Saturday, March 27, 2010

Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Basque Family-Style Dining at Centro Basco Restaurant - Chino

Long ago when I used to work in this area, I'd occasionally drive past Centro Basco Restaurant in Chino and wonder.

Centro Basco Restaurant - Chino 1

What did I know of the Basques?

Very little.

I met one when I was 15 and won a speech and essay contest from the Independent Order of the Odd Fellows United Nations Educational Pilgrimage for Youth, Inc. for a three-week cross-country bus trip from Oregon to the East Coast. From him, I learned about the Basque population in Eastern Oregon who came to work as sheepherders and that the Basque language, Euskera, was unlike any other.

In drawings that I've seen of the Indo-European language tree, where similar languages such as Spanish, Italian, and French would be shown as branching off from the main one such as Latin, Basque comes in as a random bird flying in from the horizon, unrelated to anything else.

And then there was the hunky Basque Nick, who won Delaney's heart in "Truly Madly Yours" by Rachel Gibson.

But, you probably want something a little more academic? In which case, I would defer to "The Basque History of the World" by Mark Kurlansky, but I'm only on page 62. So instead of trying to condense way too much history into too small of a space, I defer to Wikipedia's entry on the history of the Basque people and their entry on Basque-Americans.

I'm rather stuck on page 16. That's where Kurlansky discusses the Gateau Basque, a cake filled with cherry jam and/or pastry cream that originated in the Nivelle River valley, which includes the town of Itxassou, famous for its black cherries. Gateau Basque, I vow to make it one of these days.

Kurlansky also discusses the high numbers of Basques with O Rh negative blood, which can fatally poison a fetus who has positive blood, and may be a reason why the Basque population is not as high as it could be. According to Wikipedia, there are an estimated 18 million Basques world-wide, 57,793 Basque Americans, and 20,868 Basques in California.

Which brings us back to Centro Basco Restaurant in Chino, which opened in 1940 as a boarding house to serve the Basque sheepherders in the Chino Valley. Since 1970, the restaurant has been operated by the Berterretche family, whose hometown is St. Jean Pied de Port, France.

Certainly you could visit the restaurant at any time and sit in their normal dining room to try the French Basque dishes. But how much more fun is to sit at one of the communal tables and dine with others? Thanks to my advertiser, Foodbuzz's 24, 24, 24, I was able to treat Gourmet Pigs and Starchy Marie to the most charming dining experience we've had in a while.

We entered the restaurant through the bar area. Regular patrons said a dinner bell was usually rung when it was time to move into the family-style dinner room. How quaint!

The room had long communal tables and house wines already set out.

Centro Basco Restaurant - Chino 2

One elderly gentleman was already seated and slurping a bowl of soup when we entered the room. I wondered about the etiquette in a dining situation such as this. He motioned for us to sit next to him, and so we did. We were later joined by a couple and three other men.

Quickly enough, the waitress brought out bowls of a simple iceberg lettuce salad, which was perfectly complemented with the best bleu cheese ever.

Centro Basco Restaurant - Chino 3

The soup was a positively gigantic tureen of pureed lentils, carrots, and potatoes.

Centro Basco Restaurant - Chino 4

The nice old man motioned for me to serve myself and then began pouring us glasses of wine.

Centro Basco Restaurant - Chino 5

Rose for me, red wine for Gourmet Pigs and Starchy Marie. Specially made locally for Centro Basco from Galleano Winery in Mira Loma.

Centro Basco Restaurant - Chino 6

Beef tongue and tomato salad. The tongue was fall-apart tender and sooo good.

"Psst! Do you know what you're eating?" he asked me.

Yes, tongue and it's yummy. :)

He chuckled and said some people get scared when they realize it's tongue.

I like tongue, I said and helped myself to more.

Centro Basco Restaurant - Chino 7

Then came the main course, French chicken chasseur. I was pretty full by this point and took a small portion of breast meat.

"Psst! Get the leg," he said. "It's juicier. And get some more sauce." :)

Centro Basco Restaurant - Chino 8

Potatoes au gratin.

Centro Basco Restaurant - Chino 9

The elderly gentlemen took turns keeping our wine glasses filled and refilled.

I was content to just sit there and listen to the conversations going on both ends of the table. Alternating between English and Euskera, with smatterings of French and Spanish too, the men talked about coming to America in the 1960s, serving in the military, a recent Basque club gathering in Chino, how a local rancher inseminated his cows all at once so they all gave birth around the same time but instead of keeping them penned in one area he let them roam all 80 acres and how crazy it was when birthing season came because the cows were everywhere. I swear, I've never heard so much cow talk in my life. :P

One of the men wondered what three Asian women were doing in their midst and whether we were sisters. Nope. Three different ethnicities. We were simply curious and wanted to try Basque food. Welcome! And then we clinked glasses and poured more wine.

Occasionally, I'd see a gentleman wearing a beret leaving from the other rooms.

"Hey Basco!" the men shouted to one so he would come over and we could see a real Basque wearing a beret. Ha! :P

We ordered flan for dessert and the nice old gentleman tried to pay for our flans. How sweet was he? But I couldn't let him do that and a small tugging of the check ensued.

Centro Basco Restaurant - Chino 10

I asked the gentlemen how to say "Thank you" in Basque.

"Eskerrik asko," they said.

Oooh, I don't think I can do that.

"Merci beaucoup," they said in French.

French I could do, I said. But Euskera? I swear, it didn't even sound like the way it was written.

On our way out, as we said our goodbyes, one of the lovely old gentlemen kissed our hands, then both of our cheeks.

Seriously. The most charming dinner I've had in a long time.

Centro Basco Restaurant - Chino 11

Check the restaurant's website for times for the family-style lunch and dinners. The menu changes each day but includes salad, soup, appetizer, side dish, entree, and all the wine you can drink for $21. Dessert is not included in the meal but the flan was only $3.75.

A hearty Eskerrik asko to the lovely Basques who welcomed us into their midst and to Foodbuzz for sponsoring the dinner.

Centro Basco Restaurant
13432 Central Ave.
Chino, CA 91710-5103
Dining room lunch Tuesday to Friday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and dinner Tuesday to Saturday 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. and Sunday 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Family-style dining lunch Tuesday to Friday at noon, and Saturday and Sunday at 12:30 p.m., and dinner Friday to Sunday at 7:30 p.m.

1 year ago today, MidnightMare Apparel fashion show at Project Ethos Presents: Culture Shock.
2 years ago today, Boiling Crab redux - Alhambra.
3 years ago today, step two of how to start quilting. Assembling your quilt: Measuring margins, ironing, and piecing.


  1. I weep! I had crappy, literally bloody, bad-wedding-reception-style, mass-produced steak that night. :(

  2. that's awesome that a restaurant like this exists in Chino of all places (I speak as someone who grew up in the IE, and Chino was considered the 'ritzy' part of the county). will add to the list.

  3. I probably could've listened to those folks talk all night. Thanks for such a memorable meal. And for driving us to Chino! :P

  4. What a gem and it sure does sound like fun and filling.

  5. Hehe I should go back and see my new boyfriend Michel but I'm afraid Patty would be jealous ;)

    Thanks again for the meal + driving.

  6. hi wc - sounds like an awesome dinner with great conversation!

  7. I would love to check out that restaurant! Curious as to how Euskera sounds like too. The Basque are a fascinating people, I wrote a paper on their history and culture back in college.

    Great write-up! BTW - How as the flan? =)

  8. omg i have been looking for a basque restaurant locally and Chino is close enough. Back in the days we would dine at one in Fresno. You entered thru the bar first then seated in a dining room w/long tables. So similar to the one you blogged about. Thank you soo much for finding this!! Can't wait to go try this place out!

  9. Hi there, sorry about publishing yr recipe, i've removed it. BTW the chicken here looks good. I've tried a so called Basque restaurant but of course its not at all authentic :(

  10. As good as the food may have been, the real treat here sounds like the it was the interaction with the other diners. It's good to know there are places where one can go to experience not just the food, but also the culture. Nice write up.

  11. holy cow, every single item in your post looked fantastic....nice!

  12. i am a hugeee fan of tender n juicy beef tongue...but i'll wait until i can handle garlic & onion before trying to cook tongue again :D

  13. Oh WC,
    What a funny coincidence: I was just sitting here, thinking about writing about one of my favorite cheeses, an ewe's milk farmer's cheese, from--you guessed it--Basque.

    Sounds like you had such an excellent, most memorable night--I would have joined in on the cow talk too, as I have inseminated cows before. I kid you not.

  14. I've always admired your writing skills. sounds like a charming evening you had and the food looks fab. and lol at your tongue-in-cheek encounter ;)

  15. WeeMo,
    So sorry you couldn't make it. We had so much fun.

    Haha. It's funny. I had forgotten that Chino was considered "ritzy" compared to the rest of the IE. :P

    Thanks for coming along!

    It was definitely a new experience for me.

    You should! He was so sweet. I bet he's looking forward to us coming back.

    I would've been content to just sit there and listen all night.

    It was definitely different.

    The flan wasn't as smooth as I'm used to, but it was good. I still have to finish reading "Basque History of the World." :P Euskera doesn't sound like anything that I could even liken it to.

    I hope you go. They were so very welcoming to us and it was a great experience. Who knew you were on the lookout for a Basque restaurant? The men said Bakersfield has quite a population now but that's still too far to go for food.

    Thanks for removing the recipe. I just don't like when my recipes are cut and pasted onto other sites. There are Basque restaurants in Malaysia?

    I was hoping to convey the camaraderie aspect with this post. It really wasn't about the food since I don't know if we had anything that was uniquely Basque.

    It was a good meal for sure.

    I've never tried to cook with tongue but I will some day!

    Haha! I can't believe you've inseminated cows. There was quite a bit of talk about the birthing too. All very foreign to me.

    Thanks! The men were so charming, we couldn't help but have fun.

  16. There's a Basque restaurant in San Francisco that I want to try. I always had the impression that Basque food was pretty rich and heavy. Sounds like a delightful experience.

  17. Aaron,
    I think it depends on whether it's on the French or Spanish side of Basque territory? I could see the French food being more rich and heavy. I'm not even sure if what we ate was particularly Basque, but the whole dinner was an experience.

  18. I spent most of my childhood in Bakersfield, CA and I absolutely love the Basque food there. I don't know the history of how so many Basque individuals ended up in Bakersfield, but there are a ton of Basque restaurants. My favorite is The Noriega Hotel, a historic hotel in downtown that serves the most amazing family-style food, much like you've described at Centro Basco. Wool-growers is another favorite.
    I'm in college now in the Bay area and I crave their Basque soup all the time. So, when I go home I try to make it there as much as I can. Bakersfield is not exactly a tourist destination, but if you're ever passing through Bakersfield on I-5, you should give it a try!

    P.S. if anyone knows of good Basque in Silicon Valley, please let me know!!

  19. the best Basque restaurant I've been to is Woolgrowers in Los Banos, but I'm looking forward to dining at this one when I get out to CA next!!

  20. Dominique,
    Probably the shepherding for why they're in Bakersfield? If I ever go that way, I'll have to keep those restaurants in mind.

    Good to know. Sometimes I take that route to SF.


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