch tab provided further discouragement.

Stunningly, perhaps, Punch Bowl Social instantly became one of Rancho Cucamonga’s better restaurants. It certainly beat the similar but generic Big Al’s in Ontario. Be prepared to pay a little extra, and consider working off some calories through bowling.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Restaurant of the Week: The Melt

themelt4

The Melt, 7870 Monet Ave. (in Victoria Gardens), Rancho Cucamonga

The Melt is a San Francisco-based burger chain with a small number of locations in California and Colorado. I’d eaten once at the Sunset and Vine restaurant and was only barely conversant with it before one opened earlier this year at Victoria Gardens.

The menu has burgers, grilled cheese, two salads, tomato soup and mac ‘n’ cheese, plus milkshakes and all-natural sodas. The corporate ethos is to use better ingredients and no preservatives. They also serve craft beer and wine.

themelt5

On my first visit I ordered the grilled cheese and tomato soup combo ($10) and got a black cherry soda. It was a warming, basic meal. Frankly, it was forgettable, but pleasantly so.

themelt3

I wanted to return sometime for a milkshake after trying the overdone version at The Mug Shakes. On my second visit, then, I got the swiss and shrooms burger ($7) with fries ($2.45) and a mint chocolate chip shake ($5). Other choices were vanilla bean, double chocolate, cookies and cream, snickerdoodle (!) and salted caramel.

themelt7

Very good burger, which came with grilled onions and greens, on a poppyseed bun, and the fries, sprinkled with oregano, were addictive. The shake had a crumbled cookie, like a Thin Mint, on top and I liked it too.

themelt6

A couple of small tables stand outside the restaurant, beyond which is more of a communal patio with chairs in cheerful primary colors. The restaurant is along the made-over street for youngish people with outdoor seating, stylized crosswalks and sidewalks, and overhead strings of lights. I like it.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Restaurant of the Week: The Mug Shakes

mugshakes1

The Mug Shakes, Victoria Gardens Food Hall, 12434 N. Mainstreet, Rancho Cucamonga

The Mug Shakes, which opened in May, is a locally owned stall in the Victoria Gardens Food Hall, a non-chain that could become one. It created a sensation upon opening with its decadent creations that are served in glass mugs and spill out of them, with long lines reported on weekends. My colleague Neil Nisperos wrote about them. Fox 11 did a feature too.

As is often the case with me, I was curious but didn’t act on my curiosity for a while; it’s not often I’m at Victoria Gardens, and the messy look of the shakes was a little off-putting, even while it might draw in others. I kind of forgot the place was there. And then a friend from North Hollywood visited and posted photos, and, shamed, I made a special trip on a lunch break this week, when the mercury was 100.

mugshakes2

After lunch, I went to The Mug Shakes, where only a couple of parties were in line. I had time to read the menu board, where photos of the shakes scroll by. A few sounded enticing for my tastes: the Nutty Peanut, with peanut butter and Kit-Kats, the Pine Crunch, with pineapple cheesecake, the O’Real Bomb, with Oreo cookies, and the Grasshopper, with mint chocolate chip ice cream. Some shakes are $7 while others are $8, presumably due to ingredients or assembly time, as all are the same size.

I went for the Banana Bang ($7), with bananas and toffee, in part because it seemed like a (very relatively) lighter offering, and somewhat tidy. It arrived about five minutes later.

There were banana chips affixed to the rim and, inside, fresh banana pieces amid the ice cream, plus smears of toffee inside and around the rim and a topping that some say is marshmallow cream rather than whipped cream.

mugshakes3

Two could share one of these shakes. The elaborate, spillover presentation is eye-catching, if not all that appealing to me. What surprised me was that the shake wasn’t made with premium ice cream. I expected more after all the hype and the care spent on the appearance. Overall, my shake was very sweet but didn’t taste that great. It felt like wasted calories.

Toppings may not impress either: The few, lonely naysayers on Yelp, where Mug Shakes currently has a 4.5 rating, point out that the brownies in one shake are the processed Fiber One brand, not fresh-baked. If they’re going to go to this much trouble, why not use better ingredients and charge another $2 or $3?

“Does it come with a shot of insulin?” one friend asked after seeing a photo of my shake. My NoHo friend said she’d had the Marvelous Mango shake and found it refreshing. “I asked for the calorie counts,” she confided, “and the worker there laughed at me.”

You can take the mug home if you like — the staff will give you a plastic bag for it, since it will be goopy outside and in — or you can return it, which I did. Would I ever go again? Ehh, probably not. At the VG, you might get a better, and certainly more conventional, shake at The Melt (six flavors, including Snickerdoodle) or Johnny Rockets.

Below is a photo from Yelp of a more typical Mug Shakes offering, the Pebble Graham (I think), that may strike you as either challenging or disgusting. I report, you decide.

mugshakes

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Restaurant of the Week: N7 Creamery

N712

N7 Creamery, 7880 Kew Ave., Victoria Gardens, Rancho Cucamonga

One of the few one-of-a-kind shops in the Victoria Gardens mall, locally owned N7 sells ice cream, baked goods and coffee. Open until 10 p.m. most nights and 11 p.m. on weekends, it’s a personality-plus environment: a high ceiling that looks like pressed tin, faux brick walls, distressed wood and local art on the walls.

N7 is on the east side of the mall, north of TGI Friday’s and across from the Macy’s women’s store. (The mall is finishing up a millennial-friendly area on the west side, but N7 shows there’s life on the east side too.)

The menu shows the type of offerings: Stumptown coffee, nitrogen ice cream, baked treats, even if some, such as the flavors of ice creams, change frequently. I’ve been to N7 a few times and have always been impressed.

N72

Not a coffee drinker, I’m afraid, but if you are, you’ll find them suitably serious about the whole thing. What I’ve tried is a scone ($3.75, above), cinnamon roll ($4.50) and a hazelnut hand pie ($5), in visits earlier this year, all three delicious and clearly made with care.

N78

I’ve also had the ice cream, which comes in such flavors as madagascar vanilla, guilford chocolate and salted caramel. The one I’ve had is winter citrus with blood orange sauce (above); it’s just as good as it sounds. (If you’re strictly a rocky road person, this may not be the shop for you.)

They make it in front of you, although the setup isn’t designed to show it off the way it is at some nitrogen specialty shops. Prices are $6 for 4 oz., $7 for 6 oz. and $9 for 8 oz. When I had the ice cream, months ago, it was $1.75 cheaper all around; I didn’t blanch at $4.25 for a scoop, but I might at $6.

In everything they do, they emphasize quality ingredients from local, organic and/or sustainable sources, and a ban on preservatives, a stance that boosts the prices, perhaps, but shows they care.

N79

In the back, there’s a lounge with more seating, plus a bookcase with a scattering of reading material. It’s a cozy place to hang out or study.

Basically, this is one of Rancho Cucamonga’s most unique, hand-crafted places, and it’s tucked away in a mall. That’s about as quintessentially Cucamonga as you can get. Give ’em a try. They deserve your support.

N77

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Restaurant of the Week: Luna

luna1

Luna Modern Mexican Kitchen, 7881 Monet Ave. in Victoria Gardens, Rancho Cucamonga

Luna opened in April in a long-vacant spot previously occupied by Candelas and Wapango. There’s only one other Luna, in Corona. Some friends and I checked out the VG version recently for lunch.

It’s very stylish, with high ceilings, long corded fixtures and a light display in the bar area. We were seated in a half-oval banquette.

I have to do this from memory because I can’t find my notes (!), but off the lunch menu, we ordered (pictured in descending order below) a chopped salad, a Cabo roll (prawns, cheese, avocado in a tortilla), mole poblano chicken enchiladas and, for me, the pipian de puerco (pork loin in chimichuri sauce). (None of the prices are online, but the plates were around $12 to $18.) One got a drink, Luna’s signature, named El Pepino (about $8), from the extensive tequila list, and two of us ordered dessert: warm butter cake and deep-fried ice cream.

We all liked our items, and the friend who got the salad couldn’t help but be impressed by the presentation, a hat-like oval. All the dishes were plated well. Service was attentive and helpful and felt genuine.

You can get tacos or burritos here, but Luna is more of a modern, upscale take on Mexican cooking that presents new or altered dishes. It’s worth a try.

luna2

luna3

luna4

luna5

luna8

luna6

luna7

luna9

luna10

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Restaurant of the Week: King’s Fish House

kings1

King’s Fish House, 12427 N. Main St. (Victoria Gardens), Rancho Cucamonga

King’s is one of the original tenants from the launch of Victoria Gardens in 2004. It’s a chain with just 11 locations in Southern California, Nevada and Arizona, the nearest one being in Corona. I’ve eaten at the VG one a few times over the years, usually when someone else is buying. (I ate there once with my parents, for instance.)

An editor owed me lunch recently after losing a work bet and, wanting to pinch his wallet a little but not too much, I chose King’s.

It’s in a prominent place, on the corner where many turn for the parking garage, and there’s plenty of seating, including a bar and a covered patio. The interior looks the same as I remember it, vaguely Art Deco. They were having a lobster promotion and a salmon promotion too.

The menu has grilled seafood, a few sandwiches, salads and small plates, an oyster bar and even sushi, with lunch entrees running $14 to $24, dinner up to $30.

I got lobster bisque ($5.75) and cedar plank salmon ($21). The friend buying my lunch opted for fish and chips ($16.50). He liked his dish. The bisque was a bit sweet, as the server had warned, due to cooking sherry (ooh la la). But it was fine. Ditto with the salmon, rice and veggies. The glaze wasn’t my favorite. But then, the whole lunch was all the sweeter because I wasn’t paying.

Still, maybe I missed my chance by not getting filet mignon and lobster tail ($45) or at least dessert. I am merciful in victory.

kings2

kings5

kings3

kings4

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Restaurant of the Week: California Pizza Kitchen, Victoria Gardens

cpk1

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.

cpk3

cpk2

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Restaurant of the Week: Lucille’s BBQ

lucilles1

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.

lucilles2

lucilles4

lucilles3

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Restaurant of the Week: Gyu-Kaku

gyukaku1

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.

gyukaku2

gyukaku3

gyukaku4

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email