An arty movie lineup

The Claremont Laemmle 5 this week has “The Class,” an Oscar-nominated French film about a good teacher in a difficult classroom. I saw this at the ArcLight a few weeks back, assuming Claremont wouldn’t get it. Highly recommended.

I saw it with a friend who’s an LAUSD teacher and she said, despite it taking place in another country, the film felt very real to her. Educators in particular will like this film.

The Laemmle also is featuring “Che Part One” and “Che Part Two,” Steven Soderbergh’s extremely long Che Guevara biopic. And “Two Lovers,” the Joaquin Phoenix/Gwyneth Paltrow drama, is in its second week.

As if all this weren’t enough to keep cineastes busy, Claremont’s Tournees Film Festival concludes tonight.

The series ends with a screening of “Persepolis” at 6:30 p.m. at Pomona College. This 2008 animated film from France about a young woman growing up in Iran during the Revolution was likewise nominated for an Oscar. I can also recommend it. (The creator, graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi, appeared at the Claremont Athenaeum a couple of years ago.)

See it at the Rose Hills Theater in the Smith Campus Center, 170 E. 6th St.

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Restaurant of the Week: La Piccoletta



La Piccoletta, 114 N. Indian Hill Blvd. (at 2nd, sort of), Claremont

Hidden away in a Claremont Village alley, La Piccoletta is in a standalone building between 1st and 2nd streets and between Indian Hill and Yale. These directions will be handy in case I ever want to find it again, because for years at a time I’ve forgotten precisely where it was until stumbling across it on foot.

The building, once a shop that made smudge pots for local orchards, has a trompe l’oeil mural of vines, a stone doorway and a window, but no actual windows. This deterred me for years, that and the no-lunch hours and set menu, which led me to believe (correctly) that as a solo diner I wouldn’t be comfortable. I’ve also heard the restaurant’s glory days were behind it after a couple of ownership changes.

Still, I was curious, and at last, I scared up a friend to accompany me. Reservations made — it’s a small place, and you’ll need them — we arrived and were seated immediately. A party filled the communal table and the half-dozen other tables were occupied too. The cottage-like interior reminded me of a mission or a monastery: rustic, dark wood, a stained glass window, thick wooden tables. A smudge pot perches on a shelf near the ceiling.

The menu is more complicated than under previous owners, I’m told. Instead of two pastas and two sauces for the evening, there were four sauces, plus several other entrees.

I got the penne pasta ($17) with a half and half of two sauces: aromi (cream, Romano cheese and tomatoes) and pesto. My friend got a filet mignon with balsamic reduction ($26), which also came with a small side of pasta. The entrees both came with a simple salad and a beverage.

My meal wasn’t worth $17. As other friends have said, you could make the same meal at home. The sauces, while fresh, were bland. The pasta didn’t taste homemade. The restaurant doesn’t seem to be hurting for business, but $10 would be a fairer price for what they’re serving.

That said, the steak was tender and flavorful, and worth every penny. It was that good. A berry tart ($6.50) was fine but unexceptional.

A basket of warm, crunchy bread contained only two small pieces. We soon asked for more and got two more pieces. Modesty forbid requesting a third serving, but two more pieces would have been nice. Service was friendly.

There are three other Italian restaurants in the Village, and you could probably get better Italian food at any of them. La Piccoletta’s atmosphere, however, is unique and makes up for a lot of the flaws. But they really need to pep up the sauces.


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Cole’s, L.A.


One of the stops I made last week during my furlough was the newly reopened Cole’s P.E. Buffet in downtown L.A. at 6th and Main. Cole’s opened in 1908 and like Philippe’s, it also claims to have invented the French dip sandwich. Unlike Philippe’s, which settled into its current location in 1951, Cole’s has stuck like glue to 118 E. 6th St. for 101 years.

The obscure Cole’s is forever in the shadow of the perennially popular Philippe’s, even if the sandwiches at Cole’s may be slightly better. Another example of life’s inherent unfairness.

I’d been to Cole’s once before, back in 2006, shortly before it closed for renovation. The operation, which is slightly below street level in the old Pacific Electric building, was charming in a down-at-the-heels way. The place was rethought and retooled when the building was rehabbed into lofts. The interior still has the wonderful saloon-like bar, a carving station, round lamps, bordello-esque wallpaper and vintage photos, but the sawdust is gone, as is the buffet service. You now sit at plush booths and order from a waiter off a very short menu.

A lamb dip ($8) comes with a dish of au jus, a nice touch. Good bread, good meat, good presentation. The spicy pickle wasn’t to my liking. A side of purple slaw was good on its own or added to the sandwich.

On the whole, I’d rather eat at Philippe’s — how many generations of Angelenos have rendered the same judgment? — because it’s a livelier place and it has way more pie. Mmmm…pie. Still, devotees of old L.A. need to visit Cole’s at least once. It’s easily reached via Metrolink and the Red Line subway (Pershing Square stop).

* Steve Harvey (with whom I lunched) was inspired, as I’d thought he might be, to write a history piece on Cole’s.

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Casa Bianca Pizza Pie, Eagle Rock


I’ve passed Casa Bianca Pizza Pie a couple of dozen times over the years, and even tried eating at it three times previously, but was always thwarted by its hours: no lunch service, closed on Sundays. The old-school neon sign, however, would not be denied, and neither would Jonathan Gold’s glowing praise of Casa Bianca, founded in 1955, as L.A.’s best neighborhood pizza parlor. (His unattributed review begins with the section labeled “The Pie.”)

Is it all that? I met up there last Friday with a friend recently transplanted from Rancho Cucamonga to Eagle Rock.

The place was bustling, with people crowded into the foyer and others waiting on the sidewalk. Celebrity photos, including a young Ed Asner and an old Ed Asner, line the walls. In the dining room, the tables have red-checked tablecloths. The atmosphere reminded me of Vince’s Spaghetti, only cozier, and filled with the happy hum of conversation.

The pizza proved to be quite good, with a thin, crispy crust, the way I like it. The homemade sausage lived up to its hype. The other half of our pizza, done Hawaiian style, is said to have been a favorite of Obama’s when he went to Occidental College. I don’t normally deign to eat ham and pineapple on a pizza but have to say this version was impressive.

Service was exceptionally friendly and the tiramasu ($4.75) is worth getting.

Is this L.A.’s best pizza? As Gold says, someplace has to have L.A.’s best pizza. It could very well be Casa Bianca. Then again, the pizza may be just as good at San Biagio’s in Upland, which is considerably more convenient. Casa Bianca does get the edge for atmosphere (Gold: “This is the pizza parlor all Americans have been conditioned to look for since early childhood”). And for sausage.

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Truth in advertising?


The time and temperature sign at PFF Bank in downtown Ontario flashed a possibly-telling message one night last week.

Oddly enough, a reader told me several years back about a PFF sign flashing a “con” message. It seems to be the default when the sign isn’t working properly. Somehow it has a more subversive meaning these days.

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This is the poem read at Monday’s La Verne City Council meeting by its author, La Verne’s official poet laureate (!), Cathy Henley-Erickson, in honor of retiring Mayor Jon Blickenstaff:

In his family tradition of public service
The shadow is long, cast by this man:
The green hills, protected now, welcome us all
The calm workplace supports and challenges
those who labor here.

Jon is more than numbers:
27 years as mayor
35 years in education
1934 and 1940 woodies

Jon is more than adjectives:

Jon is more than accomplishments:
Gold Line Construction Authority
Casa Colina
Tri-City Mental Health

What Jon is now and will be next
depends upon where he turns, and what he chooses.

When the richness of life comes from giving,
from spending time
as if the bank account of moments
always grew,
interest compounded on interest,

Then, in the long line of life,
though any one of us makes only a smallish dent
in the pile of work that needs doing,
a purpose for life continues,
and we are secure.

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I’m back

Regular posting resumes today. Yay! Last week was busy, with outings to downtown L.A. and Eagle Rock, not to mention Chino Hills, Rancho Cucamonga, La Verne and Ontario. Once the vertigo of being back at the office subsides, I’ll share the highlights, some here, and perhaps some in print.

In the meantime, thanks for your patience and for your comments last week.

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