Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The List - Eastside Eats


You can find a lot of lists of the best restaurants in Los Angeles such as Jonathan Gold's 101 Best Restaurants, the L.A. Weekly's 99 Essential Restaurants, and Eater LA's 38 Essential Restaurants. All good lists but also very heavy on Central Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, and the Westside.

What's missing are places most of those people pretend don't exist like the non-Asian parts of the San Gabriel Valley, the Inland Empire, Orange County, and more.

We're going to do our bit to rectify that here at the World on Wheels as we present our top restaurants...the inclusive list (click on the links below for a full report).


1. Joey's Red Devil Pizza - La Verne
2. Tony's Little Italy - Placentia
3. Centro Basco - Chino
4. Taylor's Cafe - Chino
5. Little Tokyo - San Dimas
6. Daikukoya - El Monte
7. Eureka! - Claremont
8. In 'n Out - Baldwin Park and beyond
9. The Sycamore Inn - Rancho Cucamonga
10. The Bull Pen - Redondo Beach
11. Cafe Bizou Closed. Locations in Sherman Oaks and Agoura still open
12. Bierstube at The Phoenix Club - Anaheim
13. The Hat - Alhambra and beyond
14. Capri Deli - Covina
15. Old World Deli - Covina
16. Donut Man - Glendora
17. Miss Donuts and Bagel - La Verne
18. Sweet Jill's - Seal Beach and Long Beach
19. Porto's Bakery and Cafe - Glendale and beyond
20. Bert and Rocky's - Claremont


Los Angeles' Best Eats - Eastside Edition, Part 4


See the ever-growing list of our best Eastside Eats here!


Sometimes you just want a good steak, price be damned. The population of the eastside is made up in large part by carnivores. You can get your red meat protein almost anywhere at a range of prices from cheap to astronomical.



About the best you can get is at the Sycamore Inn in Rancho Cucamonga where the history goes back 170 years, although the modern era of the restaurant is a little more modest...approaching 100.

Elegant inside with professional waiters serving on linen covered tables and high-backed chairs, this is the place for a great steak in the Inland Empire.



Custom aged and hand-carved USDA prime steaks that melt in your mouth are the stars of the menu here. This is a special place and the food is pretty special, too. The kind of dinner locals will splurge on for a birthday, anniversary, or even a proposal.

Feast on a tomahawk rib eye with some peppercorn sauce...or perhaps you will like the bearnaise better?...with some broiled broccoli or a classic baked potato. All good but I'm an au gratin guy.

Wash it down with with some Duckhorn Russian River Pinot Noir or any other choice from their extensive list.  Don't hurry...just enjoy the meaty flavor enhanced by some California alcohol.Warby Parker

Pair it with a lobster? Why not, or have one alone on it's own dish.  Poultry is well represented here, too, with Jidori roast chicken or maybe you'd care for a rack or lamb instead.

Save room for the Grand Marnier chocolate soufle but make sure to order that way at the beginning of dinner...it takes time to make it right.

It's not a cheap treat...if you try really hard you just might get out for just under $100 per person - pre tax - but save up to splurge at this inland institution of fine meat.

Oh yeah, you can get a bit of that Sycamore Inn experience for a fraction of the cost if you come during their happy hour...served in the lounge on the wraparound porch until 8pm daily...where you can get discounted drinks and the most expensive dish is the filet mignon at $28 or the prime rib at $26.



Speaking of Prime Rib, you can get the best we've tried in Southern California at a little dive bar at an old, slightly run down strip mall in Redondo Beach. Yeah, it doesn't quite fit our eastside criteria, being a block away from the ocean in a decidedly westside location, but once in a great while those western centered lists will drift over the line, too.  Purely by accident, I'm sure.


We'll let joke telling bartender, Kevin, punctuate this entry: "How do you tell a boy ant from a girl ant? You put them in a glass of water. If it sinks...girl ant. If it floats...boyant. "


We're sure this is the best prime rib around, with the possible exception of a certain Beverly Hills chop house, and this one won't break the bank too much, either.




The Bull Pen is that place where you see the gray-haired barflies rubbing elbows with the tattooed, mascaraed, and bleached blonde, among other assorted quaffers of their very well stocked bar serving day drinking prices before the dinner bell. Yes, these are my kind of people and I love hanging out with them. 




The chaser, though, is that little dining room, off to the right, over the low divider. While the menu has a good list of steaks, chops, seafood, and a very righteous burger, people mostly come here for one thing...the prime rib.


It's a thick hunk of tender beef, recommended at medium rare. Marbled well and with a peppery crust holding the mass of meaty juices in. Served with a nice, creamy horseradish (straight is also available) and a cup of au jus, a dip here...a dip there and pop this melt-in-your-mouth juice bomb in your mouth for a protein delight.


Kevin: "How to you make Holy Water? You boil the hell out of it. "




Served with baked potato, mashed, fries, or vegetables...also an excellent fresh salad with the option (exercised by most customers) of jellied beets put on top. This king of Southern California prime rib, labeled at 12 ounces but I'll be damned if it's really not 16...is delivered to your table for $29.95. A 9 ounce light eater's version is $18.95.


A secret bargain, though...if they don't sell out on Friday night, they'll serve the rest as a Saturday lunch special for less than half price. Call after 9:00am on Saturday to see if they'll be having the prime rib as a lunch special.


Kevin: "Did you here about the police station that had their toilet stolen? They're out looking for it but have nothing to go on. "




NOTE: The Pasadena location of Cafe Bizou (below) has permanently closed. Locations in Sherman Oaks and Agoura are still in operation

Cafe Bizou has now graced the Pasadena landscape so long that it's considered an anchor in the area but at one time, it was the new kid on the block, bringing in fun French inspired dishes to the masses in a service-oriented, Continental atmosphere.


Except for the 'new' part, all the rest is still there. White table cloths, professional waiters, great food at exceptional prices.  It's not trendy in this neighborhood anymore where the Slaters, the Meat Districts, the Vertical Wine Bars, Himalayan restaurants, and the oh-so-pricey restaurants of the moment.


Cafe Bizou only offers reliably outstanding food, good service, in an upscale and comfortable atmosphere. It's also very easily accessible, almost right across the street from the Memorial Park Station of Metro's Gold Line light rail train.




While we're talking about meat and potatoes on this installment, we'd like to highlight the red-meat centered entrees available here but also know that there is a very good selection of seafood dishes here such as their Friday night bouillabaisse and their famously good Chilean sea bass.


We come here, however, for the meats...steak frites, steak au poivre,  and lamb. Tender, tasty, lamb chops without a hint of the gaminess you find at lesser establishments. Oozing with fatty juices, seasoned with Rosemary, and butterknife-tender. The New York strip steak with a savory Burgundy sauce cooked to melt-in-your-mouth perfection, served with some double fried string potatoes.




The best of an outstanding lineup for me is the thinly sliced, perfectly pink pieces of meat served in a creamy brandy sauce that make up their steak au poivre...so very fork-tender...with the beef juices lovingly blending into the sauce that makes up their steak au poivre. It's my go-to dish here.

A very creamy version of handmade mashed potatoes is served with it but you can also ask that their super creamy potatoes au gratin be substituted. It all comes with some typical crusty baguettes and a little pile of perfectly blanched vegetables.  It's one of the few times Tim will willingly eat all of his veggies.

This is not a budget breaker either, as I've alluded to above. My favorite dish, the steak au poivre, is only $21.95. Nothing on their regular menu even comes close to thirty dollars (they do have a very popular prixe fix menu for $36 dollars that covers everything from soup or salad through dessert). Adding a salad or soup de jour is $2, you can upgrade to a Caesar
salad for an extra buck.

And, while they have a good wine list here, you can bring your own for a very reasonable two dollar corkage fee...bring as many bottles as you like, they're all just $2 each.

-

Anaheim is a German-based word for for Ana's home.  It came about as a German settlement arose by the Santa Ana River, south of Los Angeles in what is now Orange County.  Home by the Santa Ana River.

After World War II, all things German were a bit touchy. Into this era came a private cultural club, German, in Anaheim who wanted everyone to know that they were not like 'those' Germans. They were to be welcoming and all inclusive, celebrating their history and culture without the baggage of the war. Rising up with a new Germany from those ashes like the legendary Phoenix bird. This was the founding of the Phoenix Club in 1961.



When the city of Anaheim wanted the land on Katella Avenue where their modest club house was to build the Honda Center (home of the Ducks NHL team), they agreed to build a new club on land behind the arena. That's where you'll find the modern Phoenix Club in a large, modern building along with their Bierstube Restaurant.

Although a private club, it is always open to the public. The Bierstube is a fine, friendly place to indulge in German food and beer.

It's really more like a pub than a restaurant. Amid the woody, cozy room...walls adorned with the emblems of the many clubs that call the Phoenix Club home...you'll find a long bar, taps pouring brews from the motherland, and German dishes heavy with sausages, kraut, spaetzle, and more.

While you can get a good steak here, a great charcuterie dish, and big soft pretzels, pork is the reason we come here. 



Our favorite on the daily menu is jaegerschnitzel, a pork cutlet covered with a wild mushroom sauce and served with spaetzle. Starting off with a tender chop, with juices flowing, the savory sauce along with the earthy mushrooms are a carnivore's delight. The spaetzle (a kind of German pasta) adds to the heaviness of the dish...it will fill you up fast...so you might want to substitute potatoes or plan on taking half of the dish home.

You'll want to wash this down with whatever German Oktoberfest beer they're serving at the time.  I'd say save room for dessert but that's just about impossible here.



If you see their pork chop special on the board, you will want to try that.  Another very juicy and lovingly cooked chop, covered with a thin brown gravy and served with some of the best mashed potatoes you can find in Southern California.  This is my favorite dish here and always leaves me wanting more.



Bargains abound at their daily happy hours with beer, drink, and appetizer specials plus one of the biggest and best Oktoberfests happens here on weekends from mid September through October in their large biergarten out back.

Carnivores can find much to please them in this area but these are a few of our favorites.


Hand Picked Special Occasion Wines delivered to your door.- Wine of The Month Club

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Friday, August 25, 2017

Making the Desert Bloom: A Return to Borrego Springs, Part 2


Morning in Borrego Springs finds us on a modest shopping excursion. While Letty browses the Frugal Coyote thrift shop, Tim and I wander around a small strip mall where we end up in the town's ice cream parlor and candy store.

A couple of cinnamon rolls to go, we wander over to the liquor store to grab a six-pack and some snacks for later tonight in the hotel.


Watch the Video!




At the end of the town's modest downtown is Christmas Circle. Basically a large roundabout with the town's main park in the middle. 

Off to the side, the local Kiwanis Club is having a flea market.  While Letty sees if she can find any bargains, I wander off to a large, blooming, palo verde tree nearby.

It's buzzy. That's because there are hundreds of bees tending to the thousands of flowers. I stick a video camera in to get a close up (see the video for more) then we hit the road.

While we were shopping, we stopped at the Anza-Borrego State Park Visitor's Center and gift shop at the local mall where the friendly staffer showed us where to go where the most flowers were blooming today.



A few miles out of town, we find the desert sands carpeted with desert sunflowers (that's what the lady called them).



A little closer to the mountains we find this cacti blooming with bright purple flowers...



...these with neon green flowers...



...and ocotillos with their bright orange flowers.

Another big attraction in Borrego Springs is finding sculptures out in the middle of the desert.  Artist Ricardo Breceda got together with one of the area's big landowners, Dennis Avery, and make iron sculpture just waiting out in the desert for the explorer to find.

Dozens of Breceda's statues are sprinkled over miles of desert landscape and are a blast to go out and find.  (maps are available in the gift shop and most hotels)



We find a few new ones that weren't here on our last visit, including this padre and his dog.



The morning finds us driving 30 miles up into the mountains to visit Julian, an old gold mining town more famous today for it's apple orchards and pie.



We have a breakfast of soup, quiche, and pie before exploring the town and shopping.

After walking to the cemetery and finding the old jail, we call it a day and pile into the van for the long drive home.


Hand Picked Special Occasion Wines delivered to your door.- Wine of The Month Club

Darryl
Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, August 21, 2017

Making the Desert Bloom: A Return to Borrego Springs, Part 1


It may be located between some of the most populated areas in the United States but the roads to get into it are so tough that this remains an oasis of old, undeveloped Southern California. Being that a great majority of it is also a protected state park might have something to do with that.

It's been six years but we're returning to Borrego Springs, the little village located in the heart of Anza-Borrego State Park in Southern California.


Watch the Video!

From our area, there's no easy way to get here. It's either going through the backroads of San Diego County or going through Palm Springs, the Salton Sea, and then a very poorly maintained road for the last 25 miles, which is the way we came in.

Once in, however, you take a step back fifty years to a California desert resort the way is used to be. A sleepy little downtown, yet even the most modest motel has a sparkling pool. Eccentric characters that gather at the town's lone watering hole each night. Spectacular golf courses, tennis courts, quirky art, and some beautiful and very unspoiled desert.



As always in Borrego Springs, our lodgings are the Borrego Springs Resort, about a mile south of the town's traffic circle (traffic signals are outlawed here...mayors must take an oath of office that includes never bringing one of those devices into the town).

It's a large, two-room suite with a patio looking west toward the large mountains separating the desert from the Indian lands dotting eastern San Diego County with their casinos and missions.


After the long and a bit grueling drive, we're just in relaxing mode for today. A Mercedes Benz owner's group is here having a meeting and rally. We admire the Mercs but are more impressed by the old Packards that are in with the group.

We head over to the bar at Arches, the resort's restaurant, to have a couple of drinks before heading out to take a walk through the golf course.



While here, we get a glimpse of what lies ahead for us this weekend...migratory birds relaxing on the greens while the car owners golf through the course in one big group of about twenty golfers. Cacti blooming in spectacular purples, oranges, and pinks.

Back in town, we head to Carlee's, the dive bar that serves the tastiest food around, to have a bite to eat and to chat with the evening's entertainment. The singer shows Tim the difference between a 12 string and a 6 string guitar.  Later, while leaving, we get an impromtu performance of 'Ring of Fire' in the parking lot while they take a smoke break.



We head back to the room where my wife and I star gaze from the patio while Tim relaxes with ESPN on the couch.

Tonight, it's rest. Tomorrow, we head out to the desert to explore.

We'll continue with you then.


Hand Picked Special Occasion Wines delivered to your door.- Wine of The Month Club

Darryl
Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Friday, August 18, 2017

Wine, Women, and Song...Concert Day in Paso Robles


OK, well, it's one woman...my wife...plus a son but there will be wine and a song or two.
Warby Parker
Thursday's in Paso Robles is Concert in Park days during the hot, summer season.  A time for everybody to come together for a community-wide happy hour in the downtown park.

That'll be later, first it's time to cash in some chips. As noted in the previous post, I had a coupon for free wine tasting at Ancient Peaks Winery in nearby Santa Margarita. My wife really liked their cabernet.



Actually, we had several coupons for wineries stretching for about a 3 mile radius, courtesy of the front desk at our hotel.  We decided just to try two.


Watch the Video!



While you can get more details in our companion Cocktail Hour post and video, I can tell you that along with the great wine at Ancient Peaks, there's a tiny little (and inexpensive) bakery in the same building where we picked up some brownies and cookies for later.

They were delicious.

On the other side of town, up in the hills full of quarter horse ranches, sits Wild Horse Winery.  It's lonely here, us being the only customers at the time, so we get the full attention tasting experience before getting a case of some great pinot noir and voignier on sale.


Hand Picked Special Occasion Wines delivered to your door.- Wine of The Month Club

It's back to the hotel to take a swim in the 100 degree weather. The hotel has a pool lift, albeit at an awkward angle to the pool, that puts Tim in the water fairly easily.

As is typical in a lot of modern chain hotels, there's not a lot of shade around the pool and what little there is is already taken up by others.

We spend about an hour in the water before heading back up to the room for a quick afternoon nap before heading out for downtown Paso Robles. The plan is to get to downtown a little early (the concert starts at 6pm in the downtown park bandstand), get a good parking spot,  put our blanket down to hold a spot, find a restaurant nearby for an early dinner, then over to the park for the concert.

My wife smells garlic in the air. To her, this means pasta. Pasta is what she wants and pasta is all she'll accept. We wander along Pine Street, the park's eastern edge, where a half a dozen restaurants sit...not one among them with pasta on the menu.



Except one, Berry Hill Bistro. We go in, have one of their spectacular Millionaire Margaritas, and order pasta. Only thing is, it's too early for the dinner menu.

"The menu outside said nothing about it being a dinner menu," I tell my wife.  

She's not having it. We're a half an hour early for dinner. While Tim and I are happy with sandwiches, it won't do for her. I make a compromise. Tim and I will eat our sandwiches, then, I'll order the pasta to go for dinner and she can have a picnic in the park for the concert.

That's a deal she can live with. I tell the server what I intend to do, she tells the chef, and he relents and just makes the pasta now so we can all eat together.  



And that is how big tips are generated.

In the park, I thank our new friend, Tony, for letting us set our blanket next to his and for keeping an eye on it while we ate.  We make a few more friends as people file in for the concert.



A booth from J. Lohr winery sells bottles of very good wine for $20. I get a fine Riesling. They also give me four free souvenir glasses to drink it with.  You can also brink your own drinks from home, as many people do.



It's all a very relaxed atmosphere and all are here to have a good time.

The band strikes up...a jazzy, old school rock band...and we relax over wine and new friends as the sun sets on the music.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

It Could've Been a Contender...Actually, It Is: Morro Bay's Waterfront


Morro Bay's waterfront walk...a mishmash of sidewalks, parking lots, and decks...is almost completely navigable by wheelchair. It's not a huge wharf, we can walk from end-to-end in about five minutes, but it packs a decent punch in that area between north and south.




At the north end is a defunct power plant, it's three smoke stacks like a giant picket fence, separating the small fishing fleet from Morro Rock. The south end, just beyond the Embarcadero Inn, is bordered by the pleasure marina, boat ramp, and a large parking lot.


If you were to spend a day exploring, you'd better be hungry and thirsty. A good starting point for a loop would be the Coffee Pot restaurant at the north end where Embarcadero merges with Front Street. It's a solid spot for breakfast featuring all the classics...omelets, pancakes, waffles, biscuits and gravy...with a lot of items on the menu taking advantage of it's location next to the local fishing fleet's wharf.  Benedicts can be had with shrimp, crab, or the catch of the day. Seafood can also find it's way into your omelet.




It's owned by Gordon Lu, an orphan immigrant from Communist China in 1969, who came to America poor and made his way with this little cafe in Morro Bay. He's even got a book out about his exploits. Be sure to check out the large collection of coffee pots lining the walls while you're there.


Out back, you can check out the catch in the tanks along the docks. Morro Bay's fishing fleet may be small but they still bring in a lot of the sea's bounty each day. Several restaurants are on hand to buy what they're selling.


Going south from the Coffee Pot, you'll pass a small park with a large anchor. That's a memorial to the local fishermen lost at sea over the years. At the first building, you can go left to walk along the front of the shops on the Embarcadero or go right, like us, to walk over the water.




In a few feet, you'll come to one of our favorite Morro Bay cheap eats with a slight German accent, the Hofbrau. Here, you can get very juicy roast beef sandwiches, cut to your specifications at the carving bar, along with German and local craft brews.




It's very filling and you get a ton of food for your money.  You can also sit on the outdoor deck, or avoid the weather inside. Either way, you've got a great view of the bay.


After the Hofbrau, there's a deck for taking in the view, then...if you've the money...the Anderson Inn. The wheelchair room here is pretty spectacular but it comes with a price.  


Moving on, the Otter Rock Cafe has a good lineup of local musicians at night to enjoy while sipping on a cocktail. Next door, at the Boatyard complex, you can pop out the walkway to get some taffy or browse the clearance racks at Best Kept Secret for a cheap souvenir T-Shirt to remember your visit.




Back on the water, look across the bay for any empty wooden docks or tie downs. You're likely to see and hear the local sea lions lounging in the sun.


In between this building and the next is a small garden patio to relax in. On the water, you can take a tiki bar cruise around the bay with Lost Isle Adventures.  




Next up, the Libertine will take care of your thirst for a craft beer lust with their 48 taps, including their own brews made at their brewery in nearby Santa Maria. Across the next viewing platform and parking lot is our favorite, Rose's Bar. Down the ramp you'll find this boat-shaped 100% wheelchair accessible bar with spectacular views of the bay and the rock with friendly bartenders to pour your drinks.


After Rose's, you find another little plaza to relax on, maybe enjoy some ice cream and browse the cheap clearance racks of Dolphin T-Shirt Company for some more cheap souvenirs.


Back on the waterfront, you'll cross a larger parking lot before banking to the right of a large, wooden building. Before going on, you'll want to take a peek into the Morro Bay Skateboard Museum




You'll see some great exhibits on the history of sidewalk surfing along with artifacts such as one of the fastest skateboards ever made and the 2nd biggest skateboard ever made. It's also a bargain as it's free.


If you're hungry, back on the waterfront side of the building Blue Sky Bistro on the Bay is an excellent stop for breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner.


After this building, you'll need to detour back to the Embarcadero because the walkway is blocked here by docks.




On the corner is the old and kitschy Morro Bay Aquarium where you can feed sea lions and view tanks of native sealife in the back.  The Aquarium works with Cal Poly to house and feed injured sea lions that can't be returned to the wild and keep live specimens on display for use in research.


It's a very cheap (less than $5) and retro attraction but you better hurry, it's closing next month. A new and more modern facility is being planned to replace it, more along the lines of a smaller version of the Monterrey Bay Aquarium than the old facility sitting there now.


After the aquarium, you can head back to the water where you'll find a yoga shop and another restaurant among the views of the rock and sea otters.


Grays Inn, a small, two room hotel and art gallery sits before you reach a wide expanse of walk without any buildings until you get to a kayak rental facility. If you're able, you can rent one to explore this massive bay.


The Morro Bay Yacht Club, Estero Inn Hotel (with a great but expensive waterfront wheelchair accessible suite) and another art gallery make up the end of the businesses along the water. 


Across the street is the 456 Embarcadero Inn, our usual choice for lodging in this town.  Beyond that, a waterfront park and a large parking lot lead to the boat ramp where a large billboard with a picture of a boat trying to navigate a huge wave advertises the dangers of launching out of this particular inlet.


Going back, you can return via the waterfront route you came on or go down the other side of the street on the Embarcadero. This way, you can see a couple of places you missed by being on the water.


Past the Chinese buffet nextdoor to the 456 Embarcadero Inn, you'll see the yacht club's storage facility and maintenance yard. Another block will put you in front of the Shell Shop, an authentic beach town souvenir shop specializing in...what else?...shells and shell related merchandise.


One of my favorite shops to stop at comes next, the Garden Gallery, where you can see hundreds of beautiful fountains in operation. The prices aren't bad either...if you have room in your car, you just might want to take one home for your patio.




After the Garden Gallery is the biggest parking lot along the Embarcadero.  It's a good place to find a spot unless it's being used to house the annual Morro Bay Harbor Festival in October.


Next is a small park with a giant chess board where you can play with life-size pieces.  After all that game play, you might want to rejuvenate with dessert at Sun 'n Buns Bakery which also features a fireplace in the dining room for those colder Central Coast days.


A large empty lot separates the bakery from a couple of surf shops, then you're back where you started.


It might be dinner time when you get back so how about some local seafood?


If you're on a budget, get something from the big and varied menu of Giovanni's Seafood and eat on their waterfront deck.




Got some money to splurge?  Keep walking another short block and have something off of the mesquite grill of the Great American Fish Company or the long-time Morro Bay favorite, Tognazzini's...both places get their dinners from the fishing boats parked next to the kitchen. Tognazzini's even has their own boat.




It doesn't get any fresher than that.




Don't forget to make a little time to watch the sun set over Morro Rock.



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Darryl Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved