Nestled at the base of the San Bernardino Mountains, Le Rendez-Vous Restaurant's scenic locale certainly lends the restaurant the romantic edge. But Le Rendez-Vous still strives to match its idyllic surroundings with an equally picturesque dining room?glittering chandeliers glint off dark wooden flourishes, and crisp white tablecloths furnish coy games of peek-a-boo. Once dining companions have honed in on an award-winning entree from the French-inspired menu, servers can happily recommend wine pairings such as chenin blanc, gew?rztraminer, and Bordeaux.
With 16 homemade, velvety flavors that range from cherry to peanut butter, the Italian ice at Frostbites is a spectacular dessert on its own. But the menu doesn't stop there: to create their most popular confection, sorbet cream, the staff serves scoops of their italian ice atop swirls of vanilla or chocolate frozen custard. You can even combine two or more flavors of italian ice to create a colorful sundae or shake?staffers happily hand out bite-sized samples to help you craft your perfect combo or fit a snack for later in your breast pocket. For a more substantial dessert, try a sweet crepe topped with fruit, nuts, and other toppings.
Voted best French restaurant by IE Weekly, Christophe's serves up a variety of Francophone fixin's, eponymously prepared by Chef Christophe Jardillier, who honed his culinary chops on cutting boards throughout France. The sleek dining room, dominated by leather and mahogany hues, creates a swank backdrop for house specialties such as the beef bourguignon, a hearty dish composed of beef, mushrooms, and vegetables in a rich red-wine sauce ($21.95). After dinner, sashay toward the lounge for cocktails and live music on Wednesdays through Saturdays, courtesy of jazz musicians, enthusiastic karaokists, and sassy rapping grandmas.
Densely packed conversations flutter across long, communal tables packed even more densely with hearty courses of sourdough bread and blue cheese, homemade soups, and oxtail stew. Platters of rustic, European-inspired cooking pass from person to person. All the while, the house wine keeps flowing. This is a typical scene at Centro Basco—a historic restaurant and inn devoted to capturing the vivacious and independent spirit of the Basque region. A fiercely autonomous region of Spain along its mountainous border with France, Basque Country has its own distinct climate, its own language (one of the few in the world with no known relationship to any other language), and its own unique approach to food.
"Opened in 1940, along with a boarding house for shepherds, this sprawling restaurant is one of the last remnants of the local Basque population who once herded sheep in what is now fully suburbanized Chino," notes Gayot. The Berterretches—a family with strong genealogical ties to the Basque countryside—assumed ownership in the 1970s, and they continue to embrace the region's culture today. Their cozy, lodge-like eatery features large dining rooms devoted to spirited family-style feasts complete with special menus, as well as a separate area for guests looking to enjoy a more private meal.
Myriad cultural influences appear throughout the menu. Dishes such as the oven-roasted lamb with a kick of garlic and the grilled calamari steak with tomato-pepper sauce clearly embrace the restaurant's distinctively Basque roots. At the same time, French and Italian entrees—including chicken cordon bleu and veal parmesan—lend a pan-European vibe to the selection.
Executive Chef Eddy Rocq, educated at the Mederic Culinary School of Paris, now serves up French sandwiches and sweets at Rocq Café. His macarons, a variety of light French sandwich cookie, have been featured in Oprah's O magazine and added to the shelves of the Laguna Niguel Whole Foods and Tustin Whole Foods. He sells hundreds of these airy treats each week, in flavors such as fruit, chocolate, and moon rock. He changes up the lunch menu every week to keep fresh flavors in the spotlight, often showcasing panini and croissant sandwiches, quiches, and homemade soups.
Simply Fondue's intimate, chandelier-lit dining room plays host to tabletop pots that bubble with warm imported cheeses, oils, and broths. The restaurant's cheese fondues from Switzerland, the Mediterranean, and England allow diners to taste the world's flavors without having to lick every country's flag. The eatery also simmers traditional canola and broth fondue using individual "fondue grills," which sear each morsel for lighter munching. For each entree, chefs pair simmering helpings with platters of meat, seafood, or veggies, all of which can be altered upon request.
Many meals conclude with chocolate fondue, which features an impressive coterie of sweets such as pound cake, triple-chunk brownies, peanut-butter balls, and fresh pineapple chunks plucked from the hats of local conga dancers. The dining experience stays casual throughout with plush red booths and upholstered bar stools set against textured stone walls.