Column: His mission: explore San Juan Capistrano

On a recent day off, I took a day trip by train to San Juan Capistrano. (Three hours there, three hours back, $23.) While there (six hours), I toured the Los Rios District and Mission San Juan Capistrano. It was a fun, informative outing, and the tale is told in Wednesday’s column. Have you been to SJC? What were your impressions?

Above, the other side of the tracks is quite nice; both sides are. Below, a view inside the Serra Chapel.

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’47 things’

Pomona College put together a list for its seniors of “47 things to do before leaving Pomona,” basically a local and Southern California to-do list, given that many students are from out of state and may never, or rarely, return. And 47 is a college in-joke.

It’s a cool list; click on the hyperlink above to see it. Depending on how you count, I’ve done about 27, if you allow, for example, eating at Donut Man (No. 45) but not at midnight.

I’ve never been to Joshua Tree National Park (No. 1, ulp) or taken the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (No. 40), or ordered from the In-N-Out secret menu (No. 10), the latter perhaps because I operate strictly on the up-and-up. Somehow I don’t see myself hitting the slopes (No. 12), catching a wave (No. 13) or playing broomball (No. 42), whatever that is.

What do you think of the list and how do you rate?

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Toad in the hole


Some friends and I made an inaugural visit to the Tam o’ Shanter, a Los Angeles restaurant. The Tam (2980 Los Feliz Blvd.) opened in 1922 and is said to be the city’s oldest restaurant in its original location and owned by the same family. (It’s also said by Jonathan Gold to serve the city’s best classic cocktail, the Moscow mule.)

I saw toad in the hole on the menu and couldn’t resist. I’ve never had one, and what a great name. It’s described as filet mignon with onions, mushrooms, burgundy wine sauce and Yorkshire pudding. I couldn’t picture it but was ready to be surprised. And was.

Yorkshire pudding, it turns out, is basically a puffy pastry. I don’t know what the toad is, and didn’t see any holes, but I liked it. That said, if I return, and I may someday because the Scottish theme, cozy setting and history make the Tam a unique spot, I’d probably opt for something different; one friend got a hand-carved prime rib sandwich on an enormous poppyseed bun.

What is toad in the hole? My understanding is there are various versions, and the American style can differ from the original British. The Simply Recipes site┬ásays the English version is sausages in Yorkshire pudding, while the American is “an egg cooked in the hole cut out of a piece of bread.” You’ll note that these two dishes have absolutely nothing in common.

One reason for my interest is the old stand at the L.A. County Fair named Toad in the Hole. It was there from 1933 until 2008, when it was bulldozed. The stand’s motto was “The Aristocrat of Foods.” Its last decade, it was Toad in the Hole Pizza, which seems less aristocratic somehow. As for what the stand served, Charles Phoenix said it was “filet mignon tucked inside baked potato,” while a Fair spokeswoman said it was “a piece of toast with an egg fried inside it.”

It’s not surprising these recollections differ, is it? Anyway, above is the Tam o’ Shanter version, below is the Tam’s sign and at bottom is the Fair’s stand, as seen on the Panoramio website by Pomona’s Danny Mac.



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Oldest surviving restaurants in LA


The Los Angeles Beat blog compiled an amazing list of LA and environs’ oldest surviving restaurants, organized by year of opening. Oldest: Santa Clarita’s Saugus Cafe, 1905. A number of Inland Valley restaurants are on the list, including Sycamore Inn (1939), Vince’s Spaghetti (1946), Magic Lamp (1955), La Paloma (1966) and more, even if they can be hard to spot in scrolling.

Oldest restaurant out our way: 1918’s Golden Spur in Glendora. (Photo from the KoHoSo site.)

See the list here, and congratulations to Nikki Kreuzer for the labor of love in putting it together, and in adding to it based on reader comments.

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A day trip in LA


Wednesday’s column is about Grace Moremen and Jacqueline Chase, two Claremont residents who’ve written a guidebook, “Loving LA the Low Carbon Way: A Personal Guide to the City of Angels via Public Transportation.” For the column, we took a Metrolink trip together. The online version has hyperlinks to more information about some of the sights we saw. Here are some photos from the day, all shot by me except the one I’m in, which is by Moremen, an enthusiastic photographer.

Above, Moremen, left, and Chase walk through Union Station; below, Chase and I knock on the World Peace Bell (clang! clang!). If world peace doesn’t break out, it won’t be our fault. Below that, they look at books in the Central Library’s children’s room, a lovely space with enormous windows, custom carpet and murals.




Above, the Rendezvous Court of the Biltmore Hotel — so swank! — and, below, one of the wall panels in Biddy Mason Park.



The Bradbury Building, above, is ornate and filled with natural light. Below, Moremen and Chase relax on a sofa in the Last Bookstore.



Moremen and Chase chat on the Red Line subway back to Union Station. Below, a Virgin of Guadalupe mural adorns a wall off Mariachi Plaza.



Moremen photographs a Buddhist temple in Little Tokyo from a Gold Line train. Below, our Metrolink train pulls into Union Station for the ride home. We were tired, but it was a good kind of tired.


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Al Martinez, 1929-2015


The longtime LA Times columnist died Monday at age 85 of congestive heart failure.

I met him in Pomona in 2009. He was at Pilgrim Congregational Church as part of the Big Read for Jack London’s “The Call of the Wild” to talk about his career, which included a book about his dog, Barkley. I had him sign my copy of “Dancing Under the Moon.”

I was, darn it, too shy and awed to really engage him in conversation, what with so many people around, but I did write a few paragraphs about what I observed at the dinner afterward. Martinez and his wife, Joanne, whom he called in print Cinelli, her previous name, had a conversation about his speech that was much like the exchanges that enlivened his columns.

Martinez: Could you hear me all right?

Cinelli: I could hear you pretty well.

Martinez: What does that mean? Could you hear me or couldn’t you?

Cinelli: I could hear you fine.

Martinez: Then why did you say ‘pretty well’?

Cinelli: You don’t project.

LA Observed, the site where he continued to write after the Times retired him, has a tribute.

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Two moments of Zen


One of the little-known public spaces in downtown L.A. is the Japanese rooftop garden at a hotel in Little Tokyo: formerly the New Otani and Kyoto Grand, now a DoubleTree (120 S. Los Angeles St). I read about the garden perhaps eight years ago and visit now and then, always feeling as if I’m in on a secret. It’s accessible to the public, either from the hotel’s lobby elevators or from Weller Court, the adjacent minimall.

I was there again on Sunday on a visit to Little Tokyo in which I followed the path laid out by the book “Walking L.A.” by Erin Mahoney. It was a good day for it because I wanted to catch the last day of the “Marvels and Monsters” comic book exhibit at the Japanese American National Museum, which is the first stop on the tour.

So, I took Metrolink and the Gold Line, visited the museum, saw some public art and the garden (above) and ate ramen in Weller Court.

My next stop was the Japanese American Community Cultural Center (244 S. San Pedro St.), which I’d never seen before. The guidebook led me to elevators that took me to the basement, where there is … a Japanese garden.

This is the James Irvine Garden, opened in 1979 and featuring a 170-foot stream. See below.

Two public Japanese gardens in downtown L.A.? I was humbled by my ignorance. I could see the DoubleTree from the Cultural Center garden and wondered if I might have been able to see the Cultural Center garden from the DoubleTree’s garden. I’ll have to go back sometime and check.

Incidentally, they are friendly folks at the Cultural Center. On my way out of the garden, a woman introduced herself as the CEO and president, handed me brochures and invited me to the opening of a ukelele (!) performance area in the coffee shop upstairs. I only popped my head in, as I had a train to catch, but it’s cool when a place is so welcoming.


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