Restaurant of the Week: Macho Pollo

machopollo

Macho Pollo, 1245 E. Holt (at East End), Pomona

Before last Monday’s Pomona council meeting, I stopped at a place I’d passed by for years: Macho Pollo.

It’s a fast-food joint on East Holt near East End Avenue with a drive-thru. Its distinguishing characteristic is the monument sign at the curb featuring, to match the name, a cartoon of a shirtless chicken showing off his biceps. Weird but amusing. This time, instead of smiling as I drove by, I pulled in.

Macho Pollo isn’t much to look at inside: a counter, a few booths, a mirrored wall and a couple of tabletop soccer games, the kind with players attached to rods. The menu on the wall was a little confusing: all items appeared to be complete meals, including one with four tacos and one with a hamburger, but no chicken sandwich and no a la carte menu obvious. Maybe I only wanted three tacos.

A bit dazed by the menu, I told the man waiting to take my order, whom I soon judged to be the owner, that this was my first visit and I wasn’t sure what to get. A friendly fellow, he assured me “everything is the best” and gave me a plate with a thigh and some tortilla chips, just as a sampler. The chicken was astonishingly good. So I ordered the chicken breast meal, plus a medium horchata ($8.11).

The chicken is lightly spiced, grilled and served on a styrofoam plate with grilled onions. I would say it’s like El Pollo Loco but several orders of magnitude better. Rice, beans and tortillas came with it.

Macho Pollo has been on Holt for four years. The sign at the entrance optimistically calls the restaurant “Macho Pollo No. 1″; I don’t know if there are others. But there should be. I’m still a Donahoo’s man, but for non-fried chicken, this is tasty stuff.

“Tell your friends. Risk-free,” the owner joked as he handed me my plate.

Well, you’re all my friends, right? Check the place out. Macho Pollo is mighty (get it?) good.

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To kill a text messager

Thursday night I went to the Lewis Family Playhouse at Victoria Gardens to watch a stage version of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” part of Rancho Cucamonga’s Big Read book event. Before the play started, the theater manager climbed the stage to welcome everyone and warn the unwary about language and themes that might be unsuitable for children.

He also advised everyone in the audience — which was composed mostly of teenagers and younger children — to turn off their cell phones.

“That means no texting, no photos, no games,” he elaborated. “You have no idea how distracting it is to be in a darkened theater and see 100 little lights. Texting has been a particular problem the last two days. That’s why our ushers tonight are being especially vigilant.”

I stayed through intermission and didn’t see any little lights, so perhaps everyone got the, er, message. (I hated to leave, but I haven’t quite finished the book, and besides, I didn’t want to miss “The Office.”)

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Joking around

Recently, as part of my mission to eat or drink, or at least taste, all 144 items on the menu at Pomona’s Mix Bowl Cafe, I ate joke.

Joke is a porridge. At Mix Bowl, it can be ordered with chicken, pork or shrimp. I got it with chicken. It actually wasn’t bad.

My only regret is that I didn’t spill any on myself. Because then I could have said, looking down at my sleeve in mock sorrow, “Looks like the joke’s on me.”

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Julius Shulman, real estate photographer

With Monday morning off before that evening’s Pomona council meeting, I took Metrolink into downtown L.A. to see “Julius Shulman’s Los Angeles,” an exhibit of Shulman’s architectural photos at the Central Library, on view through Jan. 20.

Shulman, who was born in 1910 and is still at it, has watched L.A. longer than about anybody. One of the first photos in the show was shot in 1933 and is described as a view of City Hall “from the Union Station construction site.”

There are photos of the Bradbury Building interior, the last two Victorians on Bunker Hill in the ’60s, Century City, Wilshire Boulevard, Case Study House No. 22, dingbat apartments, bungalow courts and the Watts Towers. Especially illuminating were a couple of photos that showed how Shulman manipulated the surroundings to show off his subjects in a flattering light.

Let’s just say the Case Study House — the famous image is of two sophisticated women in white seen through a floor-to-ceiling window as the city’s lights twinkle below them, one of L.A.’s most iconic photos — wasn’t quite as magical before Shulman got to work.

A couple of local connections figure in for you architecture buffs. Several photos show buildings by Welton Becket, who designed the Pomona Civic Center, and another shows a Wilshire department store by Stiles O. Clement, who’s responsible for Pomona’s old Sears store.

The exhibit is in the Library’s Getty Gallery. Afterward you can marvel anew at the wraparound mural in the adjacent Lowdrick M. Cook Rotunda, and maybe even look at some books. Oh, and the admission price is right: free.

(Incidentally, the title of today’s entry is a play on a Ben Katchor book. Extra credit if you look it up.)

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We’re toast

Forgoing the Ontario council meeting, I walked to the Claremont McKenna Athenaeum on Tuesday night to hear Elizabeth Kolbert, the journalist who wrote “Field Notes From a Catastrophe,” the book documenting and explaining global warming.

A staff writer for the New Yorker whose three-part series on climate change led to her book, Kolbert projected charts and graphs on a big screen, a la Al Gore, to make her terrifying case.

Permafrost in the Arctic Circle that goes back 10,000 years is beginning to thaw, which is scary enough. But as it thaws, carbon dioxide trapped inside will be released, which will only “amplify” the warming. So will having more open water instead of sea ice, since sea ice reflects heat while open water absorbs it.

Forces have been set in motion that we can’t stop. If greenhouse gas levels miraculously held constant beginning today, temperatures would continue rising for the rest of our lives.

“We’ve already determined the climate for our children,” Kolbert, a mother of three, said, “and now we’re working on the climate of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren and many generations to follow.”

Gulp.

While change could be less dramatic than computer models show, she’s updating her 2006 book and everything has only gotten worse. Projections were that the Arctic could be ice-free by 2080; that’s been cut to 2040.

Kolbert said she’s often asked what we should do “to get out of this mess.” She said she doesn’t know, really.

“We need to cut emissions by 70 to 80 percent. It’s going to take everything we’ve got,” she said. Better land-use planning, conservation, a carbon tax and, perhaps, a very different lifestyle are the ideas she offered, and even they won’t be enough.

Although it seems hopeless, we have “a moral responsibility…to not just throw up our hands,” Kolbert said.

She added: “We really haven’t made even the slightest bit of effort. If privileged Americans like the ones in this room don’t take action, I really don’t see why anyone else on the planet would, either.”

The issue may be bigger than politics can deal with, as she said John McCain told her. She said the average person doesn’t seem especially concerned and the news media isn’t sounding the alarm loudly enough. There are welcome signs, she said, that religious leaders are beginning to treat climate change as a moral issue.

“If it’s not a moral issue whether we’re going to have a planet that’s habitable in 50 or 100 years, I don’t know what is a moral issue,” she said.

She got a hearty round of applause. As far as I could tell, nobody rent their garments and wailed, threw themselves off a parapet or sacrificed a goat to the gods, although frankly those would have been sensible responses.

Thoroughly dejected, I went home. Under the circumstances, I was relieved I’d walked the half-mile instead of driving.

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Frank Zappa on ‘Steve Allen’

I wrote in my column Friday about a young Frank Zappa’s appearance in 1963 on “The Steve Allen Show,” in which Zappa, who then lived on Ontario’s G Street, and Allen play a pair of bicycles as if they were musical instruments. A real pop-culture treasure. I noted that I’d seen the video clip on YouTube but that it had been removed before I could get the column into print.

This prompted notes from two readers who offer links to other sites where you can watch the video. First, here’s Dawayne Bailey:

“I used to live in Alta Loma, CA in 1987 when I first joined the band Chicago as their new guitarist at the time. I lived near Carnelian Street. I’m also a huge Zappa fan/collector and have written songs with Jimmy Carl Black from The Mothers.

“I know youtube.com removed the Zappa/Steve Allen bicycle video but you can still direct your readers to the video either on my myspace page and/or on myspace videos page.

“Enjoy!!”

That link takes you to the full video. And I also got a note from Dominick, who sent me a link to the first half of the video, which you can view below:

“As a Zappa fan, I love it whenever you write about him in your column — it makes my day.

“One little piece of Zappa/Ontario history I found interesting is in the book Zappa by Barry Miles. In one chapter he explains a time where he stole a Christmas tree from ‘The Sav-ons around the corner.’ This is when he lived in Ontario on G street, so I’m guessing it’s referring to what is now the Rite-Aid near Euclid. I also wonder if he had to do anything with Ontario Music as I’m pretty sure it was around in the mid ’60s. Just some random thoughts.”

Dom, I’ve heard tales he used to buy guitar strings at Ontario Music, but that may just be local lore.

Thanks for the links, guys. The video has to be seen to be believed.

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Not so “Limited”

I like Wes Anderson’s movies (“Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums”) but haven’t really been entranced by them, and the last one, “The Life Aquatic,” was a mess. Happily, his new one, “The Darjeeling Limited,” now playing at the Claremont Laemmle, is pretty good stuff and one of the better movies I’ve seen in 2007.

To get in the spirit of the movie, which is set in India, my friends and I first ate at the nearby Delhi Palace Expresss. The buffet fare was only so-so, but with mango lassi and chicken tikka masala still perfuming our breath, we were primed for “Darjeeling.”

It’s probably Anderson’s funniest movie to date, and his most colorful, literally. The inclusion of three melancholy songs by the Kinks, my favorite band, certainly didn’t hurt its standing with me. Watching Adrien Brody run for the train in the beginning in slow motion will make you want to run in slow motion too.

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Secrets Behind the Columns

Every once in a while I’ll use this space to peel back the newsprint for a glimpse at the (ugh) inner workings of one of my columns. How about if we start today?

Today’s column and Friday’s were both primarily composed of canned material, which I put together on Monday and Tuesday so that I could take the next three days off.

Friday’s YouTube column was written last spring, put aside as an “evergreen” and updated last week. (Sadly, the Zappa video that was the column’s focal point had vanished from YouTube in the interim, but that’s the way YouTube works.)

Meanwhile, the bulk of Sunday’s column was also penned quite some time ago. The literary references were compiled in the spring, I believe, while reader James’ message about the Pomona Market in London came in around June and was written shortly afterward, along with the Noosa Hinterland addendum.

Why the delay?

Fearing being caught short one day on deadline, I tend to hoard column material the way a squirrel hoards nuts. Well, except that I hoard it in computer files, not in my cheeks. What I’ll do on occasion is spend a free afternoon writing up potential items from reader letters or e-mails or my own stray bits of research cluttering my desk. If they’re not timely, these finished items are often set aside for later use.

Sometimes, um, much later.

I haven’t missed a column since May 2005 and pride compels me to keep the streak going as long as possible. My feeling is, these evergreen columns aren’t my best, but they’re better than nothing. If readers are looking for my column on Wednesday, Friday or Sunday, I’d like there to be a column there for them to find.

With the Friday after Thanksgiving looming, when I’ll have two columns due on a Wednesday, expect another visit to my vault.

OK, that’s enough peeking into the guts of these two columns. Suture, please, nurse. Let’s sew ‘em up!

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Restaurant of the Week: Pondok Salero

CLOSED 2008

Pondok Salero, 2105 Foothill Blvd. (at D), La Verne.

I don’t usually list in this feature all the new places I visited in the past week, just my favorite. But as I’ve tried several new-to-me restaurants since last week’s entry, let me mention them all.

First there was Lily’s Tacos, on North Garey in Pomona, the little stand with the vinyl rain guard near M&I Surplus, where I had a superior al pastor burrito. Second came Bua Thai, a new Thai place in the Claremont Village Expansion, which had a line out the door but to my taste was only average. (“Thai food for people who don’t like Thai food,” one friend remarked.) Next came Sushi Shiro, in Upland, in the former Cafe Provencal space, where I had a decent sushi lunch and saw a rarity, a woman training as a sushi chef.

But I’ll tell you in detail about the place I had lunch Thursday: Pondok Salero in La Verne, perhaps the valley’s sole Indonesian restaurant.

Pondok is in a storefront on Foothill Boulevard, in the strip center with Shogun. It teeters on the brink between fast food and sit-down, being wider than it is deep and with a steam table at the counter, and yet with table service and an inviting gold-painted walls and tasteful art. (There doesn’t seem to be a buffet; the server dished up my food from the steam table.)

I’m a novice at this, so I got Paket Rames Ayam ($7.25), which is a piece of chicken simmered in coconut milk. It came with rice, a spicy egg (a hardboiled egg with red chili), cabbage with green beans and a small mound of chopped green chili. The menu also lists serundeng, but as I seem to have accounted for everything on my plate, I’m not sure what this is.

The side dishes were too spicy for me, but then, I’m not good with spicy food. The chicken was tasty, and the rice and cucumber cooled my tongue from the rest. I wouldn’t be opposed to trying Pandok again. It may be catching on; although only one other table was filled at 1 p.m., a sign near the cash register proudly reads: “Now we open 7 days/week.”

After lunch I walked three storefronts up to O-Lime, one of the innumerable Pinkberry knockoffs, where I got a pomegranate frozen yogurt with strawberries and pineapple ($3.45). Very tasty.

Out of all these places, the one I’m likeliest to revisit is Lily’s Tacos. But I love that stolid La Verne has an Indonesian restaurant and a Korean frozen-yogurt place about 20 paces from each other.

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Collectible Bono

Writes reader Bob House regarding Bono’s speech Tuesday evening at Bridges Auditorium in Claremont on Africa and debt relief:

“Save your Bono program … Theres already one on Ebay selling for $40 opening bid.”

He’s not kidding. Here’s the link.

Forty bucks, eh? Maybe the seller has some debt-relief issues of his own.

Oh, and I love how, hours after the speech, the program is already described as “rare.”

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