Restaurant of the Week: Ojiya

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Ojiya, 4183 Chino Hills Parkway, Suite J (at Pipeline), Chino Hills

I ate at Ojiya last week but saved the review for this week. It’s yet another of the sit-down restaurants in Chino Hills that the masses seem unfamiliar with. But it got good reviews on Yelp, so I met up with a couple of CHills friends for dinner.

Ojiya is in a strip mall — it’s a couple of doors from Peking Deli, a Chinese restaurant reviewed favorably here a while back — and once you’re inside you forget you’re in a strip mall. It’s a cozy interior with touches of bamboo and with a serious-looking sushi bar. I felt like I was in Little Tokyo.

I ordered various nigiri sushi items, especially ones I rarely see elsewhere: Spanish mackerel, seared salmon, fatty albacore and large scallop, plus my baseline dish, the salmon skin cut roll. (I don’t remember the individual prices but they added up to about $24.)

I’m confident in saying that Ojiya is the best sushi I’ve had in the 909. Then again, there’s still Rokuan, another Yelp favorite in Chino Hills that is still on my list.

My friends enjoyed their food, a chicken teriyaki bowl and a salmon teriyaki/crunch roll combination plate. Our only complaint was the green salad of iceberg lettuce was boring. At least it was only $3 for me, and free for them with their meal.

We met up, by the way, at 6:30 p.m. on a weekday, and the place was mostly empty. It quickly began filling up. By 7:45, when we left, the dining room was full.

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Missed that meeting (III)

Actually, my attendance at Rancho Cucamonga council meetings is sporadic at best, but sometimes I surprise them by showing up. (Obviously not last night, since I’m still in New Orleans.)

The city attorney always gives me this shocked look, like “why are you bothering to come here?” Sometimes I sense a mild alarm that, if I’m there, something on the agenda must be ripe for mocking. And occasionally something is, although usually I’m only there because I have time to kill, or space to fill, or feel I need some Rancho material.

I’m rather fond of the Rancho Cucamonga council. There’s often some banter among council members that works out well for a humor columnist. Also, the chambers are enormous and comfortable. In Pomona we’re packed in like sardines.

What works against the Rancho council is that their meetings are always the same week (first and third of the month) as Pomona’s (on Mondays) and Ontario’s (on Tuesdays). By Wednesday, when Rancho meets, I’m burned out on council meetings.

Also, going to a third meeting in a week tends to tilt my columns too much toward government news. For those who like that sort of thing, good. For those who don’t, it’s annoying.

So, to strike a balance, I usually skip Rancho’s meetings. Sorry, Rancho.

If you’re curious about why I go to council meetings at all, or why I pick Ontario and Pomona to focus on, I’ll post about that sometime next week.

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Missed that meeting (II)

Darn the luck, my vacation means that hot on the heels of missing Monday’s Pomona council meeting, I missed last night’s Ontario council meeting.

This one I kind of regret, given the events at the last meeting, but oh well. I look forward more than usual to hearing what I missed.

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Missed that meeting (I)

Because of vacation, I was absent from last night’s Pomona council meeting. Too bad, but then again, if it was anything like the last two, with protesters inside and outside the chambers, it’s probably just as well.

There was a period where I arranged vacations specifically to avoid missing Pomona and Ontario meetings; in fact, my attendance record was as good, or even better, than most of the officials’. Then I realized this was stupid.

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Gone fishin’, but still postin’

I’m on vacation all week. In New Orleans, in fact. Let the good times roll!

I’ll have a Wednesday column but have to skip Friday’s and Sunday’s. I will have blog entries daily, however. I promised you, and myself, that I would post daily on this blog for one full year, barring emergencies, and since it’s not September 2008 yet, I’m bound to keep posting.

However, yours truly doesn’t own a laptop, nor do I really feel like using my vacation time to blog. So what I’ve done is cheat a bit by writing up something short in advance for each day.

These advance postings aren’t dependent on your comments. Because unless I have access to a computer at some point, I won’t be able to read your comments until I’m back, and as most of you know, the blog is set up so that all comments must be read by me and posted manually. For this week, then, I’ve avoided those popular “anyone know whatever happened to…?” posts about local lore.

Feel free to leave comments, but don’t be surprised if they don’t show up online until next week. In the meantime, enjoy this week’s posts — including a Restaurant of the Week, which is more like a Restaurant of Last Week — and Wednesday’s column.

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‘Pomona A to Z’: V is for Vietnamese

[After a monthlong break for reasons I can’t recall — vacation? deadline problems? other news crowding to get into my column? — “A to Z” returned to print with the letter V.

I was happy to write about the Vietnamese community, fulfilling my goal of writing about the main ethnic groups in the city. There is still a vital Vietnamese presence in Pomona, and Pho Vi, a new restaurant, opened last month at Third and Thomas streets downtown. The only update to this piece is that the Vault nightclub, one of the runnerups, is gone.

This column was published March 27, 2005.]

‘A to Z’ veers toward topic you won’t pho-get

Filling a vacuum, my virtuous venture “Pomona A to Z” returns today to venerate that village’s virtues (while avoiding its vices).

Yes, we’re visiting the letter V, or vice versa. Which V best reflects the voodoo that Pomona does so well?

After vigorously vetting or vetoing a vast variety of V’s, I’ve voted for these vignettes, all vis-a-vis V:

* Veterinary school at the Western University of Health Sciences. Amazingly, it’s the only one in Southern California, as well as the only one in the nation headed by a woman.

* Vintage clothing from La Bomba, which dresses visiting rock stars and various locals.

* The Vault nightclub, housed in the 1925 First National Bank building, hence the name.

* Pioneering landowner Ricardo Vejar, who in 1837 co-owned the entire Pomona Valley. A footnote: The city bought 22 acres from his estate in 1922 to launch the L.A. County Fair.

Va-va-voom! Why, these V’s practically give me vertigo.

Yet I hope it won’t vex you to learn that our V is a different indicator of Pomona’s vitality. Our V gives voice to a community that’s very valuable: the Vietnamese.

After the April 30, 1975 fall of Saigon to the North Vietnamese — 30 years ago next month — many Vietnamese fled communism and misery by cramming themselves valiantly into rickety wooden boats for the vagaries of a sea voyage to neighboring countries for repatriation.

Some 125,000 were accepted as refugees by the United States that year, the vanguard of more than 270,000 that followed by 1982, gaining the world’s sympathy.

Many settled in Orange County, but impressive numbers ended up in the Inland Valley. They’re concentrated in Pomona, where an estimated 10,000 live.

You may not even know they’re there, as the community is less visible than Pomona’s majority Latino population.

But a stretch of East Holt Avenue shows their presence. Hoa Binh is a market with Asian food and produce, as well as an eye-opening array of fresh fish. Asian characters can be seen on numerous storefronts.

Rather than experience this vicariously, I invited Diep Fintland to lunch. A real estate broker, she is a leader among local Vietnamese. We met at a popular restaurant, Pho Express, for my inaugural Vietnamese meal.

A type of soup, pho is pronounced “fuh.” (Now that you’re familiar with pho, no one can call you a fuddy-duddy.)

“Pho, it’s like pancakes for Americans. Usually it’s for breakfast, but you can eat it 24 hours,” Fintland said.

My bowl of Pho Tai — broth, rice noodles and rare steak — was delicious, albeit virtually impossible to eat.

The long, pasta-like noodles are meant to be eaten with chopsticks. I’m sure I could have done this if I’d had two hours — or the 24 hours Fintland mentioned — but after I fumbled around a while, owner Hoa Phan brought me a fork.

She and Fintland exchanged amused comments in Vietnamese about my struggle, some of which Fintland translated.

“You’re eating it like spaghetti!” Fintland joked as I twirled the noodles against my soup spoon with my fork.

Fintland, meanwhile, plucked the thin slices of beef from her pho and expertly rolled them into tubes, all with her chopsticks, for dipping into a saucer of spicy liquid. I shakily carried mine over flat with chopsticks or my fork.

I ate one-third of my pho before deciding to phogeddaboudit.

Much easier to eat, and just as tasty, were Cha Gio, a meaty eggroll wrapped in lettuce, and Phan Tau Hu Ky, crispy cubes of deep-fried tofu around shrimp paste. Now that’s eatin’!

The restaurant had a bustling lunch crowd of Vietnamese, Latinos and Caucasians. It re-opened in fall 2004 after several years as Pho 54 under different hands.

Phan’s son, Timmy Nguyen, who runs the restaurant, says his family had a hard life in Vietnam before coming here as refugees in 1983.

“That’s what has made me successful in the U.S. I don’t take anything for granted,” said Nguyen, 35, who sold cars for 11 years before helping his mother open the restaurant. He added later: “I adore America.”

Fintland came here in 1967 — by commercial plane — after high school to join a sister who’d married a serviceman. Their father was killed by the Communists when Fintland was 2.

She and her husband, whom she met in Bakersfield, have lived in Pomona since 1977.

Madelenna Lai and Fintland founded the Pomona organization Vietnamese Cultural House in 1997 to help preserve their roots. In 2002 they sponsored a Rose Parade float, in the shape of a boat, as a way to thank Americans for taking their people in.

“Freedom. A lot of people take it for granted,” Fintland observed.

There’s a lot of veracity in that.

(David Allen, who’s no virtuoso, writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday.)

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The Belgians are coming! The Belgians are coming!

Why should we keep a wary eye on Belgium? Two reasons:

1) The Back Abbey, a pub specializing in imported, and pricey, Belgian beers, opened this week in Claremont. (Here’s a review.)

2) A Belgium-based brewer made a $46 billion offer for American beer icon Anheuser-Busch.

I don’t know what the Belgians want, but it may be our hearts, our souls and our livers.

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Restaurant of the Week: Famous Dave’s

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Famous Dave’s, 11470 4th St. (at Richmond), Rancho Cucamonga

This is a Minnesota-based barbecue chain that recently opened a location across from Ontario Mills. The large-ish dining room has a high ceiling with rafters, wavy tin trim and silly signs, such as, in neon, “Eat like a pig.”

I like barbecue as much as the next person, but I’m not one of those people who know the difference between the styles of St. Louis, Texas, Memphis and wherever. What I can tell you is that I went in for lunch on Tuesday and ordered the Dave’s Favorite Burger ($8.99) with a side of slaw. How could this Dave resist?

The burger took a while but the server said that’s because the beef is ground only when ordered. It’s not this Dave’s favorite, but it was a darn good burger, a fine pile of beef chargrilled medium well until crunchy. Too much barbecue sauce, though. Oh, and the slaw was above average, dry and crisp.

My friend had a pulled chicken sandwich ($7.49), quite tasty, and a side of sweet potatoes with brown sugar on top. I’m not a sweet potato fan but I could have eaten more than the bite I sampled.

Is Famous Dave’s better than Lucille’s, the chain at Victoria Gardens? Is it better than the local places, like Joey’s or Red Hill BBQ? Ask an aficionado. But I’d eat at Dave’s again. Or any of those places, for that matter.

Weird trivia: Famous Dave co-founded Rainforest Cafe and is a former assistant secretary of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

* April 2012 update: I returned for a St. Louis-style pork rib half-slab combo with corn muffin and two sides, cole slaw and baked apples ($18). For corporate barbecue, it was all pretty tasty. The restaurant’s kitschy ambience is, like Lucille’s, too styled, and the atmosphere too loud and quote-unquote fun, but the food almost makes up for it.

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Cock-a-Doodle calendars

When I visited Chino’s delightful Cock-a-Doodle for lunch last year before writing about the restaurant’s 50th anniversary, I marveled at the vintage calendars papering the walls in the hallway outside the restrooms. They’re obviously not original to the ‘Doodle since most predate its existence.

Here’s a note from reader Toni Bagley about the calendars:

“At the Cock-a-Doodle Restaurant on Central Ave. in Chino, there are a ton of calendars on the wall. We are all so curious about them! They are small (maybe 7″x9”) annual calendars starting in 1926 going through 1961. A few years are missing, but not many. They were provided by a business called Soper Bros. It appears that Soper Bros. sold most anything farm or house related.

“The calendars are covered with pencil notations. Most curious are certain ‘holidays’ or ‘events’ that no one understands. One is ‘Ember Day,’ and another is ‘Rogation Day.’ What do these things mean?

“I’ve lived here 30+ years, but haven’t run across anyone who can explain the history of the calendars. They’re a real ‘show-stopper’ as you are waiting to get into the Ladies Room! Well, they don’t ‘stop’ anything (!), but they are an attraction.

“Thanks for delving into this, David. Also, while you’re there, delve into the biscuits and gravy!”

Anyone know the story behind the calendars being there (I’m guessing they were donated), the history of Soper Bros. or what Rogation Day or Ember Day would refer to?

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Too much Information Fair

At Saturday’s Pomona Information Fair, I said hello to Councilwoman Paula Lantz at the City Council booth and was given my very own official City of Pomona Mayor’s Office pencil.

“For taking accurate notes,” Lantz said with a smile. Hey, I’ll take whatever help I can.

Photographer Richard Nunez was there with spending money from the Goddess of Pomona blogger. He dipped into the stash to buy me a hot dog and a Pepsi — wasn’t that nice? — and then paid me a compliment, of sorts.

“Do you have a tapeworm in your stomach? I read about how you’re always eating at restaurants,” Nunez said. “I thought, this guy must be huge” — he held his arms out in a giant bubble — “but you’re not.”

It’s all about portion control, Mr. Nunez. At least, I always thought so…

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