It was a typical Saturday, one of those Saturdays where good intentions seem to lose their significance in the greater scheme of things, that greater scheme being a result of the deliberate, temporary retirement of the alarm clock, a cool, quiet morning and a very comfortable bed. The Mrs. and I finally got out of the house at 5:30 P.M. and began our errands, two of which related to keeping the feline beings who allow us to inhabit their home well stocked with kitty litter, new toys and food, the third errand was so that we could replenish our cash on hand, after dealing with the financial aspects of the aforementioned superior feline beings.
It was close to 7:00 P.M. when we had completed our tasks and I had been thinking of taking a little ride over to Victoria Gardens in Rancho Cucamonga, envisioning some sushi and other seafood at King’s Fish House. It was then that I remembered Owen’s Bistro. I had become aware of this establishment about a year ago, but even though it is right in our own “back yard”, I kept forgetting about it, and we had never been there, just always getting out of town when we wanted a dining experience on any order of magnitude better than the all too prevalent mediocrity of a chain outpost. The interesting thing about this is that at the exact same time I started to suggest to the Mrs. that I thought we could do something other than King’s, envisioning us rolling up on Owen’s, she suggested the same thing. Proof that after years of being together we have come to tune in to each other when it comes to the really important things in life.
It had not been too warm the past few days, and when we walked in to Owen’s Bistro it was the beginning of a balmy evening, and the sound of musician/singer/song writer/actor/comedian/all-around-show-business-impresario Henry Iglesias singing and strumming a guitar in a corner of the patio set the mood for the rest of the evening.
The restaurant occupies part of an old brick building, reportedly about 100 years old, in the heart of the original Chino downtown, just across the street from the civic center. The city has done a lot in the last few years to re-develop and re-invigorate this neighborhood and it is heartening to see this old building brought back to life. I do not know the real origins of the building, but the patio area of the restaurant seems to have been some sort of carriage entrance, it was a high ceiling bricked in “room” with very tall archways opening up the north and south sides, and smaller openings on the east side. It seemed to have been possibly built to accommodate horse drawn wagons, back at about the turn of the twentieth century. We arrived without a reservation, but apparently our timing was just right, as we scored a table on the patio (which was completely full by the time we left about two hours later), as I said, a balmy evening, much of the ambient light streaming in through the archways, slowly fading, some mellow music and a bit of patter from Mr. Iglesias, just across the “room”.
The first order of business was a bottle of chilled, domestic Riesling and then we took our time, perusing the menu, drinking in the wine and drinking in the ambience of the place and moment. The Mrs. opted to start with a spinach salad, with goat cheese, pine nuts, and I believe strawberry vinaigrette. I chose mixed field greens with raw tuna with a wasabi dressing served up in a “cup” formed by a fried won ton. Mrs. CW thoroughly enjoyed her salad, and after sharing a bit of the goat cheese with me, left nary a morsel of food on her plate. I really enjoyed the goat cheese; it was kind of savory and almost tasted like a blue cheese. My salad was also good, fresh greens, with a fresh, tender, tuna “flower” perched among the greens. The dressing was very subtle, and if you did not know it, you would not guess that wasabi was a component. The won ton, while a decorative and functional component of the whole, was also a nice alternative to croutons, adding a contrasting crispy crunch to the soft greens and tuna.
For our entrees the Mrs. predictably chose the beef filet and I, who have been religiously, adhering to a seafood based protein diet fell under the spell of the rack of lamb. The filet was a nice thick cut of beef, and, according to the Mrs. preference (please don’t think bad of her, this is just something that I have come to accept) devoid of any moisture or color, other than gray. The important take away from this is that it was cooked to her liking and she enjoyed it. The hunk of beef came perched atop a pile of mashed potatoes and had sort of an onion marmalade on top of it, and some very nice asparagus spears, all surrounded by a pool of a balsamic reduction sauce.
My rack of lamb came on an impressive rectangular plate, ten little ribs standing in the center of the plate, charred on the outside, and perfectly medium rare, tender and juicy on the inside. Some French green beans and a disc of an herbed risotto accompanied the lamb. Underlying the meat was a truffle oil infused pan sauce, stretched out like a brook across the plate. I accompanied my lamb with a glass of Australian Shiraz that was recommended by The House.
Dessert for the Mrs. was a cup of coffee and a crème Brule, I, in keeping away from too much sugar, asked for the cheese and fruit plate that was listed as one of the first courses for my third course. The coffee was a bit weak, but the accompanying chocolate morsels dropped in to the cup did help. The crème Brule was soothing, comforting custard, a taste bringing back childhood memories of custard out of my mother’s oven. The cheese plate was a modest portion of three cheeses, some sliced apple and some dried fruit, it was a good end to the meal though, the slight crunch and sweetness of the apple with a bit of cheese perfect compliments for each other.
Overall this was a fine, quality meal. The meats were good, the portions perfect, not overabundant, but certainly satisfying. The kitchen is overseen by chef James Kelly, and unlike so many other places that tend to overemphasize their entrees, he seems to put a great deal of value on the vegetables. The green beans and asparagus were cooked perfectly, tender yet still crunchy, fresh tasting, and with a robust green color. Everything on our plates complimented each other, and the plates as presented were appealing and a feast for the eyes. Chef Kelly’s wife, Denise, who was welcoming and made sure all her patrons were comfortable, manages the front of the house. Our waiter was the first Augustus that I have ever encountered, outside of the Roman Empire, personable, helpful, knowledgeable about the food and wine (with a little help from Denise Kelly) unobtrusive and very accommodating, teamed up with an equally professional and appreciated bus person. The wine list is not extensive, but I believe a lot of experience and thought has been given to it (but of course, I am just a wine hick, who has recently fell out of love with Sutter Home Moscato and begun an affair with German Rieslings).
My one quibble, and it is only a quibble, and may in fact be the result of my somewhat crude palate, is that all of the sauces and dressings were extremely subtle, I would have preferred more intense flavor from them, but when the main ingredients are all good, you can appreciate what food really tastes like in its unadorned best.
All things considered this was a thoroughly enjoyable evening, everything working together, the food, the ambience, the entertainment, the personalities and sensibilities of all of the principals, and of course the company of my dining companion. The total tab for all of this was $135.23 (inclusive of tax, exclusive of tip).
Owen’s Bistro is the first, real, professional, grown-up restaurant we have found in Chino, and is a standout of the Inland Empire. This is a hidden gem that has to be shared, although it is one of those places you would like to secretly keep to yourself, but for the good of the restaurant and continued opportunities for the wife and I to enjoy a very relaxed and rich evening of sensory experiences together I am compelled to share it here. The evening was pure serendipity.
Oh, and the bistro’s namesake, Owen, I suspect was at home last night, I don’t think he is quite old enough to begin his apprenticeship in the family business, but maybe one day he will be able to take over what hopefully will become a local dining institution.
5120 D Street
To get a sampling of Henry Iglesias' music, visit his web site> http://www.beinthenow.com
My understanding is that when not on the road, Henry is at Owen’s Bistro most Saturday evenings.
5210 D St, Chino, CA 91710