It’s Restaurant Week in Claremont
by Linda Milks & Susan Montgomery
What are you doing during the next week or weekend? If you live anywhere in Southern California and have a free day or more for a quick getaway, we have a great idea for you—especially if you like good food at great prices and a charming walk-around town with lots of appealing shopping and other sights. Restaurant Week is being held right now through July 19 in Claremont, California, which is easily accessible for anyone coming from Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and even San Diego counties. Claremont is just east of downtown Los Angeles in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, only six miles west of Ontario International Airport. Our easy drive from Temecula was just over an hour.
Earlier this week, along with fellow food writers from the International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association, we sampled some of the wonderful dishes being offered during Restaurant Week. The event was held in the lovely courtyard of the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel, where we also stayed. We loved the ambiance of the hotel with its comfortable, nicely decorated rooms and lobby.
Besides its wonderful restaurants, Claremont is known for its rich Spanish heritage, lush green trees, charming homes in various architectural styles, and the famous Claremont colleges. On our way to the Doubletree, we explored the serene, beautiful Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, which is California’s largest botanic garden dedicated to the state’s native plants, and includes a delightful butterfly garden. After a hike among the flowering trees and intriguing cactus plants, we were ready to savor the culinary delights of Restaurant Week.
The 21 restaurants participating in Restaurant Week are all listed on the DiscoverClaremont website, along with their menus and special offerings for the week, but here we’ll give you an idea—through words and photos—of some of the creative and delicious dishes we tasted. These are dishes you can also taste during Restaurant Week:
The Orchard at Double Tree: We savored fresh, tender scallops served Rockefeller-style atop spinach with a tarragon hollandaise sauce. We also enjoyed fresh, melt-in-your-mouth tuna poke.
Euro Café: The bread pudding served was creamy and delicious. A quiche of kale and carrot had a nice combination of ingredients and full of flavor.
Pappas Artisanal (located in nearby La Verne): We loved the small red potatoes that had been halved, scooped out a bit, and generously filled with cheese, bacon and chives.
Bardot: Enticing little shooter glasses held a unique, tasty peach and avocado salsa, accompanied with perfectly prepared steelhead salmon and quinoa.
Pine Haven (located in nearby Upland): This wonderful restaurant offered another fabulous salsa with watermelon, jicama, and jalapeno attractively displayed in a carved watermelon half and served with avocado on a street taco with pork belly. We also relished their tiny dessert tacos with blueberry and apple fillings. And we loved their homemade potato chips that were crispy and truly addictive.
Nuno’s: We enjoyed the complex textures and flavors of earthy mushroom caps stuffed with seafood and covered with a creamy caper aioli sauce and also crostini topped with sirloin, pesto and salsa. An appealing addition was a crispy endive leaf topped with blue cheese, caramelized walnuts and orange segments.
Lounge 425 at Hotel Casa 425: The hotel’s restaurant, Lounge 425, served Esquites, a creamy, delicious Mexican corn dip with chips, and also a refreshing nectarine, avocado and parmesan cheese salad. (The morning after the sampling event, we visited this stylish, boutique hotel, which is another luxurious place to stay when visiting Claremont. )
Saca’s Mediterranean Grill: We savored this array of wonderful spreads and salads, including traditional hummus, Kalamata hummus, baba ganoush, vegetarian dolmades, refreshing tabbouleh, pickled turnips and falafels paired with sesame sauce. The owners, Bruno and Nathalie Windegger, were on hand to discuss their dishes, emphasizing that they make everything themselves using fresh, local ingredients.
Tikka Wraps & Curry Bowls: The chef makes and ages his own cheese, which he served with spinach and a spicy, tasty chicken curry and basmati rice dish. Since we love curry, this restaurant is calling us to visit during our next trip to Claremont.
Tutti Mangia Italian Grill: We enjoyed a fall-off-the-bone, aged, balsamic-glazed short rib atop a sweet corn gorgonzola polenta. Tutti also served our favorite dessert of the night—lavender panna cotta with honeycomb, drizzled with honey and topped with small flecks of marigold. We had visited Tutti for lunch after our Botanic Garden hike and loved its ambiance, friendly service, creative cocktails and elegant lunch entrees so we knew we were in for a treat at the tasting. We ordered the specials of the day—a broccoli rabe and roasted zucchini soup, outstanding Ahi salad, and fragrant sea bass baked in parchment paper.
Packing House Wines: The Packing House served what was perhaps the most innovative dish of the evening prepared by Chef Noah Lutz—a dish called Shrimp Sandy. Shrimp with lemon and ginger had been prepared “sous-vide” (in a water-tight plastic bag in a warm water bath) and was served in miso broth with red curry (edible sand) and fried wakame (edible seaweed). The dish was then topped with a light, bubbly foam. The whole effect was imaginatively artistic and also absolutely delectable.
The next afternoon, we visited Packing House Wines, a creative, boutique wine shop and restaurant, for a special wine tasting and met the charismatic, knowledgeable owner, Sal Medina. This is another must-go-to-stop in Claremont.
The Junction: This innovative restaurant brings together Mexican, Korean and European styles and ingredients. Its name comes from the idea that it is a meeting place of food and friends. We first sampled some dishes at the tasting and then had lunch the next day and tasted an imaginative variety of scrumptious small plates introduced to us by the personable and passionate owner, Johan Lieuw.
The Junction’s olives are marinated in a surprising honey/balsamic glaze. A feast for the eyes and the palate were the Dates and Figs stuffed with French Roquefort and walnuts. Our curiosity was richly rewarded after seeing Ginger Infused Escargot on the menu and then sampling the escargot. The spicy Jalapeno Bomb consisted of crab, jalapeno and cheese. Another interesting and tasty dish was the Kimchi Quesadilla featuring beef rolled in a tortilla.
For many of us, our favorite item was Scallop Carpaccio, a beautifully presented dish with thinly sliced scallops, seaweed, micro greens and olive oil topped with small bits of nasturtiums. And the tantalizing plates kept coming, including Watermelon Salad, Rosemary Infused Rack of Lamb, Soft Shell Crab Tacos, and Grilled Shrimp. Needless to say, we were very happily satiated at the end of this feast.
These restaurants and the others participating in Claremont's Restaurant Week are offering an enticing variety of prix fixe lunches and dinners at special prices. The hotels in Claremont are also offering special “Dine and Stay” packages that include $50 in Discover Claremont gift cards, redeemable toward dinner at most participating Claremont Restaurant Week locations.
There is so much else to eat and do in Claremont. We’ve only touched on the surface in this article so there is no doubt we will be back to Claremont and also writing more about other places we visited. We do want to mention what a rollicking time we had at PianoPiano Dueling Piano Bar located on the same grounds as the DoubleTree. After our tasting, our group ambled over there and enjoyed a few drinks while we laughed our heads off and sang along with the two clever and talented piano players.
When you go to Claremont, don’t miss Some Crust Bakery, Last Drop Café, 42nd Street Bagel Café, the Folk Music Center, the Cheese Cave, I Like Pie, and Vom Fass where you can taste an appealing variety of vinegars, oils, liquors and spirits. We’ll be writing more about these wonderful places soon.
We were in Claremont for about 24 hours, and it just wasn’t enough time. Next time we’ll be staying longer.
Photos taken by Todd Montgomery.