[Now it’s time for the F-bomb. So to speak.
When “Pomona A to Z” hit the letter F, people figured I’d choose the Fox or the Fairgrounds, something logical and safe. Well, those places are no mystery to anyone, and the long-shuttered Fox was a symbol of Pomona’s faded glory, which I was trying to avoid. I wanted readers, including Pomonans, to think of Pomona in a fresh way.
So I picked something unexpected: French restaurants. Pomona then had two. Alas, Brasserie Astuce closed in 2007 in preparation for relocating to Claremont’s Village Expansion. That fell through, so the result is that the place no longer exists. Second Street Bistro, an Italian-French place downtown, lives on, happily.
This column was originally published Aug. 22, 2004.]
Mon dieu! Pomona’s F is for … French Food? Oui.
Today “Pomona A to Z” flashes forward to the letter F. Which fun, fabulous facet of Pomona should be featured?
* F could focus on Fairgrounds, where the county fair last year funneled 1.3 million folks to Pomona.
* Fox Theater, a 1,700-seat Art Deco jewel built in 1931 whose 81-foot tower is a downtown landmark.
* Fish tacos at El Taco Nazo, which practically constitute their own food group for downtown clubgoers.
* Frantz Cleaners, with a nifty neon sign, drive-thru service and the motto “In By 10, Out By 4,” here since 1951.
* Friar Tuck’s, the valley’s only bar in the shape of an English castle. It was built in 1968 as Magic Tower Burgers.
But because my philosophy with this series is to avoid the obvious where possible, that scratches the Fox and the Fairgrounds, which get plenty of ink.
So let me throw you a curve: F is for French Food!
For Pomona is home to not one, but two restaurants serving French cuisine: Brasserie Astuce and 2nd Street Bistro. Impressive, n’est-ce-pas?
They’re surviving despite Pomona’s love of Mexican food and the usual fast-food suspects.
Not that it’s easy.
“You talk to customers and they’re afraid to come in because it’s French,” said Brasserie Astuce co-owner Leo Coulourides, a good-humored man with 25 years in food service.
His brasserie shouldn’t be intimidating. It’s on busy Foothill Boulevard, next door to Route 66 Classic Burgers and across the street from a Burger King.
In other words, not exactly the Champs Elysees.
“We serve the basic four food groups like everyone else,” Coulourides told me. “We’ve got chicken, beef — it’s just a few different herbs and flavors.”
Speaking of different flavors, Coulourides is of Greek descent, his wife, Christina, is German and chef Miguel Mercado is Mexican. Vive le difference!
Their menu is regional French and the restaurant aspires to be casual, at least by French standards.
While Brasserie Astuce isn’t snooty, you can order escargot, the ultimate French dish.
So, in an undercover visit, I did.
An appetizer, the snails arrived on a bed of garlic mashed potatoes. My colleague Jennifer Cho Salaff, the most adventurous diner I know, was there to talk me through it.
Dark brown, curled up, escargot looked a lot like mushrooms and had a similar taste. One or two chews of the slightly rubbery pieces and down they went.
“Are you thinking about the fact that they’re snails?” Jennifer asked conspiratorially.
Until she brought it up, no. (Urp.)
Meanwhile, you can get escargot in the shell with butter at 2nd Street Bistro in the downtown Arts Colony — but I haven’t.
Housed in an 1891 storefront, the bistro opened in May and quickly became a bustling lunch spot, no snail’s pace about it.
Owner Alain Girard started Harvard Square Cafe and Viva Madrid, both in Claremont, and Caffe Allegro in La Verne.
Girard told me he’d always wanted to open a restaurant in downtown Pomona. That crazy dreamer.
“Pomona, it’s different from Claremont,” Girard admitted. “But I think there is potential here. There is definitely room for a good restaurant, which I think we’ve achieved here.”
Girard seems as French as they come. A beefy man with a mop of shoulder-length hair, he looks like Gerard Depardieu and speaks in a strong Gallic accent.
Yet he once ran a chain of fish and chips shops in Scotland and was formerly married to an Italian. He’s not running a traditional French restaurant either. Three-fourths of the menu is Italian.
“If I went totally French, I would have scared everyone,” Girard confided.
French items include quiche Lorraine, goat cheese salad, mussels and French onion soup (“of course,” Girard said).
Needless to say, while the Arts Colony has a Frenchier ambience than all-American Route 66, the funky, punky arts district isn’t the Left Bank.
“I’m sure that can be discouraging for people to come and eat,” Girard allowed, “but that’s part of downtown Pomona life, you know?”
True. His bistro co-exists happily with its neighbor to the west, an edgy store named Monkeys to Go.
With a French neighbor, shouldn’t that be Surrender Monkeys to Go?
(David Allen writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, more monkeyshines.)