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Claremont CA, City of Trees and Ph.Ds, at a Bargain

 

Are you looking for a unique town with houses varying in architectural style, lots of trees, bike trails, academia that enriches an area with art and music as well as unique, one-of-a-kind shops and restaurants without a big road trip on congested freeways? The city of Claremont provides just that. And through the end of the year you can get all this at a bargain through the Claremont Chamber of Commerce.

 

On a recent trip I traveled with some fellow writers to learn more about Claremont. The city is just a little over an hour from my home in Temecula as well as most of Orange County and parts of Los Angeles.

 

Our first stop was Bua, a Thai restaurant at the Packing House. We shared the Thai Fresh Rolls of tofu, glass noodles and green vegetables wrapped in a tapioca sheet. Fresh perfectly described these appetizers. Next was a delightful and mouth-watering Silver Noodle Salad of glass noodles, minced chicken and shrimp dressed with a spicy lime juice. We also shared the Crispy Duck with Orange Sauce as well as South Sea, a combination of seafood stir fried in a spicy herb sauce.

 

After lunch, we checked in at Casa 425, a sophisticated little boutique hotel right in the heart of downtown. Casa 425 is directly across the street from the Packing House, home to a bevy of delicious restaurants as well as specialty shops. Bike rentals are also available there.

Our room was an extremely spacious double queen with a large sitting area. All rooms face an attractive courtyard to enjoy a cocktail or just to read a book and relax. The contemporary Lounge 425 offers Happy Hour from 4-7 pm which includes specialty drinks and interesting appetizers.  

We started with cocktails named the Pale Rider, a whiskey and lemony drink; Sunset on the Beach, made of rum, apricot brandy, and mango puree; and Peachberry Martini, consisting of vodka, peach schnapps, and fresh berries. We loved them all.

 

The group consensus for dinner was Tutti Mangia Italian Grill. This was to be our luxury night out, and it turned out to be just that. The special appetizer salad consisted of an array of color provided by the Rainbow Canyon Ranch Tomatoes with grated Black Truffle, Prosciutto, Arugula, and a creamy Ricotta. We all sampled the delectable Coriander Tomato Bisque with smoky crumbled Blue Cheese and Parsley. The special main course for the evening, Halibut served over a Curried Risotto, was topped with an Arugula Citrus Salad and drizzled with Balsamic Vinaigrette. Since we were sharing, we also tried Linguini Fini—large Tiger Shrimp, fresh Sea Scallops, Carmelized Onions, Tomatoes, and Garlic Cream served with a fresh Linguini. As a group, we decided a lovely Pinot Noir would best accompany our variety of meals, and with some guidance we chose the Siduri 2012 from the Santa Lucia Highlands. We were all delighted by the voluptuous feel in our mouths and flavors of cherry and blackberry. We learned that this December Tutti Mangia will celebrate their 20th Anniversary with a Siduri Wine Dinner. Be on the lookout for that event. It will be memorable.

 

Wednesday morning we were up bright and early to try breakfast at Walter’s Restaurant, a place recommended to us by a fellow writer. A restaurant in Claremont since 1957, the new owners, the Ghafarshads, purchased Walter’s in 1973 and converted the adjoining apartment space into dining areas as well as updating the restaurant into a fine dining establishment. One of the fun things about the menu is that it includes several Afghan items such as an Afghan patty and Afghan fries, recipes the Ghafarshads brought from their home country.

 

After a hearty breakfast, we were off to explore the unique shops of Claremont; but first I had to stop at Shelton Park to snap a photo of the sculpture called “Simple Gifts” by John Fisher located on the edge of Pomona College. This sculpture of a couple with a musical instrument appropriately adorns the small park with a performance stage.

 

Across the street is Rio de Ojas where your eyes are stimulated with colors galore, a shop of Dias de la Muerte sculpture and artwork, shawls , jewelry, and  spices and chilies. They even offer cooking demonstrations.

The cow in the window of the Cheese Cave enticed us to meander inside to explore. Milan, our host, prepared an exquisite tray of prosciutto and three cheeses—Bishop’s Peak and Tomme Dolce from California and Nancy’s Camembert from New York. My favorite was the Bishop’s Peak. Cheeses from all over the world fill the cheese case bidding you to take home a few to enjoy with friends.  The Cheese Cave also carries a variety of wines to accompany those delectable cheeses as well as mustards, caperberries, jams, and serving pieces for a beautiful charcuterie tray.

 

It was time to check into our second hotel, the Doubletree by Hilton. The Doubletree’s charming lobby provides a welcoming entrance and is staffed by friendly employees trying to meet all your needs and plying you with those famous chocolate chip cookies.  Our room was updated and spacious with comfortable beds. Outside our window, a tropical garden surrounded the pool, providing a relaxing setting.  A fabric-covered patio area provides the perfect spot for your morning coffee or a reception or meeting.

 

After checking into the Doubletree, we headed back to the Packing House. As we walked around, we couldn’t help but be curious about the cloud coming from a counter at A la Minute. When we wandered inside, we discovered the cloud was actually liquid nitrogen used to flash freeze ice cream to a negative 321 degrees.  We had to try the Butternut Squash with Black Garlic topped with Burnt Sugar Syrup and the Strawberry Balsamic topped with a Strawberry Compote and Balsamic Reduction.  The Squash ice cream was interesting but the Strawberry Balsamic was divine.

 

Next we ambled around the exterior of the Packing House and discovered a clever display of a bike with a basket of Hydrangeas which drew us in to visit Bottega 25, a specialty shop of cards and clever gifts. I even found a gadget consisting of numerous small tools, a perfect stocking stuffer for those hard-to-buy-for men.

 

Another interesting shop near the Packing House is Vom Fass, a shop of vinegars, oils, and spirits housed in

kegs. At Vom Fass you can select by sampling whatever catches your eye (including the spirits). Then you choose a bottle to fill. It can be personalized as a gift, and they will even gift wrap it for you. Because you can sample before you purchase, you have a chance to distinguish from a variety of vinegars or a variety of spirits to choose which you prefer. The owners at Vom Fass are very knowledgeable and willing to share the fine points of all they have in stock.  We even found a unique Absinthe glass beverage dispenser with crystal glasses to match it.

It was a hot July day, and it seemed like a stop at Pizza N Such to try the local microbrews would hit the spot. Pizza N Such is a comfortable restaurant with a large selection of beers and pizza, but after the ice cream and other samplings, we ordered a large salad to share—light, and the perfect accompaniment to our beer.

 

A fun stop in Claremont is the Folk Music Center  owned by Ellen Chase-Verdries and her son, Ben Harper, a three-time Grammy Award winner and a singer-songwriter musician of blues, folk, soul, and reggae. The shop offers banjo and guitar lessons. It displays a wide variety of these instruments as well as everything from wazoos to maracas.  I had to send my daughter of a three-year-old a photo of the train whistle with realistic train sound and promised it as a gift for her son.

 

It was “wine time” and Packing House Wines delights wine lovers both visually and taste-wise. Ron Antonette, our host for Discover Claremont, and his daughter shared our fun tasting and evening with us. With wine selections from around the globe, owner, Sal Medina can suggest which tastings might most appeal to you. I tried the Big Six--a taste of Kabinett Riesling from Germany, a SauvBlanc from New Zealand, Chardonnay from the Santa Lucia Highlands, Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Daou Cabernet Sauvignon (one of my favorites) from Paso Robles, and Zinfandel from Sonoma County.

Of course food needs to accompany these superb wines, and Noah Lutz, chef at Packing House Wines,

knows exactly how to prepare the perfect pairings. Since we were reaching the end of the tomato season for local gardens, we shared a tray of mouth-watering tomatoes topped with fresh basil and balsamic vinegar. After eyeing the neighboring table’s Charcuterie Board, we jumped at the chance to order our own consisting of a variety of salamis and cheeses and even some honeycomb to sweeten the deal. It was Taco Tuesday and at $1 for a taco, we couldn’t resist the Pork Tacos smothered in Salsa and topped with Arugula. We were told the Mac and Cheese served in its own small ramekin was very creamy and delicious with its blend of Irish Cheddar, Swiss Gruyere, Parmigiano Reggiano, Fontina and Pancetta. It was amazing.

 

After a comfortable sleep at the Doubletree, we learned another benefit of the Doubletree was the prepared-to-order Omelette Station as well as the overflowing breakfast buffet which included an intriguing Peanut Butter, Apricot Jam, and Ham Monte Cristo.

 

Our last day before leaving town we had to make one more stop at the Packing House because we wanted to find out about bicycle rentals and trails in Claremont.  On the second floor we found Sunset Cycles, a shop full of a wide variety of bicycles. We learned that this fall they will be renting bicycles. We had the opportunity to learn how an automatic bicycle works and were informed that Claremont has provided wide bicycle lanes to traverse downtown as well as a great trail on Mt. Baldy.

 

As we walked out of Sunset Cycles, our eyes zoomed in on the storefront for Flappers, a comedy club. This place will be added to our list to explore on our next trip.

 

Strolling out of the Packing House we saw Augie’s, a coffee shop where internet users abound.  We had heard from our host’s daughter that Augie’s prepared an unusual drink, a Vanilla Lavender Latte. Made to perfection, it hit the spot.

 

Four hotels, including the two where we stayed, offer as a special enticement, $100 worth of coupons to use while shopping and dining in Claremont at approximately 140 places. We used these coupons throughout the city and found all merchants on the list open to our coupon use. This special promotion itself almost pays for your hotel room for the evening, a promotion well worth enjoying @Discover Claremont. Ask your hotel for these four $25 coupons so that you can discover Claremont.

 

There are so many things to do in Claremont such as the interesting Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden with its butterfly garden, the Pomona College Museum of Art, Pomona College Bridges Hall of Music, and Pitzer College Art Galleries. In addition, a walking tour of Claremont affords you the chance to see hand painted murals on some of the city’s walls and architecture of a wide variety in the homes of the downtown area. Be sure to visit Claremont’s website at http://discoverclaremont.com/

 

As we said farewell to Claremont, we knew we would be back to this close getaway destination. I’m sure we will be using the Discover Claremont coupons as our enticement. 

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