Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Aladdin Jr. -- 3161 N Garey Ave Pomona, CA 91767

My Meal Cost: $14.30 plus tip. Health Rating A. Yelp 3.5 stars

I didn't post a restaurant last week. Did you miss me?

This weeks post is actually from last week. Last week I visited Aladdin Jr. in the Grove shopping center during a rainy Tuesday. When I got home I told my wife about my experience and she suggested that I return at a better time (see below for explanation) as the place was empty and she felt I should give it a better chance. I returned there last evening figuring that dinner might be a better time, despite the heavy rain. I walked in the door and once again it was empty. I stood there for a bit and no one came out to greet me, and, while the main dining room was empty, there were some folks in the "private room" smoking hookah. The place smelled of scented tobacco smoke and it made the place unappetizing. So I decided to go with my original visit for this post. 

While it was raining, I have been to a couple of restaurants in the intervening week and, despite the rain, have found them to have at least moderate business.

When I go to a restaurant, I'm looking for not only good food, but a clean, friendly place to enjoy my meal. I've been to some places where the experience has been so good, that the food was secondary. I've also been to some places that were not the cleanest, not the friendliest, but the food was so extraordinary that you overlook the rest (Seinfeld's soup nazi would be an example of the kind of thing I'm talking about).

I love going to Cicada in downtown's temple to art deco, the Oviatt building, not only because the food is very good, but the service is bar none. This is a place where if you get up and go to the restroom, the wait staff comes, refolds your napkin, and puts a cloche over your plate to keep your food warm.

I really don't expect that kind of service from everywhere, but I do have some expectations. At fast food, order-at-the-counter places, I expect a clean place and that the person behind the counter is not rude (a very low expectation). At a sit down restaurant, I expect that the wait staff will be a little attentive, seating you when you arrive, perhaps going over menu items, refilling beverages, and not making you wait too long after your meal to bring you the check.

Which leads me to my experience at Aladdin Jr.

Because of construction, I had forgone them the previous week and skipped ahead. I arrived about noon on a Tuesday in moderately wet weather. I walked through the front door and it was obvious that there was still work going on. A gentleman come up and asked me what I needed to which I responded that I was there for lunch. He apologized that they were undergoing renovation (although it was not in as much turmoil as it had been the previous week), and they didn't have the lunch buffet, but they were open if I wanted to take a seat and order from the regular menu. I did so. Eventually another party did come in and have lunch as well.

I was seated about 12:05. I perused the menu, which is middle eastern with a number of kebab items as well as grape leaves, cheese pie, soups, hummus, salads and lamb shanks.

The waiter asked me for my order and I decided on the Aladdin chicken kebab's (2 skewers), and a diet coke. I was then informed that they were out of syrup and the only option for a cold drink was water. So I ordered water. Then I waited, and waited, and waited. After about 5 minutes a bowl of pita was brought to the table. Then I waited, and waited, and waited. While waiting I looked around the room. I've eaten here in the past and remembered the large mural of Aladdin on his flying carpet on the south wall, which it appears is a victim of the remodeling. There are some murals still left at the pay station, as well as a TV which had Arabic music videos playing. The waiter did ask me if I would like him to turn down the volume on the music, which he did, making it a little less noisy.

Finally after having been there for about half an hour my plate of chicken skewers arrived. It included hummus and a smear of yogurt. While waiting I had eaten a few of the pita wedges dry so it was nice to have the very flavorful hummus to dip them in. I had noticed that the menu said that this dish included basmati rice, but none arrived with the meal. I called over the waiter and asked about it, which seemed to confuse him, but he apologized and brought out a plate of the rice. Unfortunately, in waiting I became hungry and when the food arrived I sort of dug in, forgetting to take a photo before I had finished one of the chicken skewers. I took the photo when the rice arrived.

After all that the chicken was quite good, if a little dry. The spices made the tender chicken sing on the palate. Adding some of the yogurt helped with the dryness, but was a distraction from the flavor of the chicken. I was so impressed with the basmati rice at Zuby's 2 weeks previous that I was looking forward to it here. While it was good, it did not rise to the level of creaminess, and buttery goodness of the previous place.

So it came time for the check. As sometimes happens, it appeared that the waiter had disappeared. When he finally came back and I indicated that I was ready, it took him another few minutes to get the check to me. I was ready and presented my credit card (I always make sure they accept them--looking at the decals on the front door--before I enter) only to be told that their machine had not been "authorized" yet, so he couldn't take it. My having no cash, he suggested that I go next door and use the ATM machine. I left the restaurant, walked several stores down the row and didn't see any ATM machines anywhere. I went back into the restaurant to find that the guy who knew how to work their POS system had "authorized" it and I could now pay that way.

It was now about 1:30, an hour and a half after my arrival. Not a quick lunch at all. Thankfully, as a retiree, I wasn't on a lunch hour. So the overall experience was not very good, the food was OK, but nothing to get excited about.

The above was related to The Lovely Mrs. C, who suggested that I go back at a better time. After a week, I did, and as stated above, was not even able to get seated. I hope that this was an anomaly, but my feeling is if you're open, you should be at your best. I used to go to their location in downtown at 2nd and Main, so was familiar, and enjoyed, with the food. Since it's closure I haven't been back.

UP NEXT:  Jasmine's Restaurant and Hookah Lounge

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Happy Wok -- 3160 N Garey Ave Pomona, CA 91767

My Meal Cost: $11.88. Health Rating A. Yelp 3.5 stars

This has been a difficult day. On Sunday, I suffered a fall from a ladder while cleaning leaves off of the roof of Casa Clifford. I was not seriously injured, but I did manage to sprain my left calf and have cuts and scrapes on both of my legs which are irritating if not terribly painful. So to say the least, I'm moving a little slowly. I decided to attend the Monday evening Pomona City Council meeting and didn't get home until almost 11:00 pm, and then had a doctor's appointment first thing in the morning. So now I'm moving slowly, some pain, and tired, and, of course it starts raining. But it was time to go off and do my Garey Avenue blogging duty.

Next up was supposed to be Aladdin, Jr. in the Grove Center. I pulled into the parking lot, took my exterior photos and limped inside. I was greeted by a completely empty restaurant and a security guard. I told him that I was there for lunch and he said that they had not received their meat order ?????

I asked him if they were open for lunch to which he responded that yes, but that they had been remodeling the restaurant and the meat order hadn't arrived. 

So much for doing this one today. So I limped out.

I knew that next up would be Jasmine's Restaurant a few doors down so I limped my way there only to find that they don't open until 4:00 pm. I guess that week will be a dinner review.

This left only Los Jarritos in the center. The lovely Mrs. C is not a fan of middle east/Mediterranean fare but she loves Los Jarritos so I didn't want to go there without her (I was also saving it for another special reason). So the fourth option was to drive across Garey to the center at Garey and Foothill to the one restaurant that faces Garey, Happy Wok.

By now I've limped to several places and found that my phone battery was nearly dead so I had to be careful so I could get my photos.

At least it was open and fairly active for a Tuesday lunchtime. This place is Chinese fast food not unlike  similar places that I've already sampled on Garey. There is the menu board with photos of the various combinations and the steam trays with an array of Chinese fast food items. There are about 8-10 tables and chairs set up inside and a beverage fountain. The dining area is fairly clean but the place has an open kitchen that, while not filthy, had stacks of things lying about and the woks looked well-used. 

Because of the cold and wet weather, I was drawn to a sign in the window for Wor Wonton Soup. I've had this at other Chinese restaurants and have always liked it so I opted for that. The very friendly woman behind the counter explained that they make it fresh and it would take 5 minutes. So I decided to also have the chicken egg rolls (2 pc/$2.50) as well and a fountain beverage.

Since I was dining in, they delivered the soup in a nice bowl and a regular spoon. My egg rolls, which came off the steamer table, came with a plastic fork, little cup of sweet and sour sauce, and a pre-packaged fortune cookie. The fountain had Pepsi products so I ended up with diet Pepsi.

The nice plump egg rolls looked to be over fried and ended up being really greasy. The paper bag that they came in, which I placed them on so I could take the photo, ended up being covered in oil. They were so bland that dipping them in the sweat and sour sauce created a bite that was overpowered by the sauce.

Like I said, I like Wor Wonton soup. This soup is a thin broth with beef, chicken, shrimp, wontons stuffed with seasoned ground chicken, and a variety of vegetables, usually things like bean sprouts, water chestnuts, and bok choy. While there were a few bean sprouts in this one, it was mostly carrots, broccoli, some sort of cabbage, and zucchini. Not bad substitutions, but hardly what one would expect in this dish.

The beef was gristly and tough, the chicken pieces were oddly shaped and I wasn't sure at times that they were chicken, but that just could have been my declining mood. The broth was very salty but also had a lot of pepper which tended to burn at the back of the throat. The wontons were the one thing that shined here, nice dumplings stuffed with a flavorful filling.

All-in-all not an especially good meal. Perhaps I should have had my regular Chinese fast food option of rice, chow mien, orange chicken combo. It did get 3.5 stars on Yelp and some of the reviewers really liked it, but my experience was not very good. 

UP NEXT:  Aladdin, Jr.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Zuby's Cafe -- 3131 N Garey Ave Pomona, CA 91767

My Meal Cost: $13.07. Health Rating A. Yelp 4 stars

HAPPY NEW YEAR. Hope your dining experiences are wonderful in 2017 as I complete my trek up Garey.

I'm back at the Grove Center in north Pomona just south of Foothill on the west side. This week is Zuby's Cafe, which yelp identifies as Persian/Iranian. I arrived right at noon for lunch. As I entered I noted that this was a very nice place, but it looked a little disheveled and empty. I walked to the back as there was no one there and looked at the menu. Someone, who I found out was the owner and throughout my stay called me "brother," came out and finally greeted me. I actually asked if they were open. He assured me that they were and apologized as they're undergoing some remodeling and the construction has left part of the dining room a mess.

So I chose a table and sat down. The room seems to be mostly done and has stacked rock on walls and large video screens on the two side walls as well as a menu screen over the cashier's desk. The one over the desk has the menu, while the others rotate excellent photos of their menu items. They have both indoor seating as well as carry-out and delivery. The look of the place is definitely "modern" with black plates and elegant touches.

At this particular time the owner was handling the front of house and asked me what I would like to drink. Since it was cold and somewhat dismal, I asked about hot beverages. He suggested tea which is what I ended up ordering. It was brought in a small glass cup, very elegant, along with a small bowl of sugar (which I didn't use). No little packets or shaker here.

The menu is exceptionally long. So what kind of food was I expecting. Hmmm, given the location and yelp description I thought that perhaps this was a middle eastern place. But the menu is extensive and about as eclectic as anyone would want to see. The 39 appetizers range from hummus and domeh, to crab cakes, to popcorn shrimp, to jalapeno poppers to crab wonton. Huh?

Perusing the loose-leaf binder did not clarify things. There are pages for: salads from Shirazi, to caesar to antipasto; wraps including shish kabab and Tandoori; cold subs; wings; hot subs including Tandoori and tuna melt; stew, middle eastern; pasta, including jambalaya; kebabs with 20 different selections; steak (9 options); ribs; burgers, most common styles with a Chapli kabab burger; chicken; lobster and shrimp with 11 items including one that I'll have to go back and try, lobster mashed potatoes; pizza, 14 different styles; fish; Chinese (7 items); platters, special family style meals; lunch specials; refreshments (beverages) including smoothies and fountain drinks; and finally desserts including Persian ice cream. Whew! What a selection. This was sensory overload for trying to figure out what to eat. You can see their complete menu at: http://inwizard123.wixsite.com/zubyscafe/menus.

Since I had the owner waiting on me, I asked him about the depth of his menu. He explained that his philosophy is that he wanted anyone to be able to come in and find something they'd like. He further explained that all of his food is Halal (a muslim preparation of meat that meets the requirements of Sharia law--similar to kosher for Jewish people). He explained that there are few restaurants that offer Halal and that he wants a wide variety of culinary options that still follow in the Halal tradition. I asked him what he would suggest as a dish he'd like his restaurant judged by?

This stumped him so I asked about popular dishes. He pointed to the burgers and chicken options. I explained that since it was cold that I was thinking about the stews and asked his recommendation. I particularly noted that Gheimeh stew, which was split pea in a tomato sauce, had french fries on top. ? He explained that is the way that the Persian's eat it but he's not a fan. He suggested the Gormeh Sabi, a stew made with a lot of herbs, chunks of beef, dried lime (?), and kidney beans that was thicker and less soupy. It also came with buttered Basmati rice with saffron.

The stew was interesting in that the green herbs (cilantro, parsley, chives, and methi leaves or fenugreek) were the bulk of the dish. It was simmered in a sauce and had tender chunks of beef. The beef flavor was hard to discern over the large amount of herb in the dish. The beans did give a good textural contrast and added to the overall taste. Quite warm and more filling than I might have expected. I was particularly impressed with the rice. It was not like rice in Chinese or Japanese cooking nor like the rice in Mexican or South American cooking. The rice was very long thin grains and with the saffron and butter had a very buttery, moist flavor. Usually I like some kind of sauce on rice, but this stuff was great just as it came.

After my meal, I was talking with the owner and for the first time in doing this blog exposed myself as a blogger and what I was doing there. I asked him about the place and particularly why it was empty. He said that because it was Tuesday and the first day for kids going back to school that it was very quiet. He said that yesterday, Monday, he was swamped with a lot of folks coming back from the mountains. He also said that this restaurant also provides school lunches for a Muslim school in the area.

A delightful time, good food, in a modern, attractive space.

UP NEXT:  Happy Wok