About David Allen

A journalist since 1987, David Allen has been writing a column for the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin since 1997 and blogging since 2007. He's a native of Illinois and lives in Claremont. Otherwise his commute to Ontario would take days. E-mail David here. Read recent columns here

Lydia Davis at Scripps

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Short story writer and translator Lydia Davis won a MacArthur fellowship in 2003 and a Man Booker Prize in 2009. She’s considered one of the finest literary writers working today. The resident of New York state spoke Thursday afternoon at Scripps College, in something of a coup for Claremont. (Of course, we expect no less from the Claremont Colleges.) I left work early to attend. Nearly 100 people were in attendance, mostly students with some faculty and a few regular folks like me.

Most of Davis’ stories are quite short, many only a couple of pages, some so minimalist they’re only a sentence or two long. They’re probably unlike anything else you’ll ever read.

She read for 40 minutes, and by my count she read 27 of her stories in that time, all from her latest collection, “Can’t and Won’t,” which has 122 (I think) stories in its 304 pages. Here’s a review from the New York Times.

Her stories are often drily hilarious, and Davis’ deadpan delivery in her reading made them even funnier. A few are written as letters of complaint to various companies. This mode began with a letter she wrote but never sent to a funeral home “objecting to the word ‘cremains,’” she told us. She never mailed it but instead made it a story.

Another letter of complaint was to a frozen peas manufacturer, in which she wondered why its packaging made its peas look less appealing than they actually are rather than the reverse. “That one I did send,” Davis explained. “I got an answer but it wasn’t satisfactory”; the company sent her a coupon for a subsidiary’s peas.

After the reading, I approached Davis for a signature on my copy of Proust’s “Swann’s Way,” which she translated in 2003 for Viking. In a spirit of full disclosure, I have to admit I haven’t read it — I bought it at a Borders during the closeout sale — but now I’ve got extra incentive. I certainly won’t part with it.

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Column: With restoration, Nativity scenes see a rebirth in Ontario

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Above, artist Kim Pretti paints one of the redone Mary figures. (Courtesy photo)

Friday’s column shares the news that the 1960s-era Nativity scenes erected on Ontario’s Euclid median each winter have been overhauled to bring them back to their original look after years of wear, tear and botched repairs. There are links within the column to my history of the scenes and to my blog post on the order in which they were installed. (I also have a plug for my book appearance Saturday and for another one next Saturday.)

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Restaurant of the Week: The Junction

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The Junction, 1 N. Indian Hill Blvd. (at First), Claremont

The first block of the “new Village,” just above the railroad tracks, has struggled a bit, with several tenants having come and gone. Even a cupcake shop failed there. If you’re driving south on Indian Hill and notice a shop over there, it’s too late, because a second later you’re over the tracks and out of downtown.

The Junction, a fusion eatery, took over in July from the cupcake shop and half of an organic foods store. “Garlic Butter Escargot” reads one window sign. “Rosemary Infused Lamb Rack” reads another. So they’re ambitious. I met up with a couple of friends there recently for lunch to give the place a try despite wondering if the location might doom it.

It’s got a snazzy interior, sleek and modern, lots of block with red accents, a bar and plenty of seating. A kind of light show plays on the entry floor, images undulating like a lava lamp. A second version plays on the bar top, and that one is heat-sensitive, so that if you wave your hand over the bar, the image shimmers. Our server cracked that drinkers find it fascinating, sometimes too much so.

The bar, incidentally, serves wine and beer, the latter including several local beers on draft from Dale Brothers, Claremont Craft Ales and Rok House.

As for the menu, it’s wide-ranging. They have  some small-plate appetizers, a few pricey entrees such as cod, prawns, lamb shank, pork chop and a steak, a New York cut grilled over sea salt for $55. They have a couple of pages of fusion foods, mostly Korean-based, that are lower cost.

I got the Junction bowl ($9), a bowl of bibimbap (rice, kimchi, green onions and a fried egg) with Korean barbecue beef. I liked it, and it was filling enough that I took one-third of it home for a light dinner.

Despite my urging one friend to get the $55 steak, he got a Mexican pizza with Korean barbecue ($9). Some would say this fused one too many cuisines. It had peppers, onions, tomatoes, jalapenos, cilantro, sour cream and more. He liked it, although he didn’t understand why the pizza was separated from the pan with paper, which he ended up partly eating.

The other friend, a vegan, got the mango avocado salad ($12) and truffle fries ($12). She liked both and was excited to see how many vegan-friendly options there were. “We get options, with an S,” she said, impressed. Our server confirmed, without being asked, that the items were vegan and mentioned several other items that could easily be made for vegans.

We’d met at noon and when we left around 2 p.m., the restaurant was largely occupied. While I don’t see myself returning for the $55 steak, I see myself returning. Looks like the Junction is a modest hit and may prove that block can field a winner.

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Column: Expectations can be taxing during Washington, D.C., vacation

Anyone making our national pilgrimage to Washington, D.C., has a long list of sites they want to see, or feel pressured to see. I wasn’t immune during my visit there earlier this month, but knowing I couldn’t see the proverbial “everything,” especially in four days, I tried to relax and focus on what I liked most. You can read about that in Wednesday’s column.

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Upland in NYC

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Upland reader Ann Lara loves her city; she’s the one who leads monthly walking tours of downtown. And so when she visited NYC this month, she made sure to seek out Manhattan’s new restaurant, Upland, named for the chef’s hometown.

“Great place, great food,” Lara reports. Wearing an Upland sweatshirt for effect, she told someone she was from Upland and got to meet both general manager Troy Weissmann and executive chef Justin Smillie.

“Justin was born at San Antonio Hospital and grew up in Rancho Cucamonga. He lived there until his eighth grade year and his family moved. The restaurant is decorated with lemons because it reminded him of his grandparents’ back yard,” Lara says. (See photo below of lemons in jars.)

Sounds as if Smillie could just as easily have named his restaurant Cucamonga, but Upland probably has a better ring to it. Lara told Smillie to be prepared for more hungry, and curious, Uplanders. Ever the Upland booster, she brought along some Upland postcards from the Cooper Regional History Museum for him.

She also brought along a newspaper for a Daily Bulletin on Vacation photo with Smillie.

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‘All That Jazz’ (and ‘A to Z’)

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Larry Fox had me on his “All That Jazz” program on KSPC-FM on Saturday afternoon, where we played a few jazz songs that I brought in and talked about my columns, this blog, restaurants and my book “Pomona A to Z.” It was a lot of fun and, I’m sure, revealing of my thought processes and style. If you tuned in, how did I do?

* The interview, as well as my 2010 visit, can be heard on the KSPC website.

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Column: ‘Repo Man’ local reference is anything but generic

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Friday’s column — I’m back! — kicks off with a few words about the 20th anniversary of the movie “Repo Man,” which has a Pomona reference. (Above, Emilio Estevez, left, and Harry Dean Stanton in a scene from the film.) After that: Culture Corner items, Claremont items, a quick note about my vacation and a plug for three upcoming events around my “Pomona A to Z” book, two of them this Saturday and one of them on the radio.

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Restaurant of the Week: Tahoe Joe’s

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Tahoe Joe’s, 3968 Grand Ave. (at Spectrum East), Chino; open daily

Tahoe Joe’s, a Fresno-based steakhouse chain, opened its first Southern California location on Chino’s restaurant row in July, where it replaced La Creperie, perhaps the steakhouse’s spiritual opposite. Based on the lunchtime crowd Sunday when I visited, it’s a success, compared to my quiet lunch at La Creperie with friends a couple of years ago.

The look reminds me of Lazy Dog Cafe, which is meant to resemble a Wyoming ski lodge; Tahoe Joe’s, modeled on a Tahoe ski lodge, has an expansive covered patio, and the interior has a lot of pine, a stone fireplace near the entry, a bar and, overall, a kind of upscale-rustic feel. Both restaurants are stylish. It might also remind you of Wood Ranch BBQ.

Incidentally, the Yelp page currently says Joe’s is open for lunch only on weekends, hence my Sunday visit, but a sign out front says it’s open from 11 a.m. daily.

The menu has steaks, seafood, salads and sandwiches with entrees ranging from $14 to $31. As you can imagine, Joe’s isn’t vegetarian-friendly, with only one item, a pasta, without meat. I went with the signature Joe’s Steak, a tri-tip slow-roasted for 19 hours and rolled in black pepper; this came with green beans and a choice of potato or rice (lunch price $14 for the 6-ounce portion).

It took a while to arrive — maybe it had only roasted for 18 1/2 hours when I placed my order — and the server volunteered a couple of apologies. Not that I minded, as I brought plenty to read. The steak was pretty good, thick-cut and with a smoky taste, and 6 ounces was a good portion (there was a 10-ounce option for a few dollars more). I got rice pilaf as my choice, and I even ate most of my green beans, which I never do. But I passed on their signature cheesecake.

For those interested, the bar has 18 beers, a selection of martinis and 20 wines by the glass, and there’s a happy hour.

It was a comfortable experience even for a solo diner, and there’s nothing pretentious about the place. Worth checking out, at least if you like meat.

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