Restaurant of the Week: Hi Family

Hi Family, 944 W. Foothill Blvd. (at Regis), Claremont; open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily except Wednesday, closed; also 12732 Foothill Blvd. (at Etiwanda), Rancho Cucamonga

In the small plaza across from Stater Bros., Hayato (best Japanese restaurant in Claremont) and Mediterranean mainstay Darvish are firmly lodged, while Chinese restaurants have come and gone. Hi Family, though, has hung in there for four years, according to Yelp; after a foodie friend recommended it, we made plans to eat there.

Unfortunately, that was on a Wednesday, the one day it’s closed. A few weeks later, in Claremont at lunchtime on a Monday, I gave it a spin solo.

It’s small, just eight tables, with dark wood and cobalt walls. The menu has a few standard American Chinese dishes like orange chicken, but most of the menu is real Chinese.

The first thing they bring out is a tumbler of water with slices of cucumber inside, an unusual but welcome flourish.

My friend said he’d had dan dan noodles and rattan pepper beef. Noticing that hot pots seem to be a specialty, I got the chicken, small size ($19), after they were out of short rib, my first choice. But that’s just as well, as Los Chicken, as it’s known, appears to be the most popular dish. The name is evidently a Mandarin pun, a shorthand version of Los Angeles as well as chicken, if I understand what I read correctly.

They bring out a portable stove to keep the soup hot. The soup had chicken (with bones in some cases), cabbage, chile oil and no doubt more. I ordered it medium spicy, which in my case was too spicy. I was blowing my nose into my napkin and gulping that cucumber water.

But it was tasty, generous with the chicken and with searing oil. The soup stayed hot and there were leftovers enough for two more meals. I also had an order of rice ($1), spooning the soup into a small bowl and mixing in the rice.

Once outside I noticed the sandwich board special for “crawfish rice.” Had I seen that going in I might have ordered it.

Szechuan-style Hi Family is the most authentic of the (I believe) three Chinese restaurants in Claremont, with Upper House being a middle ground (with more seating too) and Mr. You Express, which I haven’t visited, a fast-food spot. It probably goes without saying that Hi Family is for the more adventurous diner — although you could always get orange chicken.

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Reading Log: November 2018

Books acquired: “The Orange and the Dream of California,” David Boulé

Books read: “The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage,” Todd Gitlin; “Haircut and Other Stories,” Ring Lardner

November, the penultimate month. Perhaps you are racing toward some reading target; me, I’m gliding toward year’s end by finishing a certain goal.

That would be reading the last unread books from the Northern California period of my life (1986-1994), and yes, I am properly chagrined at having books this hoary on my unread list. But I’m near to no longer having them on my unread list, just as I knocked off the last (with an asterisk or two) hangover books from my Illinois period (birth-1986) a couple of years back. Progress!

Over 2018 I’ve read five from my Bay Area years, by Hawthorne, Kafka, Hammett and Dick (two); this month I read “The Sixties,” and I’m largely through the final one, which will be a December book.

Sometimes these long-held books turn out to be gems; other times the reason they hadn’t been read until now becomes obvious, i.e., that I wasn’t into them but couldn’t admit it to myself consciously. If they were all in the latter category, I might junk all my old books, but they aren’t, and there’s no obviously differentiating point to allow me to make that determination. The five mentioned above were all good to great, for instance, and I’m glad I read each of them.

And I won’t disparage “The Sixties,” a chronicle (from 1987) of the student protest movement, of which Gitlin was among the leaders. I learned a fair amount; it’s just that 440 small-type pages proved to be far more than I wanted to know about the subject, especially at this late date.

Actually, one of the tidbits that most struck me was about the 1950s and concerned the lunch counter protests against Woolworth’s, which began with four black college students in suits and ties sitting at the counter in Greensboro, N.C., all day, refusing to leave when they were ignored. The next day, they returned with 25 more students, some in ROTC uniforms; the third day with double the number; by the fifth day, with 300. Allow me to quote:

“At its luminous best, what the movement did was stamped with imagination. The sit-in, for example, was a powerful tactic because the act itself was unexceptionable. What were the Greensboro students doing, after all, but sitting at a lunch counter, trying to order a hamburger or a cup of coffee? They did not petition the authorities, who, in any case, would have paid no heed; in strict Gandhian fashion, they asserted that they had a right to sit at the counter by sitting at it, and threw the burden of disruption onto the upholders of white supremacy. Instead of saying that segregation ought to stop, they acted as if segregation no longer existed. That was the definitive movement style, squarely in the American grain, harking back to Thoreau’s idea of civil disobedience…”

Of course the 1960s stuff was often fascinating too: I learned, or was reminded, that the Kennedy brothers were inconsistent champions of civil rights and that MLK peaked at the March on Washington, both characterizations bringing these icons down to earth as human beings, and also that the student protest movement was relatively coordinated nationally.

Still, I was reading this book from Nov. 1 to 25, an awfully big chunk of time for what I got out of it. I protest!

“Haircut,” by contrast, was right up my alley. Lardner was a master of real-world speech; most of these stories are told exclusively through narration, letters or diary entries, and each reveals character, often unwittingly, and usually hilariously. The flighty teenage girl in “I Can’t Breathe” strings along three young men, all of whom believe they’re engaged to her; the would-be lovers of “Some Like Them Cold” grow close and then apart via correspondence.

Lardner, who died in 1933, isn’t read much today, although there’s a Library of America anthology from 2013 that has asserted his place in the canon.

As for these books’ provenance, Gitlin’s was bought at Green Apple Books in San Francisco in 1993, while Lardner’s, also used, came from Downtowne Books in Riverside in 2001. There is a sly joke in reading “Haircut” and “The Sixties” in the same month; and as two of my oldest unread books, they both cried out to be read anyway.

I’m up to 44 books read in 2018 and am likely to end the year at 47, being well into all three I intend to read this month.

How was your November, readers, and are we nearing, or accomplishing, any particular goals?

Next month: big names in music.

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Column: Pomona happily accepts return of Buffums’ murals

Longtime residents still talk about the beauty of the Palomares dining room in downtown Pomona’s Buffums’ department store, which closed in 1991. Contributing to that beauty were two murals by the Millard Sheets Studio. They were sold to the highest bidder when the store closed, along with other fixtures. But they’ve been bought by the Tessier family, who own the Fox Theater and other properties downtown, and will be on display starting Saturday. Read more, and see photos, in my Friday column.

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Restaurant of the Week: Corazon Urban Kitchen

Corazon Urban Kitchen, 1637 N. Garey Ave. (at McKinley), Pomona; open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and until 8 p.m. Sunday

Pomona has a lot of Mexican restaurants, most of them taquerias, but places taking a more chef-driven approach are rare. There’s been some movement in that regard in the past year with the vegan Mexican spot Borreguitas, the cholo-friendly Dia de los Puercos and the modern Mexican Corazon Urban Kitchen.

Among the experimental restaurant’s experiments was where to locate. Corazon opened on East Second Street earlier this year, was raved about and then within weeks closed in a landlord-tenant dispute. This summer it surfaced on Garey Avenue above the 10 Freeway between a tire shop and a liquor store across from Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center.

I had lunch there recently with a friend who’d eaten there once before. A window seat will put you practically on the sidewalk.

Parking is either on the street or in the lot immediately to the south, which the server assured me was fine. The exterior is a muted red with a stylish metal sign, the effect somewhat offset by a banner or two. The interior is inviting with faux wood flooring, pumpkin-colored walls and portraits of such Mexican icons as Frida, Cantinflas and El Santo.

Lunch started with chips and salsa. The chips were warm, the salsa fresh tasting.

My friend and I ordered from the lunch specials, which are $8. I got a carnitas sope with rice, he got a chicken tinga torta with fries. We both thought they were great. A reader had recommended the sopes, two discs of masa with a meat (or not), queso fresco, cilantro and crema, and I was not disappointed. I should have asked my friend to cut his torta in half for a better photo, but I swear there was chicken inside. We both left full.

“I would say ‘Delicious torta,’ which is a boring thing to say,” he said. “Not only would I come back, I did come back.” While he preferred his first-visit quesadilla, he said: “The taste is prima.”

Plates cost $10 to $25. Entrees include short rib tacos, potato taquitos, chicharron tacos and a chorizo burger. Their Facebook page says they now have a vegan chile relleno. Blogger John Clifford gave a detailed account of a meal here back in June. Owner Sergio Nogueron, he said, is a Ganesha High graduate who worked in restaurants in LA before returning to his hometown. Welcome back, Sergio.

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Column: Former Byrd John York alights for solo concert in Claremont

I’d been wanting to write about John York for at least a year, and probably longer; I first saw him perform in 2007. The longtime local musician was in a famous band, the Byrds, albeit after their hit-making days were past. Finally, he’s the subject of Wednesday’s column in advance of a benefit concert Saturday at the Claremont Forum.

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Read a book while eating a meal

For those paying attention, my apologies for missing the (semi-) weekly Restaurant of the Week feature here last week.

It wasn’t for a lack of restaurant meals: I had notes on three different places. But after three busy workdays Monday to Wednesday, one of them 12 hours long, I ran out of time to write up a restaurant post. Hopefully none of you starved. Yesterday afternoon I spent an hour writing that post, so we are good to go for Thursday.

Meanwhile, I finished only one (but long and complicated!) book last month and am nearing the end of a second book started in November that I want to count toward that month. Look for my Reading Log post Monday.

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Column: Last day of the Callender as Marie’s in Claremont closes

Wait, a column on a Monday? Well, after hearing from three heartbroken readers that the Marie Callender’s in Claremont had closed after 45 years, I stopped by the restaurant Friday morning, thinking that if they’d lost their lease, and that was the last day of the month, that might be the last day I could find someone on the premises.

The owner happened to be there, answered all my questions and posed for a photo. I already had a Sunday column mostly done, which couldn’t wait, and have a column planned for Wednesday. What to do?

So, after filing Sunday’s column Friday and breaking for lunch, I returned to the office and cranked out a Callender’s column, with photo gallery, in a breakneck 90 minutes. Bonus! I wish they were all this easy.

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