All about the Benjamin

Claremont painter Karl Benjamin is suddenly ubiquitous (look it up), and that’s a good thing. The New York Times had a piece on him Sunday (read it here), with an online slideshow to boot (view it here).

And the L.A. Times today notes he has work in a midcentury show at the Orange County Museum of Art (read that here). The LAT says the work of Benjamin and other “hard edge” painters “is about egalitarian perceptual liberation.” I have no idea what this means. But I do know that I really dug Benjamin’s show at the Claremont Museum of Art this summer.

As it happens, I got a very nice letter — not an e-mail, a letter — from Karl the other day. Among other topics, he touted the brand-new dba 256 wine bar/art gallery in Pomona, at 256 S. Main at Third Street (read about them here). I visited there on Wednesday and will have an item in Friday’s column.

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“Pomona Queen,” the movie

I’m a bit late in noting this, but Kem Nunn’s 1992 novel “Pomona Queen” has been optioned for a movie. According to a Variety article forwarded by Derek Deason, Shoreline Entertainment has hired Jeremiah Chechik to direct the film, with Christopher Doyle as cinematographer and with shooting to begin before the end of the year.

As Variety summarizes the plot: “The book revolves around Earl Dean. He is a broken-hearted door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman who happens to knock on the wrong door. Before he knows what happened, he is embroiled in a stranger’s manic quest to avenge the death of a brother. The story takes place over the course of one night.”

It also takes place in — where else? — Pomona, with mentions of such local spots as the Midway bar, Golden Ox hamburgers and Buffum’s department store. After I recommended the book in print a few years ago, readers were divided on its merits, with its grittiness turning off some and delighting others. For my money it’s an entertaining way to learn the darker side of our local history.

Nunn, a former Pomona Library page, has gone on to write several well-regarded “surf noir” novels and he created HBO’s recent “John From Cincinnati” series.

Incidentally, the Pomona Queen of the title was a real-life orange crate label. Now it’s the name of a local brew by Dale Brothers. That probably means something, but I’m not sure what.

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Multiculti mix

Eating Thai food Sunday afternoon at Mix Bowl in Pomona, an almost-weekly ritual for me, I witnessed a birthday celebration, the first I can recall ever seeing there.

The servers don’t speak much English, so they didn’t all gather around to sing. Instead, the ever-present pop music in the background suddenly became a louder pop version of “Happy Birthday,” to an unusual, but pleasant and peppy, melody. The server brought out a big bowl of mixed fruit with flavored syrup on ice, with spoons for sharing, to the birthday boy, a Latino. The table of seven more Latinos sang along, once they got the rhythm, ending with “Happy birthday, dear Ricardo, happy birthday to you.”

Latinos, Asians, blacks, whites, Pomona cops and Claremont college kids can often be seen at Mix Bowl. It’s a cultural mix in itself. And now one thing is clear: I have to have my next birthday party there.

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My lunch with Norma, part III

Resuming where we left off: Leaving Huntington Hardware, Pomona Mayor Norma Torres and I journeyed to Raspado X-press, which is located in a strip mall on Indian Hill Boulevard just north of Holt Avenue. The business is next to a bottled-water place and a couple of storefronts up from Mariscos Ensenada No. 5, which some of you may remember as the former Xochimilco restaurant.

Raspados are Mexican snocones topped with your choice of fruit. I counted 30 flavors on the board, and those can be combined, seemingly for no extra cost. I got banana and pineapple and the mayor had (if memory serves) mango and pineapple. This time I paid the tab, $6 total.

The raspados come in tall cups with fat straws. The ice wasn’t crushed finely, so the routine became to pound the straw up and down in the ice, like a piledriver, to get some ready to drink. Torres said she spent a fair amount of time here last summer and that the ice had been better crushed on previous visits. Still, as a snocone fan from way back, I liked my drink, and the fresh fruit is a neat touch.

Raspado X-press also sells fresh juice drinks, fruit with chili powder and lime, licuados and smoothies, among other items. There are colorful photo blowups on the walls of several menu items. Some are a bit mysterious — even Torres couldn’t identify them — but most look promising, and some look delicious.

“You’d never think there would be so much flavor in a rundown strip mall,” Torres observed before we parted.

That’s Pomona: always full of surprises.

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My lunch with Norma, part II

Picking up where we left off Sunday: As Mayor Norma Torres drove me to the raspado place, heading east on Mission Boulevard, we approached AMA Donuts, which I pointed out was one of the earliest McDonald’s, a fact she knew, of course. At Holt and Towne, we commented on the gleaming glass storefront of Santa Fe Outlets. She asked if I knew what it had been originally. “Tate Cadillac,” I replied.

She had been telling me about Huntington Hardware, where she has bought glass doorknobs and other home-improvement items. When I pled ignorance on the place, she made a detour west on Holt to take me there. It’s at Holt and Park avenues, an “HH” on the long storefront. I’d noticed those letters many times but had no idea what was inside.

Well! It’s like Pomona’s version of Restoration Hardware, full of antique-looking windows, doors, knockers, lamps and the like, all brand new. “They sell new things that look old,” the mayor explained.

The general manager came over to help. “We’ve been in Pomona for 55 years,” Daniel Herrera said. “Fifty years in this location. We started on Huntington Boulevard.” That’s a few blocks west, for you out-of-towners. Herrera continued: “We have another store in Huntington Beach. It’s called Pomona Hardware. Just kidding. That’s as good as the jokes get.”

I laughed, so I’m not complaining. Wish I’d known about Huntington Hardware when I was writing my “Pomona A to Z” series — it would’ve made a handy H.

Pleased to have introduced yours truly to Huntington Hardware, Torres said, referring to her husband: “Luis said there wouldn’t be anything new I could show you.” I’m flattered my knowledge of Pomona is considered so wide-ranging by those within the mayoral manse, but it always seems to me whatever I know is the proverbial mile wide and an inch deep.

That’s enough for now. Let’s pause here and come back Tuesday for those icy raspados. Gosh, talk about a cliffhanger!!

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My lunch with Norma

Pomona Mayor Norma Torres has been telling me since May that she was going to invite me out for a raspado, which is a Mexican snocone with fruit. As the months went by, and hot weather came and went, this appeared to be yet another politician’s empty promise.

Until last week, when she invited me to lunch, with a raspado for dessert. Of course I accepted, having never been invited to lunch by a mayor before.

(Imagine if Ontario Mayor Paul Leon, who’s on a major diet, invited me out for lunch. We’d probably eat trail mix.)

At Torres’ suggestion we met at Sakura Ichi, the high-end sushi bar at Mission and Garey downtown. I’ve been there before, and it’s pretty good. The ambience is even better — this is a sharp lookin’ place, very sleek.

Torres talked about her tour that morning of the Indian Hill Swap Meet, a collection of vendors that is probably worth a column someday, if the language barrier can be overcome. We touched on many other Pomona topics as well.

I had the sushi lunch combo and she ordered the chicken teriyaki. My chopstick skills aren’t so good, but I can manage. The mayor ate with a fork.

She tried to pay but we split the tab at my insistence. Can’t be in the mayor’s debt, after all. Next, a raspado! Except first there was a detour to check out a Pomona business I’d never before investigated. More on that Monday.

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Motherhood approved, 4-1

My colleague Liset Marquez had a story in Friday’s Daily Bulletin on a City Council vote in Norco to require those 18 and younger to wear helmets when riding horses. I can see how this regulation wouldn’t be a slam dunk, but given how electeds like to be on the right side of every issue, I couldn’t help but laugh at one aspect.

Our headline: “City votes for child safety.”

Vote breakdown: 3-2.

So two Norco council members are against child safety? Whoa.

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Restaurant of the Week: Mr. Fish and Chips


Mr. Fish and Chips, 1453 Foothill Blvd. (at Wheeler), La Verne.

With plans to attend the La Verne council meeting Monday evening, I carefully pondered my options for dining in that city, which is too remote for me to get to from Ontario on a lunch break. Should I try the Caribbean place? How about the Indonesian place? The city’s online dining guide (find it here) was a big help in evaluating the possibilities.

Alas, I delayed too long at the office trying to wrap up a few things and by the time I got to La Verne, I had under half an hour for dinner. Oopsie. So I tried a new-to-me spot close to City Hall, to cut my travel time, and where I guessed I could get a quick meal: Mr. Fish and Chips, in the CVS shopping center on Foothill.

I ordered the fish sandwich, with onion rings as my side, from the friendly woman behind the counter. Without a drink — who had time? — my tab was $5.29. A sign asks customers to be patient because the food is made to order. My own order arrived on a plate in the shape of a fish, a cute touch. The verdict? The sandwich was surprisingly good and the onion rings were also a cut above. The batter on both was light and crispy, not heavy as you might fear.

I’ll have to go back sometime when I don’t have to inhale my food in 15 minutes. Although that Indonesian place will probably get my business next…

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(Cream) puff piece

Rancho Cucamonga is getting a Beard Papa, a development whose profound significance does not have to be explained to Asian-food hipsters.

For the rest of you, Beard Papa sells cream puffs injected with the custard of your choice on the spot: vanilla, chocolate or green tea, plus a flavor of the week. The chain, founded in Osaka, Japan, is very hot right now. I visited a Beard Papa on Sawtelle Avenue in L.A. recently and it did live up to the hype. The chain’s logo is a cartoon of an almost garden gnome-ish bearded old man’s face.

Beard Papa will open later this year in Victoria Gardens (where else?), joining Pinkberry, Gyu-Kaku, P.F. Chang’s and Kabuki, representing Korean, Japanese and Chinese foodstuffs. Well, Victoria Gardens is in Rancho Cucamonga’s far east…

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The Left Bank, Ontario style

Eating lunch in Ontario today at Daphne’s Greek Cafe, I took a seat out on the patio, the interior being filled. A table away, a twentysomething couple sat. The woman smoked. Each wore black sunglasses. Most notably, they conversed easily in French, a language you don’t often hear in the Inland Valley. Sitting at an umbrella-shaded table in the warm afternoon, eating Greek food and listening to the musical French nearby, I felt cosmopolitan in a way you rarely feel out here. Even if it was a chain restaurant.

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