A long-lived reader tells me about working for the famous Hollywood theater, Grauman’s Chinese, in 1944 as a young woman. Also: What is the Claremont connection behind the My Lai massacre? Plus Culture Corner items and more, all in Friday’s column.
Sabor a Mi, 8976 E. Foothill Blvd. (at Vineyard), Rancho Cucamonga; open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, closed Monday
I’m rarely johnny-on-the-spot when it comes to new restaurants. Either I don’t know about them or I wait until they find their footing. I wouldn’t have known about Sabor a Mi if a reader hadn’t alerted me within a couple of weeks of its early February opening and even invited me to join her and her husband for dinner.
So a recent evening found us meeting up at the restaurant, which occupies a storefront within the Thomas Winery Plaza. It’s very well-appointed, with tasteful decor, art on the walls, Edison bulbs and an inviting bar.
The menu has starters, salads and entrees ($14 to $19). Sabor a Mi does not have tacos or burritos, but rather empanadas, carne asada and mixiote. Our table ordered conchinita pibil ($16), chicken enchiladas with mole ($16) and mole poblano ($18), pictured in that order below.
The first is slow-roasted pork in Yucatecan style, the second is self-descriptive other than perhaps the dark sauce (typically containing chocolate, fruit and various spices) and the latter is boneless leg and thigh chicken, also in mole.
We liked all our dishes; mine was the poblano, which came with handmade tortillas. For dessert we shared the creme brulee trio ($6), which were flavored with guava, jamaica and horchata, respectively. Excellent.
Sabor a Mi, by the way, is a popular Mexican song — Eydie Gorme, of all people, did a version in 1964 — and translates as Taste of Me. The Cordon Bleu-trained woman behind the restaurant has worked her way up in the business from bussing tables to chef to owner. The menu has items from various states in Mexico, including mole birthplace Puebla, Michoacan, Mexico City and the Yucatan.
Service was friendly and the owner visited our table as she made the rounds of the room, a nice touch. Things weren’t perfect: The waiter misinterpreted our declining the guacamole appetizer as an order for the guacamole appetizer ($8), not that we minded, one of my sides was wrong and when he brought back the bill and credit card slip, he had to apologetically explain that he’d at first charged another table on the card before realizing his mistake and voiding it. No harm done.
On the other hand, there were little extras, like an aperitif of pork rinds with avocado and sprouts, and small complimentary dishes of avocado ice cream. My friends had been there before and also gotten such fillips. They said the service was better this time. So, be patient.
Few other restaurants in the area (Sabor Mexicano in Pomona comes to mind) seem to be doing quite what Sabor a Mi is attempting, and good for them. Sabor a Mi is also one of the most stylish local Mexican restaurants. They serve beer, wine and tequila, and a Mexico City-style weekday lunch special, comida corrida (“lunch on the run”), with three courses served simultaneously, promises to get you out within 30 minutes. But maybe you’ll want to linger.
For nearly nine years I’ve been keeping track of my pie consumption at Flo’s Cafe in Chino, where the diner has its own bake shop. I’ve tried 57 varieties, pretty much everything they’ve made in that time. For a few years now it’s been on my mind to write about it, but I wasn’t sure how to approach it: Did I need to assign a photographer to shoot me being served a slice?
But Pi Day happens to coincide with my column this year, and so I’m pleased to finally tell the story of my quest alongside that of the Flo’s bake shop in Wednesday’s column.
Circa 1968, two 15-year-old pals in Montclair decided to play a little prank involving the Montclair Drive-In Dairy on San Bernardino Road and Central Avenue. They’d long admired the galloping cow figure on the sign. So one night Carl climbed up the pole sign and atop the cow, holding onto the horns like handlebars, while Bill Marino took a photo.
Marino, now 64, shared the photo with me recently when we met to talk about Debbie Reynolds’ appearance in 1970 at Montclair Plaza. I snapped a photo of his photo and he told me the story.
Carl’s “ride” on the cow didn’t last long.
“The neck went ‘chkkk.’ I said, ‘You better get down, Carl,'” Marino said. Carl did. And that was the last time they horsed around with the Montclair Dairy cow. (The cow and dairy, alas, were long ago put out to pasture.)
I got a heavier than usual response to my column on the art and architecture of Home Savings and excerpted some of it for Sunday’s column. It also includes a few cultural notes and a vignette.
I sit in on a talk in Claremont by David Frum of the Atlantic about where conservatism has gone astray. That makes up the bulk of Friday’s column, which ends with a Valley Vignette about a (sob!) newsroom colleague’s departure.
McKinley’s Grille, 601 W. McKinley Drive (at White), Pomona; open daily 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.
McKinley’s is the restaurant in the Sheraton Fairplex hotel at the Pomona fairgrounds. I’d been there a couple of times for fair-related lunches, and a few times more for service club lunches. Once I met Jon Provost and his wife for an interview over iced teas. But it had not occurred to me to go there for a Restaurant of the Week.
That is, until a reader contacted me to rave about the place. I can’t find his email, but he said this was one of the hidden gems of the valley. I was looking for an excuse to go when a colleague’s farewell dinner was scheduled there.
McKinley’s has a long main dining room with a bar, plus a private room, which is where our dinner was. The decor is all earth tones, comfortable but a little dull. But it’s swankier than a hotel coffee shop, that’s for sure.
The dinner menu has starters, salads, sandwiches and entrees, the latter ranging from $12 to $32. I opted against circling the table to photograph everyone’s food, especially since most people got sandwiches.
But the friend to my right had the Szechuan stir-fry ($12) with chicken ($6). She said the vegetables were fresh and likely from Fairplex’s farm and that the sauce had a pleasant kick to it. She took home half.
Meanwhile, yours truly splurged on the seared rare yellowfin tuna ($28), crusted with yuzu miso and served atop wild rice pilaf with wasabi cream and farm vegetables. This was a winner, light and delicious.
Our dearly departed was given a free dessert, a scoop of vanilla ice cream with berries. I don’t know if it’s on the menu as such, but it was enjoyed by the table. I didn’t poll the table, as I would at a lunch or dinner that was primarily about the food rather than a farewell, but everyone seemed to like what they ordered.
McKinley’s exists primarily for hotel guests and to provide catering for community group events on the premises, and thus perhaps doesn’t live or die by attracting regular folks in for meals. But I can see why the reader was excited about it, because the food is superior, the atmosphere serene and, at least on that Thursday, there was plenty of elbow room.
Frances McDormand’s Academy Award wasn’t the first to be stolen: Whoopi Goldberg’s was swiped from UPS and found at Ontario International Airport — in the garbage. I retell that story and present a few short items of note in Wednesday’s column.
Books acquired: “A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures,” Ben Bradlee; “We’ll Always Have Casablanca,” Noah Isenberg; “Banking on Beauty: Millard Sheets and Midcentury Commercial Architecture in California,” Adam Arenson
Books read: “The Left Hand of Darkness,” Ursula K. Le Guin; “Gather, Darkness!” Fritz Leiber; “Lest Darkness Fall,” L. Sprague de Camp; “A Scanner Darkly,” Philip K. Dick
February was a dark month on the ol’ Reading Log, and not just because of Punxsatawney Phil, who predicted six more weeks of winter. (I don’t know how Pennsylvania is faring, but more winter has proved true for Southern California.) No, it was also a dark month because all four books had “dark” in the title.
Man, I had meant to read these precise books the past six years or so but didn’t get around to it, a testament to my deep backlog of unread books. “Lest Darkness Fall,” inspired by “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” has been waiting since I read Twain’s classic in April 2011.
(Incidentally, a couple of years ago I mentioned the title of Twain’s novel to a bookish friend in his mid-30s and he had never heard of it, nor could he wrap his mind around the title: “A what? Say that again. ‘A Connecticut’ what?” He broke up laughing. Huh.)
Anyway, this was a strong month. All four books were very good to excellent.
Le Guin’s 1969 novel has become a classic. (I owned it as a teen, sold it without ever attempting it in one of my frequent book purges, and bought it again a decade ago.) An emissary of a confederation of planets lands on one whose leaders either don’t believe him or see no reason to join up. The visitor slowly realizes how little he understands and how his prejudices are getting in the way of his own acceptance of these other-worlders, whose genders alter every month. A beautifully written, strangely enveloping novel.
Leiber’s 1950 novel is said to be his first good one. I admit I bought this ’60s copy because it was so well-preserved. A holy war between priests and witches isn’t what it seems on either side. Full of strong and slightly mysterious characters and visual writing. I read his “Best of Fritz Leiber” and “A Pail of Air” story collections in 2015 and became an admirer.
In de Camp’s 1941 novel, a scholar of the ancient world is hurled from the 20th century back to 6th century Italy, where he introduces innovations like the telegraph and “predicts” future events, and thus tries single-handedly to prevent the Dark Ages from falling. An early alternate-history novel, this owes a lot to Twain, but de Camp uses less satire, more plain humor and a deep knowledge of his subject. A lot of fun, and at 208 pages it gallops along quite unlike a lot of stately SF novels.
(By the way, Lyon Sprague de Camp once said he saw little need to write under an assumed name because his given name sounded more like a pseudonym than most pseudonyms.)
Finally, Dick’s 1977 novel, which was adapted for a 2006 film by Richard Linklater. I saw that movie and stuck my ticket stub inside the front cover of my unread copy. Nearly 12 years later, I finally read the book and used the stub as my bookmark.
In near-future Southern California, the drug Substance D is burning out the brains of the addicted, which is almost everyone, including those assigned to entrap them. One undercover agent is so undercover, he’s tasked with spying on himself, and that’s only one twist in this classic of paranoia, government surveillance and the dark side of the ’60s. Both absurdist and tragic, this late-period novel is one of PKD’s best and most personal.
These “dark” books made for an unusually strong month, as I said, one that leaves me lighter of spirit. It felt good to get all of these out of the way after intending so long to read them. Ditto with the “shadow”-titled books of January.
I can no longer remember where or when I bought these, other than de Camp coming from Brand Books in Glendale and Le Guin from Ralph’s Comic Corner in Ventura, and all of them falling into my hands in the first decade of this century.
That’s enough from me. How was your February, readers? Post away below.
Next month: a hornbook, a guidebook, and regular books too.
I met Grauman’s Chinese Theatre fan Kurt Wahlner in Pomona in January for the neon dragon christening. We had a nice chat, aided by the tidbit that a lot of the research on his graumanschinese.org website was done at the Pomona Public Library (long may it wave).
I took his photo by the neon dragon, thinking he might make a good column. Upon further reflection, meeting him at Grauman’s itself seemed like a better photo opp and a chance to go into more depth on the subject. And so, Wahlner and his website are the subject of Sunday’s column.
The first and only film I saw at the theater was 1996’s “Independence Day,” when my parents were in town on vacation. (According to Wahlner’s site, it played five weeks.) I meant to mention that in the column but forgot. So I definitely needed a refresher on the theater, which my meet-up with Wahlner provided.