Extra! Extra! Eat All About It
By Bill Gerdes
Telling the world that The Press in Claremont serves up tasty, interesting and varied food is no great revelation. Telling people that The Press is a legendary lunch spot in the area, that it has a fun and lively bar or that it offers up cantina grub until last call will get you no more than a polite nod. But sometimes this spot in the Weekly is reserved for stating the obvious: We’re lucky to have The Press Restaurant around.
One reason is the space itself, built in the ’20s to serve as the home of the Claremont Courier; The Press retains the feel of an old newspaper printer, while adding kitschy elements, like gold Christmas lights strewn among the rafters. Half fine dining, half dive bar—and that’s a compliment, babe—The Press is refined but in no way pretentious. The same can be said for the service, which is attentive but never fawning or obtrusive. The patrons are either tragically hip or professorially cool. Even the elderly couple that sat to my right during my visit looked as if they had just stumbled out of a Truffaut film festival.
As for the food, it’s by and large excellent. I’ve harped on my fear of the mixed menu and kitchen in the past (Thai-Italian anyone), but at The Press, the Mexican portion of the menu seems to blend in with the California/Med section to accurately reflect where West Coast casual is today. Their lunch specials and sandwiches are outstanding, but I stopped by on a Thursday night to see what was up, and wound up ordering a moderately-priced dinner special for $20.
Bread can be a leading indicator grub-wise. Their pan, along with a tangy, subtly sour tapenade, is, well, hot, fresh and tasty. It went well with the chipotle vegetable soup that it came along with, a broth that was cozy and comforting, if a bit unremarkable. More noteworthy was a smallish mesclun salad that came alongside the soup. Not only were the petite leaves, carrots and slivers of red onions fresh and flavorful, they were lightly doused in a delicious cranberry vinaigrette. I could have made an entire and very satisfying meal out of that bread, that salad and a bottle of their fairly extensive wine list. Ultimately, I was glad I didn’t though as I would have missed out on the bacon-wrapped chicken as an entrée.
Which would have been a shame. The chicken was moist and yummy, especially with the cream cheese filling, the peppers diced into an almost relish, along with some sundry jalapeños layered about. The overall effect is a slowly rising heat that peaked just as I finished the meal. Curiously missing, however, is any real sense of bacon flavor. I mean if you’re going to let the pig into the henhouse, you might as well let him kick off his hooves and party a bit. The dish is beautifully cooked and rounded out with mildly garlicky broccoli florets and a sculpted mound of Mexican rice. You could take a month working your way through the menu here—and have a great time doing it. Plus on many nights they’ve got music, the desserts are great and they tweet, Facebook and—on retro nights—they even MySpace.
The Press Restaurant, 129 Harvard Ave. Claremont, (909) 625-4808; www.thepressrestaurant.com. AE, D, MC, V.