Restaurant of the Week: Benihana

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Benihana, 3760 E. Inland Empire Blvd. (at Haven), Ontario

Benihana, the Japanese chain with an Ontario location, may be the Inland Valley’s best “experience” restaurant. If you go for the teppanyaki, where you sit around the grill, the chef puts on a show involving fast action with the utensils, some sleight of hand and a few jokes. He’ll flip a few shrimp tails or egg shells into his hat or shirt pocket and maybe do some juggling.

I shot a short video of the chef’s final flourishes.

I’ve eaten there a few times over the years, including once on Christmas Day with my visiting parents, and returned recently with a friend to celebrate publication of my book. (Many more times I’ve been to the sushi bar.) It was as much fun as I remembered.

I went for the Land ‘n Sea ($34), steak and scallops, and my friend had the teriyaki chicken ($19), both of which come with a small salad, soup, rice, grilled vegetables, hot tea and ice cream. The menu can be seen here.

I didn’t go with the intention of writing a blog post, so I didn’t take many pictures. But it’s difficult to photograph your entree anyway because everything arrives in stages. The chef gives you the vegetables and a few pieces of grilled shrimp, and then, if you have a combo entree like I did, one part of them and then the other part, as he’s cooking everything at once.

(As regular readers know, we frown on chains here at the David Allen Blog, but we’re not militant about it. If a chain has only one or two local outlets, that makes it fair game. There’s only one local Benihana and I belatedly decided I might as well post about it.)

It’s not the greatest food or anything, but it’s fine, and the show is pretty good. Who can tire of watching an onion stacked in layers like a volcano shoot steam skyward? This time, though, the wait for the entree seemed long, and the chef encouraged us all (the tables seat eight) to get to work on our vegetables even though the bowls were still arrayed around the grill waiting for him to finish. I practiced a long reach to snag my mushrooms and onions. In a way, then, dinner was not entirely satisfying. Still, it’s an enjoyable special occasion restaurant.

And it’s large! There are more than 20 grills, and most of them were in use on our weeknight visit.

Did you know Benihana is 50 this year? I didn’t. According to the corporate history, the first, in 1964, was in New York City; there are now 70 around the world. I don’t know when Ontario’s opened, but probably the early or mid 1990s; Daily Bulletin types were going there on occasion when I started here in 1997.

Oh, and at the end of your meal, they still give each group a Polaroid of themselves in a little paper frame, as if you were boarding a cruise ship, except here it’s free.

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‘Have you read the 200 best American novels?’

To answer the above question: No. No, I haven’t. The list, which can be read here, is from PBS’ News Hour’s Art Beat blog, combines two other lists and covers American novels from 1791 to 1986. Evidently nothing of interest has been published the past 28 years, which is a shame.

I initially thought I’d read 29 but now think my total is really 27, because on second thought I don’t believe I read “Ethan Frome” at all, and may not have finished the college assignment “The House of Mirth.”

I’m tempted to read “Reveries of a Bachelor” (1850) based purely on the title.

This list is about as useful as any other classic books list, i.e., not that much. But if you bookish types would like to take a peep at it and offer your thoughts, or your total, please do. John Clifford will be smug after learning he read one of the 200 just last month.

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Your two cents: ‘Puerile’

My Sept. 2 column led reader John Lamm to read an earlier column and then send me the following email, with the neutral subject line “Your work.” Here’s his missive in full.

“I read your column in today’s paper — specifically your account of a reader’s possession of copies of the Senate Watergate Hearings, and in that column you referred to your August 8th column. So I dredged up and read that column also.

“I am certain that as a chronicler of current events (at least within the 909) you also feel that your ‘take’ on various events of the past has some merit, simply because you have the forum to present that ‘take.’ I can assure you it doesn’t. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a more vacuous, puerile or less-informed stab at wit or wisdom as your blather and version of the time and events of the phenomenality prescient Nixon Presidency you recall in your column.

“Your ‘take’ on Richard Nixon, his presidency, and specifically the events leading up to August 8, 1974 is as erudite as the assignment given the Rialto School District’s 8th graders to prove or disprove the Holocaust.

“In short, you are an idiot.”

Ha! Give him this, he knows how to write a punchy ending. A “sir” would have increased the disdain, though: “In short, sir, you are an idiot.” We could then imagine the finger snap with which he would have dismissed me.

Was the column that bad? It meandered, it was composed of random thoughts on Watergate, but you weren’t expecting a tightly written essay that cut like a diamond, were you?

By the end of the reader’s email I laughed out loud because it’s rare that I get such a rude letter, so it’s kind of a treat. All sorts of replies went through my mind: “You read two of my columns and then spent precious minutes crafting a put-down email; who’s the idiot here?” “Thanks for your ‘take’ on my ‘take,’” “My bosses loved that column and they’re the ones who pay me,” “How can I help you if you won’t tell me how you feel,” that sort of thing. Also, I considered asking if “phenomenality” is a word, but then, I’m an idiot so of course it must be.

My preferred response: “Thanks for letting me know. Best anyway.”
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Restaurant of the Week: Yugen Sushi

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Yugen Sushi, 2250 S. Archibald (at the 60), Ontario; closed Sundays

A reader recommended I try Yugen, which is in south Ontario, just below the 60 Freeway. So I went in for lunch after a long, circuitous drive to get there. (From south Ontario, it’s no big deal; from north Ontario, getting there involves maneuvering around the airport.)

Yugen is in a lackluster shopping center whose main tenants are a 24 Hour Fitness and a church. It’s also immediately south of the Ontario Police Department, which uses a defunct Fedco, behind acres of parking, as its headquarters.

I didn’t see any cops inside Yugen, but surely some of them eat there (the ones not eating at Alina’s). The Yugen interior is simple and unpromising. A small aquarium is about the only item of interest amid the tiled floor and ceiling. I took a seat at the sushi bar and perused the menu. They have cheap sushi at lunchtime, $2 to $4 per order.

I opted for a combination plate with three pieces of sushi (pepper salmon, ono and albacore) and nine pieces of sashimi (yellowtail, tuna and salmon, three each), for $14; lunch included miso soup. Not realizing I was getting soup, I ordered a cucumber salad ($3.75).

The salad was larger than expected and tasty. The soup was okay but had no seaweed. The lunch plate was impressive: the sashimi was cut thick, about one-third inch per piece. I liked it and the sushi too, especially the pepper salmon. The sushi chef was low-key and helpful.

Yugen was a pleasant outing, one of those nice finds in an otherwise dismal area where the main restaurants are Taco Bell and McDonald’s. You can find better sushi — but maybe not in Ontario.

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Reading Log: August 2014

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Books acquired: none.

Books read: “The Leisure Architecture of Wayne McAllister,” Chris Nichols; “L.A. in the ’30s,” David Gebhard and Harriette von Breton; “On Reading,” Andre Kertesz; “The Bronze Rule,” Mary Sisney; “Shakespeare Wrote for Money,” Nick Hornby; “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” “Through the Looking-Glass,” Lewis Carroll; “Gullible’s Travels, Etc.,” Ring Lardner; “The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories,” Ernest Hemingway; “The Chandler Apartments,” Owen Hill; “Urban Tumbleweed,” Harryette Mullen.

Remember when I read 22 very short books in one month (March 2013)? I’d been wanting to repeat the experiment during another staycation but that kept getting delayed, as enticing column topics or commitments kept presenting themselves. Finally, I took off a week in mid-August.

What with one thing or another, such as modest travel that week, and moviegoing, I was unable to knock off a book a day, and in fact became mired in some books for day after day. But I read 11, counting a combo volume of the two “Alice” books as two, and that’s double my usual total. Felt good to get some relatively easy books out of the way too.

In the order presented above, I read two books on vintage L.A. architecture, a book of L.A. poems composed in rambles around town, a mystery involving a Berkeley bookhunter-sleuth, a memoir by a retired Cal Poly Pomona English prof, photos taken over 50 years of people reading in public, more of Hornby’s “Stuff I’ve Been Reading” columns (the model for these blog posts), the “Alice” books, humorous stories from the 1910s and 1920s, and some random stories by Hemingway.

I won’t discuss all these books but will say I liked them all to one degree or another, and that my favorites were Hornby, Hill, Mullen, the first Carroll (some think “Looking-Glass” is better, but it struck me as markedly inferior, if still of interest) and Lardner. The latter consists of five stories about a lower middle-class couple in NYC with pretensions of social-climbing; the narrator is the husband, whose colloquialisms, misstatements and dry wit are hilarious. Highly recommended.

As for when I acquired these books, the Lardner is the oldest, likely going back 20 or 25 years. And it’s possibly my favorite of the month. The others are all five years old or less, and usually from the last year. I’ll also point out that Mullen’s was only published last year and Sisney’s this year. Shockingly modern. Also, that two of my books were by women named Harriet, only with complex spellings. I guess that was a minor theme this month.

What were you reading in August, and have you happened to read any of mine before? The “Alice” books and “Kilimanjaro” have surely been read by some of you.

Next month: I’ve read a month of “I” titles; here’s a month of “eye” titles.

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Column: Air raid siren has left Claremont without warning

Sunday’s column begins with a long item about a hiding-in-plain-sight air raid siren on the Claremont McKenna College campus, left over from the Cold War days. The siren was uprooted last spring and donated to a Cold War museum in Culver City. (My blog post from 2010 on air raid sirens is here.)

Also, my column has three Pomona items and two Culture Corner items, plus a plug for this blog.

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