|Posted Sept. 29, 2006|
In theory, the sixth annual Taste of La Verne was an amazing experience.
For $20, I could sample all the food I wanted from more than 10 area restaurants. I was sold.
I was impressed when I arrived at the La Verne Community Center to see restaurants set up and ready to serve small samples from their menus.
I was quickly let down when I noticed Rico Coffee, Chili’s, Pizza N’ Stuff and Pizza Barn among my choices.
I have nothing against these establishments, except maybe Chili’s, but I was expecting some gourmet food from La Verne and the surrounding area.
My dissatisfaction was eased slightly when I sampled some of the finer dishes at the event.
Brasserie Astuce, a restaurant in Pomona, served a scallop and lobster Wellington. The simple dish of scallop, lobster and green peppers wrapped in puff pastry was surprisingly good. The seafood was perfectly cooked, making for a tender, luscious texture. This dish alone made me want to go to Brasserie Astuce for dinner.
My excitement didn’t last long.
I wandered over to Mama Petrillo’s and was given a plate of mostaccioli with marinara and Caesar salad. Neither was bad by any stretch. But I could have purchased the same exact thing at a hundred other generic Italian restaurants. I expected a dish that would stand out against 10 other restaurants, but I am surprised I even remember eating the stuff.
A few steps away was McKinley’s Grille from the Sheraton Suites at Fairplex. This might sound hard to swallow, but it was unique and quite agreeable with my taste buds: a duck soft taco with pineapple salsa and hot sauce. The flavors worked well; the sweet pineapple salsa balanced the hot sauce and complemented the juicy duck. I was impressed and didn’t expect a hotel restaurant to be that creative.
Neighboring McKinley’s Grille was Santa Maria Barbecue & Grill, what appeared to be a catering company. They served chips with salsa and tri-tip. The tri-tip was slightly dry, but the flavor was good enough. I couldn’t understand the combination of tri-tip and chips, especially when the chunks of meat were much too large to be properly eaten with the chips. I stopped eating the chips after a few bites and moved on to sample the pizza and lasagna offerings.
Pizza ’n Stuff, who claim to have the best pizza in California, served their special, with pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, Canadian bacon and bell peppers. And just like the other 4,763 pizza places in California that all claim to have the best pizza in the state, Pizza ‘n Stuff’s pizza was decent, but nothing about the crust, toppings or sauce made it exceptional.
If you’re looking for a real contender for the title of the best pizza in California, try Zachary’s in Oakland and Berkeley.
Just like their pizza, Pizza ‘n Stuff’s lasagna was good, not great, but would satisfy anyone’s craving for lasagna.
At the other booth with pizza, Pizza Barn, I tried the pepperoni pizza and lasagna. Both were similar to Pizza ‘n Stuff’s dishes. The crust, sauce and toppings of the pizza were good quality, and I’d probably go back for more, but those dishes did not stand out compared to others at the event.
And to round up my lasagna inquisition, I stopped by the Caffe Allegro booth. The lasagna was blessed by a lot of ricotta cheese, but not much else. To my displeasure, it fell into the generic, featureless trap of boring lasagna. I also tried the chicken marsala at Caffe Allegro, which was definitely better than the lasagna. The creamy mushroom sauce and well-cooked pasta were pleasing. Caffe Allegro might be a great restaurant, but I wish they would have brought another strong dish like the chicken marsala.
Another restaurant with the possibility for being great was Siamese Restaurant. They served pad Thai noodles, spicy fried rice and curry. I wish they would have brought different entrees because the pad Thai noodles were good, but I think they might have stood out better with some other unique Thai dishes.
By the end of the night, I was full and happy. Sure, some of the food wasn’t as gourmet as I had expected, but the few exceptional dishes were enough to give me a good feeling about the event.
Besides, it was a great way to sample about 10 different places in a very short time and decide which ones were worth my time. It might have taken me two weeks to visit each restaurant individually, so in that way, the Taste of La Verne was a valuable experience.
Oh, and Chili’s? Well, it was Chili’s.
Eric Iberri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.