I took a day trip to L.A. for my birthday and enjoyed as many favorites as I could: public transit, pizza, the Cinerama Dome, Amoeba Music, Shake Shack and a book. The excursion is the subject of Wednesday’s column.
I had a low-key week away from work, which is pretty much what I had in mind. While improving after my pneumonia, a break for rest, one in which I would not have to think about column topics, was very appealing.
With occasional forays for food or errands, mostly I took it easy around the house. For one thing, I took care of a few long-delayed or -postponed items, the sorts of things that may not take a lot of time but which you can better persuade yourself to do when you have time on your hands as opposed to giving up precious weekend moments for.
Such as? One morning I took all the books off one bookcase, blew the dust off the top of each book, rearranged them and cleared away some clutter at the front of the shelves. The appearance is much improved and the whole thing took under an hour.
By later in the week, I felt more energetic. I took the train to L.A. for my birthday, an outing that will be the subject of Wednesday’s column. I also (gasp) drove to L.A. a couple of days later for lunch with friends.
As with any week off, I went to bed Sunday wishing I had one or two days more to tick a few more items off my pending list. But it was fun returning to work Monday too. While I still have an occasional cough and shortness of breath, I would rate my energy level at about 95 percent of normal.
That week off came at the right time.
As mentioned in Sunday’s column, I’m off all week, returning to work March 18.
I had been wanting to travel, at least in Southern California, but decided I wasn’t quite up to that yet, post-pneumonia.
(I’ve mostly recovered but still have an intermittent cough, and I’ve continued to turn in early to ensure I get a full night’s rest. Hiking or hoofing it around a distant city struck me as too ambitious.)
So it’s a staycation, with some travel to LA amid time at home. The break will be nice, I think.
You may have read that the In-N-Out in La Verne has closed briefly for renovation. My colleague Liset Marquez had that story last month.
I was driving by on Foothill Boulevard Feb. 24 and was greeted by the unusual sight of the restaurant fully wrapped, as if it were being fumigated, or as if Christo had turned it into an art installation. On my way back, I pulled into the lot to take a few photos just for the novelty of it.
“We will be open normal hours on Friday, March 15,” the sign below promises.
This In-N-Out opened in 1977 but is considered Store No. 3 as the chain moved its third store there from Pomona, where it opened circa 1952 (records are scarce). In-N-Out had attempted to open a restaurant in La Verne in 1975 but was, rather astonishingly, turned down, a story told in my column in 2018.
Oh, and Gustavo Arellano caused a stir last November with an essay in which he declared In-N-Out’s burgers “so-so.” Read his take here. Personally, I like one now and then, but as a transplant to California, I’ve always been of the opinion that you had to have grown up eating In-N-Out to love it.
I follow up my column on “the day the music died” with a local angle. A hokey tribute song, “Three Stars,” that was hit a few weeks after the Feb. 3, 1959 plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper was written by a disc jockey in San Bernardino. There’s some Culture Corner items and a Vignette too, all in Sunday’s column.
I remember the Claremont civic leader and former mayor, as well as telling the story of the 1987 explosion at an Upland apartment complex recently in the news again, in Friday’s column.
Cravings Food Hall, 4024 Grand Ave. (at Pipeline), Chino; open daily, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Taking over from a defunct Food 4 Less, 99 Ranch Market last October opened a warehouse-style grocery with an adjoining food hall, the first food hall to open in the Inland Valley. How about that? It’s in the Spectrum Marketplace shopping center and has nine food vendors: Cauldron, Dos Chinos, Madbun, Oi, Pinky Promise, Red Envelope, Shomi Noods, Tenori and Wingman, plus Piju, which sells international beer and wine.
They’re all Asian, sometimes fused with another cuisine. The food hall is close to Chino Hills and its growing Chinese population. Cravings’ sheer existence must bring cheer to the area’s Asians, not to mention those of us who like trying different foods.
My photographer colleagues Watchara Phomicinda and Cindy Yamanaka visited during a pre-opening event for a photo gallery and brief story. And LA Eater wrote about most of the vendors’ origins. The food hall was curated by Andy Nguyen, whose Afters Ice Cream you may know; he’s behind Cravings’ Red Envelope and Wingman.
I’ve visited twice so far. The first was in early January with a friend who had eaten there once already. We were there in the evening. You can wander among the food stalls, stroke your chin eyeing the menus, get what you like and then take a seat in a communal seating area. Each place will give you a buzzer that will alert you when your order is up.
She got an asada plate with chorizo fried rice and garlic fries from Dos Chinos ($10.75). I got a Filipino-style adobo bowl ($9) from Oi Asian Fusion, which had a soft-boiled egg, pork belly, rice and adobo sauce. We liked the food fine but each felt it was lacking somehow. I also got a pineapple express Dole whip in a Hong Kong-style puffle cone from Cauldron ($6). I was asked: “Would you like it shaped into a rose at no extra cost?” I would.
Earlier this week I went back for lunch with a second friend to try more vendors. He got black garlic ramen ($10) from Shomi Noods. Despite the garlic in the name, he thought the ramen lacked punch. We shared an order of takoyaki ($5.45), minced balls of octopus. There was no discernible octopus.
I got two bao buns from Madbun, which had a lunch special: buy one, get one half off. I got a crispy pork on a regular bun and a hoisin mushroom on a matcha bun ($7.49) and preferred the pork bun. Still peckish, I went to Dos Chinos for a single taco: Oahu shrimp ($3), with fried shrimp, red cabbage, sour cream and pineapple. Not bad.
About halfway through our lunch, a Piju employee walked over to a music speaker a few yards from us, got up on a ladder and turned the volume up about twice what it had been. That was unfortunate, but maybe the young folk were pleased.
Cravings wasn’t exactly busy either time I was there, a Friday night and a Tuesday lunch, but it was populated, mostly by Asians, and of a wide range of ages, including families.
Other vendors sell chicken wings and sandwiches (Wingman), musubi, sushi and bowls (Tenori), pho (Red Envelope) and desserts (Pinky Promise, a Taiwanese bakery). I’d had the idea of visiting another two or three times until I’d hit them all, but that’s probably carrying things too far. (Note: Which is not to say I might not do so anyway.)
“I want to like this place. I might not be picking the right things,” said my friend from the January visit. I know what she means. The food isn’t wowing me, but it’s all right, the concept is neat and it’s a fun place to meet up. You ought to try visiting once.
Books acquired: none
Books read: “Train,” Tom Zoellner; “The Lost Art of Walking,” Geoff Nicholson; “Over the Hills,” David Lamb; “Beyond This Horizon,” Robert A. Heinlein
Hey, didn’t I just write one of these a couple of weeks ago? I did. Of course, February is a short month, and also, with me on my sickbed the first half of the month, writing January’s log was delayed. Anyway, here we are just four mornings into March.
February saw me complete four books, possibly assisted by my couch time, although the first one, “Train,” begun in late January, wasn’t wrapped up until Feb. 10, not the most promising start. Anyway, the three primary books all have a sort of theme, which is travel by means other than driving. The fourth, my first fiction of 2019, has a title that fit the theme.
Train (2014): Subtitle: “Riding the rails that created the modern world, from the Trans-Siberian to the Southwest Chief.” Zoellner rides the rails around the world and across the United States, returning with fare heartier than anything Amtrak serves, a stew of traveler stories, history and current events. (India’s goo and lack of automation are equally unbelievable.) He’ll make you understand how people were initially thunderstruck by and even frightened of a conveyance that traveled at an ungodly 20 mph.
Lost Art of Walking (2008): Subtitle: “The history, science, philosophy and literature of pedestrianism.” Like most rambles with friends, Nicholson’s book doesn’t stick to the path, takes a lot of digressions and lightly touches on various conversational subjects with humor and without getting too deep. I was expecting something more, say, a section on walking in literature. But as a collection of anecdotes and musings, it was an easy read and Nicholson is a witty, entertaining guide.
Over the Hills (1996): Subtitle: “A midlife escape across America by bicycle.” It was a pleasure reading about a middle-aged, unpretentious guy who ate plain American food, drank milkshakes and smoked as he biked solo across the country. (Although as he later died of esophageal cancer, perhaps he should’ve cut out the smokes.) Nothing bad happens to him on his journey besides flat tires and anxiety, so, Melville-like, he slips in chapters about the history of bicycling. Lamb’s writing is simple and graceful and he views non-coastal America with great affection.
Beyond This Horizon (1948): Subtitle: none, thankfully. There’s a little too much going on in this early Heinlein novel (duels! government finance! revolution! the meaning of life! football??), and the explanations of genetics bog things down. Still, it has its moments, and its confidence, ideas and good cheer point toward the fun, focused novels RAH would produce in the ’40s and ’50s.
“Over the Hills” was the winner this month, with “Train” a close second.
The three primary books came from Powell’s in Portland in 2016. I picked up the Heinlein in 2008, location forgotten.
How was your February, folks? Besides cold and wet, I mean.
Next month: edgy fare.
I follow up on my recent column on the young man from Ontario who was killed in Vietnam 50 years ago. His family and friends held a private graveside service for him and invited me. That story is Sunday’s column.