A year of dining ahead

As has become standard practice, I expect to continue these Restaurant of the Week posts in the coming year. I like doing them, they get me out to new places and you folks seem to like them too. I’ve been writing them since September 2007.

Let me use this first of the year post to explain how I pick the 45 to 50 restaurants a year that are featured here.

Some come recommended, but many are simply places I drive past or hear about. I may eat there on my lunch break if it’s near our office, which is in Rancho Cucamonga. If on I’m assignment in a farther city, I often make a point of going for lunch or dinner while I’m in the neighborhood. If I’m meeting a friend for lunch during the week or on a weekend, we often pick a restaurant that would be good for the blog.

The restaurant might be new or it might be old. Wherever I go, I’m eating there anonymously and buying my meal without introducing myself. To my mind, I’m just a guy eating lunch or dinner — but taking notes and photos. I have no training to write reviews and don’t consider these blog posts to be reviews. They’re just my take.

If restaurant reviewing were actually my job, I would work harder at staying atop what’s new or popular, or seek out certain restaurants, such as a couple of Mexican restaurants in Rialto recommended by a taco expert. But it’s not. This is just a hobby.

Another note: I try to hit all 10 of our cities at least once in a calendar year. That means at best I may get to only a half-dozen restaurants in any city in a year. So my list of potential restaurants has a big backlog. (A few of them have no doubt gone out of business.)

All that said, I’m always open to your ideas. If there’s any restaurant you’re surprised I haven’t written about, tell me in the comments. If you have any questions about my approach, ask away. Next Thursday I’ll be back with a fresh Restaurant of the Week.

As always, past posts can be found by scrolling through the category listings on the right-hand side of this home page, where they’re organized by city. Or you can search for names in the search feature.

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Reading Log: December 2017

Books acquired: none

Books read: “The Woody Allen Companion,” Stephen Spignesi; “True Stories of Claremont, CA,” Hal Durian; “Readings,” Michael Dirda; “Born to Run,” Bruce Springsteen; “Happiness is Warm Color in the Shade: a Biography of Artist Milford Zornes,” Hal Baker

December sent me off in style with five books read. I didn’t read them all stem to stern that month, but they were all finished in December. It was a fine way to end the year.

The month’s deepest read was Springsteen’s acclaimed memoir, and the longest too at 510 pages. A leisurely, detailed look at his childhood and formative years, stardom and middle age, Springsteen alternately builds up his mythology and tears it down. He’s unsparing as he lays bare his failings and the mental problems that he inherited from his troubled father, and unstinting in his generosity to the love of his life. Pure Springsteen, his 2016 memoir is ruminative, moving, powerful, incantatory and jokey. No wonder he’s the Boss.

Dirda’s book, published in 2000, is a collection of his Washington Post book columns, for which he has won a Pulitzer. He’s better read than the rest of us, but he’s so matter-of-fact about his reading that I found myself jotting down titles of interest rather than cursing him — although now and then I did roll my eyes. While occasionally precious, he’s funny too, such as his essay about how little he can remember about the books he loves. Winningly, his vision of good reading embraces “The Hound of the Baskervilles” as much as “Hamlet.”

The 1992 book about Woody Allen was a gift from a friend circa 1993, and it never occurred to me to sit down to read the collection of trivia, movie synopses and the like, from his early TV work through his stand-up, films, essays and plays. But it’s the only book on its shelf that is unread, and I might have simply sold it if not for the nice inscription. So I put it by my bedside and, over a few months, read it cover to cover. Current only through 1992’s “Shadows and Fog,” this has the benefit of predating the last 25 years of his movies, few of which have enhanced his reputation and many of which have been crummy. Definitely for the confirmed Woodmaniac, if any remain.

Two of my selections this month were local in nature and published in 2017.

The Zornes biography, written by his son-in-law, is a warm recollection of the local watercolorist who died in 2008 at age 101. Frankly, the writing and copy-editing are not professional, but if you’re interested in Zornes, this has a lot to recommend it, including insights, stories and a lot of quotes and facts from the man himself, who was interviewed on tape during a long road trip. And of course the pages are enlivened by many reproductions of paintings and sketches, plus photos.

Durian, a retired teacher and history columnist, has lived in Claremont more than 50 years. His book is made up of short essays on various people, places, incidents and facets of life around town, including a few local controversies. It’s a nice effort. I don’t know that he’s quite captured Claremont in all its glory and contradictions, but he’s not overly reverent and I learned a few things I didn’t know. It’s a limited edition of a mere 100 copies. I attended one of his talks and he gave me one.

The Zornes book was checked out from the Pomona Public Library, long may it wave; the Springsteen was a gift; and the Dirda was bought in 2013 from Magic Door Books in Pomona.

All told, I made it through 45 books in 2017, which isn’t bad, even if it’s about 1/10 of what I’d have liked to have read.

How was your December, readers?

I’ll be posting a list of my year’s books soon and a column is likely to follow.

Next month: shadows and light.

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Restaurant of the Week: Dog Haus, RC

Dog Haus, 7815 Monet Ave. in Victoria Gardens, Rancho Cucamonga; open daily

A Pasadena-based hot dog chain, Dog Haus opened over the summer in Victoria Gardens along what we might call the millennial-friendly street with wider sidewalks, benches, charging stations and, increasingly, a more eclectic range of shops and restaurants.

I’ve been to the original location a time or two and had something of a mixed reaction, liking what they were trying to do — quality links without hormones, etc., and on King’s Hawaiian rolls — but not entirely sold on the rolls compared to good ol’ buns. Still, that the chain was opening one out here was welcome, and I was interested in giving it a try again.

The VG location opens to the sidewalk in decent weather, with a wraparound bar/counter where you can get a local beer (including Claremont Craft Ales, Hamilton Family and Dale Brothers) and the food. There are also tables, a casual counter and communal seating, all under Edison bulbs. I was there on a warm December evening (remember those?) and the restaurant was comfortable even with the door open and grating up.

I got the Das Brat ($8), a bratwurst with sauerkraut, onions and mustard. Very good dog, and the roll caught me by surprise, lightly toasted to a sort of buttery perfection. I’ve been back since and the roll was close but not quite as prime. Still, I’m sold. My only beef, ha ha, is that Dog Haus really lays on the mustard, as you can see. It’s a bit much and a bit messy: I’d prefer about half as much, personally.

The menu has a few burgers too, plus ice cream from Alhambra favorite Fosselman’s. (Note to whoever handles the website: Don’t say you’re “proudly serving” that brand and then misspell its name.) So it’s a limited menu, but Dog Haus sticks to what it does best, and does it pretty well.

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Column: Artist felt driven to improve freeway sign

In 2001, artist Richard Ankrom took it upon himself to fix a Caltrans sign over the 110 Freeway. The agency didn’t catch on. (Courtesy photo)

Remember how I watched two artists work on restoration of a neon dragon from Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in a Pomona warehouse? (If not: read about it here.) One of them had a great backstory, a piece of modern L.A. lore involving a one-man fix to a troublesome freeway sign. The story has been documented many times, but it seemed worth revisiting because the perpetrator was right there in front of me, and because it’s so awesome. I set the story aside to run during the dead period of Christmas to New Year’s, where it occupies Wednesday’s column.

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Merry Christmas (for many)

The Nativity displays outside Claremont United Methodist Church always offer food for thought and a social message. This year’s highlights refugees. Artist John Zachary’s purpose is always to make us remember those in want in a time of plenty. I couldn’t get the banner in view while also the bright sign, but as you might guess, it reads “…Turn swords into plowshares!” The “Immigrants and Refugees Welcome” banner repeats to the left of the main sign in Spanish.

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‘The Graduate’ forever altar-ed La Verne church

You may know that the wedding scene in “The Graduate” — released 50 years ago today — was filmed in La Verne’s United Methodist Church. But you probably don’t know how it came to be and how it was almost wrecked. I round up all the details I can for Friday’s extra-long column, which is adorned with video clips, photos of the scenery as it appears today (watch the clips to compare and contrast) and even a video featuring yours truly. Let me know what you think — so far I can’t bring myself to watch it.

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