Restaurant of the Week: El Fortin No. 3

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El Fortin No. 3, 5368 Riverside Drive (at Ninth), Chino

A specialist in food from the Mexican state of Oaxaca, El Fortin occupies an unassuming aqua-and-white building a little east of busy Central Avenue below the 60 Freeway. I’d been meaning to go for some time. When an interview took me to that part of Chino, I went in afterward for a late lunch. (The first El Fortin (“The Fort”) is in Fullerton, the second in Stanton, according to its website. Yelp commenters appear to prefer Chino’s.)

It’s not fancy inside, with worn booths, tables, Oaxaca posters on the walls and TVs at either end of the dining room showing soccer. But it was comfortable and clean. The server brought me some very good chips with salsa and cheese.

I pored over the menu and ordered the plato especial: marinated pork and beef, plantains, guacamole, refried beans, fried cheese and, substituting for a chile relleno, a cactus salad ($8.50). I upgraded to handmade tortillas for $1 more and ordered a Jarritos soda.

The food took a little while but was well worth the wait. Delicioso! I cleaned my plate. Also, the handmade tortillas, crisped in a pan, were excellent, and they were served in a basket wrapped in a kind of doily.

The table service was friendly and the place had a nice vibe to it. And with my bill came four tiny pieces of gum, in various flavors. Back at the office, I showed them to a Latina colleague who lit up, saying she hadn’t seen Canel’s gum since she was a girl. I shared them.

Thank you, El Fortin No. 3.

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Up, up and away, in our beautiful balloon

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My Saturday morning flight in a hot air balloon from Upland’s Cable Airport to the best landing spot we could find in Claremont is the subject of Wednesday’s column. Here are some additional photos. And you can watch a short video from near the end of our flight. Above, I’m hanging on for dear life and we haven’t even left the ground.

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And we’re off! This photo and the one at top are by Christine Canepa.

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Here’s my view of essentially the same scene: a former (?) homeless encampment southwest of Cable.

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Here’s pilot Paul Cheatham with (I think) Pitzer College in the background.

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That’s the Arco station below at Foothill and Claremont Boulevard. We were drifting northwest and hoping for a decent patch on which to land, which we found at Chaparral Park.

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Above, the Eagle has landed. Actually, it’s not the Eagle, it’s the Hummingbird, Cheatham’s name for his smallest balloon. The balloon was deflated and packed away. Thus ends Dave and Paul’s Excellent Adventure.

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Al Martinez, 1929-2015

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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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Foothill and Mountain, Upland

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These two old-time photos were sent to me by reader Joe Mannella. The one above is said to date from 1946. The future Stinky’s is on the left. The view is looking east on Foothill, or Route 66, with Mountain Avenue beyond the building.

An even older view is below. This is said to be from 1934, looking north on Mountain from Foothill.

These are not the best photos — they’re reproduced the size I got them, if you click on the images for a larger view — and yet they give us latecomers a glimpse of how rural Upland once was. It’s hard to reconcile these views with today’s busy intersection with retail stores, restaurants and gas stations and multiple lanes of traffic.

Thanks, Mr. Mannella.

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Restaurant of the Week: Seventh Heaven Cafe

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Seventh Heaven Cafe, 1042 N. Mountain Ave. (at Foothill), Upland; closed Monday

This Italian-influenced cafe, which bills itself as “gourmet casual dining, pizza and art,” opened in July 2014 in the old Albertsons center on the northeast corner of Foothill and Mountain. Reader Rick Cuevas tipped me off that it was good, and people on Yelp agree. I scheduled dinner there with a friend.

A wood-fired pizza oven is the big draw; supposedly it’s the only such pizzeria in the area. For more authenticity, the kitchen uses only organic flour from Naples. This isn’t the place to get your pepperoni pizza for the big game; while they do have pepperoni, toppings run more to organic roasted pork, peso, artichoke hearts and grilled eggplant.

The pizzas themselves come in 10- and 14-inch sizes and the 14-inch one we got, with mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes and provolone ($15), was in the charred Italian style, not the chewy, heavily sauced American style. We liked it a lot.

The interior is minimalist but stylish: blond wood tables and chairs, drop-down pendant lights, interesting art on the walls, even a few jars of jam and handmade jewelry for sale. That weeknight, the dining room filled up with actual adults. “This place is really popular with people who aren’t teenagers,” my friend said approvingly.

Most items are made from scratch, including the sauces and dressings, and customer favorites from the menu are said to be salads, chili and the pizza. They have craft beers and wine by the glass.

Dinner wasn’t perfect: They delivered the pizza to our table but we had to remind them we’d ordered two sides and that I’d ordered a drink. My friend didn’t like the side, a kind of rice pilaf (it was a special and I can’t remember what they called it); I ate mine.

I’d have written this post back in December but I wanted to go back for a second meal. I did go back the next week, but it was a Monday, which turns out to be the one day they’re closed. The year ended and my column item on my favorite restaurants of 2014 appeared, and a woman phoned to ask, didn’t I know about Seventh Heaven? I was impressed and told her I did know about it and that I’d have the post done this week.

So, on Tuesday I went in for a late lunch. I was going to try one of the panini sandwiches, but a daily special, gnocchi with homemade sauce ($9), was tempting. Well, I liked that too. It was a light lunch, and probably I should have ordered a side of some sort, but they don’t seem to have a small salad.

I expect I’ll go back for a salad or panini, and maybe dessert: They have biscotti, lemon bars, cookies, semi-freddo and granita. Nice to see a restaurant trying to achieve a higher level. Seventh Heaven is a blissful addition to Upland.

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Books read, 2014

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To accompany Wednesday’s column on my reading for the year, I’ve compiled all 68 books I finished last year into the list below.

Numerically speaking, I’ve done better, I’ve done worse. Since I began reading intensively again, I read 75 in 2013, 80 in 2012, 60 in 2011, 52 in 2010 and 58 in 2009. That was five years and 325 books, which now that I see it makes me wish I’d hit 75 last year just to even it out at 400. Well, 393 in six years isn’t shabby.

The photo doesn’t have every book from last year: a few were borrowed and a couple are already in my “sell” pile and weren’t worth the bother of finding. But it’s got most of them.

Below you’ll see some authors represented two or three times, even four in one case. Looking back, I’m satisfied, although I didn’t get to everything I wanted to read. Early in the year, I set three goals: one Shakespeare play, the “Dangerous Visions” SF anthology and “The Three Musketeers.” I accomplished the middle one. Also, in my post last year, I wrote of Twain: “Definitely I’ll read ‘A Tramp Abroad’ this year.” You, er, won’t find that one listed. Well, I’ll definitely TRY to read it this year.

Here’s the list, from January through December.

1. “Alone Against Tomorrow,” Harlan Ellison

2. “Deathbird Stories,” Harlan Ellison

3. “Shatterday,” Harlan Ellison

4. “18 Best Stories,” Edgar Allan Poe

5. “The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Tales,” Edgar Allan Poe

6. “Obsolete: An Encyclopedia of Once-Common Things Passing Us By,” Anna Jane Grossman

7. “Betsy-Tacy,” Maud Hart Lovelace

8. “Betsy In Spite of Herself,” Maud Hart Lovelace

9. “Orange Blossoms Everywhere,” Mary Thiessen

10. “Ubik,” Philip K. Dick

11. “Ubik: The Screenplay,” Philip K. Dick

12. “Waging Heavy Peace,” Neil Young

13. “The Swerve,” Stephen Greenblatt

14. “Stranger Passing,” Joel Sternfeld

15. “Silverlock,” John Myers Myers

16. “Tales From the ‘White Hart,’” Arthur C. Clarke

17. “The Woman in Black,” Susan Hill

18. “The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop,” Lewis Buzbee

19. “The Red Pony,” John Steinbeck

20. “Darker Than Amber,” John D. MacDonald

21. “The Green Hills of Africa,” Ernest Hemingway

22. “The Green Hills of Earth,” Robert A. Heinlein

23. “Outlaw Blues,” Paul Williams

24. “Gently Down the Stream,” Bill McClellan

25. “The Farther Shore,” Robert M. Coates

26. “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” Jules Verne

27. “Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys: How Deep is the Ocean?” Paul Williams

28. “Coming Up for Air,” George Orwell

29. “All the President’s Men,” Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein

30. “The Final Days,” Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein

31. “President Fu Manchu,” Sax Rohmer

32. “Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time,” Jeff Speck

33. “The Portable Poe,” Philip Van Doren Stern, ed.

34. “What Went Wrong?: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East,” Bernard Lewis

35. “The Gateway Arch: A Biography,” Tracy Campbell

36. “The Leisure Architecture of Wayne McAllister,” Chris Nichols

37. “L.A. in the ’30s,” David Gebhard and Harriette von Breton

38. “On Reading,” Andre Kertesz

39. “The Bronze Rule,” Mary Sisney

40. “Shakespeare Wrote for Money,” Nick Hornby

41. “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” Lewis Carroll

42. “Through the Looking-Glass,” Lewis Carroll

43. “Gullible’s Travels, Etc.,” Ring Lardner

44. “The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories,” Ernest Hemingway

45. “The Chandler Apartments,” Owen Hill

46. “Urban Tumbleweed,” Harryette Mullen

47. “Dangerous Visions,” Harlan Ellison, ed.

48. “Mind Fields,” Harlan Ellison and Jack Yerka

49. “Eye in the Sky,” Philip K. Dick

50. “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” Zora Neale Hurston

51. “One Fearful Yellow Eye,” John D. MacDonald

52. “The Machineries of Joy,” Ray Bradbury

53. “Chips Off the Old Benchley,” Robert Benchley

54. “No Poems, Or Around the World Backwards and Sideways,” Robert Benchley

55. “The Tomb and Other Tales,” H.P. Lovecraft

56. “God and Mr. Gomez,” Jack Smith

57. “Weird Heroes 2,” Byron Preiss, ed.

58. “The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes,” Adrian Conan Doyle and John Dickson Carr

59. “Jungle Tales of Tarzan,” Edgar Rice Burroughs

60. “The Drums of Fu Manchu,” Sax Rohmer

61. “Mockingjay,” Suzanne Collins

62. “The Prisoner of Zenda,” Anthony Hope

63. “The Crack in Space,” Philip K. Dick

64. “Tales of Mystery and Imagination,” Edgar Allan Poe

65. “Great Tales and Poems,” Edgar Allan Poe

66. “The Essential Ellison,” Harlan Ellison

67. “Dave Barry’s History of the Millennium (So Far),” Dave Barry

68. “The Martian Chronicles,” Ray Bradbury

 

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Sacramento Bee’s love letter to Claremont

I’m late on this, but the Bee ran a lengthy paean of praise about Claremont back in November. The piece, detailed, fond and witty, ran in the Travel section. It’s nice to see an outsider so jazzed about the characteristics of a place we may take for granted.

That said, he goes a little overboard, and his superficial dig at Pomona after apparently seeing a few blocks of Indian Hill irks me. Hey, you can find Thai, Vietnamese, Mexican and soul food on Indian Hill in Pomona, arguably more diversity than what he’s marveling about in Claremont. Grr. (Characteristically, the only reason I know this article exists is because a Claremonter bragged to me about it — by bringing up the Pomona slam.)

Oh well. I do like this line: “…you’ll encounter all the markers of a college-town milieu, from the grossly disproportionate number of frozen yogurt establishments to the cadre of crunchy, burned-out locals who lounge outside coffee shops all day.”

Read the piece here, look at the photo gallery here and offer your reaction below.

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Favorite films of 2014

I saw 32 new or new-ish movies last year, which puts me somewhere in between diehard moviegoers and dabblers. I have movie-loving friends who see nearly everything that comes out and others who are Netflix-only.

So, take my list with a grain of salt as always. I produce them anyway, since 2010 (here’s last year’s), because they’re fun to do, they might turn you on to a movie you hadn’t known of or seen, and you can chime in with your own likes and dislikes.

I’ve listed every movie I saw, so if you don’t see a title listed below, I didn’t see it. So much for the December releases Selma, American Sniper, A Most Violent Year (which came out Dec. 31), Inherent Vice or Imitation Game, or for that matter Chef and Get on Up from earlier in the year. A couple of the titles (Her, 20 Feet From Stardom) officially came out in 2013, but almost nobody saw them until 2014.

Lastly, I rank them based on how much pleasure they gave me at the time, and how much of them I can remember as I think back on them. A couple of rankings from 11 to 20 may surprise you, but all I can say is, I enjoyed the heck out of them.

In roughly descending order, here’s my Top 10: Calvary, Boyhood, The Trip to Italy, Edge of Tomorrow, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Lunchbox, Nightcrawler, A Summer’s Tale, Fading Gigolo and Whiplash.

The next 10 would run as follows: Top Five, Wild, Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier, Interstellar, Gloria, St. Vincent, Grand Budapest Hotel, Hercules, The Equalizer, Foxcatcher.

Here are the bottom 12. The first two are worth your time, and starting with Birdman they get increasingly iffy: Force Majeure, Guardians of the Galaxy, Birdman, 20 Feet From Stardom, Gone Girl, A Most Wanted Man, Under the Skin, Her, Love is Strange, Dancing in Jaffa, Amazing Spider-Man 2, Tim’s Vermeer.

What did you see and like, or hate?

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