No restaurant this week (or next)

It’s not that I don’t have notes for a Restaurant of the Week, or even two or three of them, but I’m leaving today for vacation and didn’t have time to compile one. I’m off next week too. This feature will return June 22. In the meantime, columns will appear Friday and Sunday before going dark for a week.

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Reading Log: May 2017

Books acquired: “Shake It Up: Great American Writing on Rock and Pop from Elvis to Jay Z,” Jonathan Lethem and Kevin Dettmar, editors.

Books read: “The Island of Fu Manchu,” Sax Rohmer; “Treasure Island,” Robert Louis Stevenson; “Treasure Island!!!,” Sara Levine; “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” H.G. Wells; “On Chesil Beach,” Ian McEwan.

In May, it was time to take a trip to the islands. (Cue the Surfaris song.) All my books had “island” in their title except for one that had “beach.” Cowabunga.

The Fu Manchu is No. 10 in the series of 14, and the first I’d read in two or three years. The island in question had voodoo, not to mention a villainous lair in a dead volcano, and was not only a precursor to Bond but to “Atlas Shrugged,” in a way, as great scientists are kidnapped and turned into zombie slaves by Fu. Great literature it ain’t, but it was fun.

I’d never read “Treasure Island,” although the rudiments of the plot and names (Squire Trelawney, the apple barrel, etc.) were familiar, perhaps from an animated version I saw decades ago (although I can’t find evidence online of its existence). Published in 1883, it’s still a gripping read.

“Treasure Island!!!” is a 2011 lark about a young woman who becomes obsessed with the Stevenson book and decides to use it as a guide to life. “When had I ever done a foolish, over-bold act?” she frets. I thought I would love it, and at first I did, but then the narrator’s cluelessness and the story’s superficiality made me glad to be done with it. Despite Alice Sebold’s praise, and the New York Times’, it was ultimately disappointing. But certainly funny in spots.

“On Chesil Beach” was of a different order entirely, a 2007 novel about a couple’s wedding night in 1962 England, and how the couple who thought themselves perfectly matched discovered how little they understood each other. A poignant look at the dawn of the ’60s, before the sexual revolution occurred. Nick Hornby had recommended this in his Believer column.

Lastly, “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” another classic, from 1896, that I’d never read despite having a general idea what it was about from other media that it inspired. For the uninitiated, a scientist tampers with nature by grafting together various animals and altering their brains to make them semi-human. Wells had quite the imagination, and he knew how to tell a compelling story.

These books came into my hands in the past decade-plus. “Treasure Island!!!” was bought in 2012 at Subterranean Books in St. Louis, and “On Chesil Beach” was bought last September at Powell’s Books in Portland. Can’t recall where I got the Fu Manchu, possibly the Book House in St. Louis, and Stevenson’s may have come from Brand Books in Glendale. My Kobo e-reader was bought at Borders (RIP) about eight years ago; it came loaded with 100 classics and I read one now and then.

Have you read any of my choices, readers? (I’m sure someone has read “Treasure Island” or “Dr. Moreau,” or both.) How was your May? And were island breezes involved?

Next month: I let things slide.

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Frank Fairfield’s folk (and Margaret Axelrod’s too)

I dropped into Claremont’s Folk Music Center Saturday evening to let them know my Joan Baez column would be in the next day’s newspaper, and they said, “Are you here for the concert?” Er, concert? Frank Fairfield and Meredith Axelrod would be performing in a few minutes.

I had seen Fairfield once before, an instore at Rhino Records in the same block maybe five years ago, and in fact had just seen his name about an hour before as I read about the “American Epic” PBS show and recordings, to which he contributed. And here he was.

So I stayed for the first half, as the duo performed folk and pop tunes from the early 20th century, “Down on the Brandywine” and “Frankie and Johnny” among them. I liked it. Fairfield seems more natural and relaxed than the Dock Boggs enthusiast he was that other time I saw him; maybe he’s internalized the music in the interim. Axelrod was winning too.

I counted 28 in the audience, all of us on folding chairs, and it’s a treat to hear live music in such cozy quarters. The duo joked around and took their time, and audience members interacted with them a bit too. (I’d have stayed for the whole show, but given that I hadn’t intended on seeing a concert, I was desperate for food.)

Fairfield will be in Tuesday’s “American Epic” episode.

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Column: Joan Baez’s Claremont ties involve folk(s), famous cover

Photo of Baez performing in 1973 via Wikimedia Commons

In a way, Sunday’s column on Joan Baez has been 15 years in the making, if you count that in 2002, a list in the Courier of celebrities with a Claremont connection began this way: “Joan Baez — folk musician, lived in Claremont with family for a year.” That was vague, and as it turns out inaccurate, but it piqued my curiosity.

A few other pieces of information came my way slowly, including a mention in a book I read last October, “Another Side of Bob Dylan.” In May, though, after being reminded via an interview that Baez was inducted a month earlier into the Rock Hall, a light bulb went off and I realized this would be the perfect time to delve into the topic.

What followed was a month of research in between other columns: contact with various Claremont Colleges officials and a Honnold-Mudd librarian, two interviews, a few dead-ends, the purchase of an album at Rhino Records, internet searches, a query to a Claremont nostalgia Facebook group, a scroll through Courier microfilm for 1960 and 1991 at the Claremont Public Library, a never-answered email to Baez’s publicist (oh well) and maybe a couple of things I’ve forgotten.

Here it is, the definitive account of Baez’s connection to Claremont. Also, the only account of Baez’s connection to Claremont. But if I was going to do it, I wanted to try to do it right. Hope you find this extra-long column of interest.

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Restaurant of the Week: Mariscos el Puerto

Mariscos el Puerto, 5599 Riverside Drive (at 13th), Chino; open daily, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Years ago I ate Mexican food in a quaint 1920s-style gas station in Petaluma, where the seating was outdoors by the old pumps. In Chino, there’s a Mexican restaurant inside a ’60s or ’70s Texaco service station, the kind where they might have sold you candy bars, checked your fluids and put your car up on the rack for Murph to take a look-see.

A couple of foodie friends in Pomona tipped me off to Mariscos el Puerto, which specializes in food from Ensenada, largely seafood. They both liked their meals, and one later urged me: “You gotta try the gas station. It seems so wrong, but it’s so right.”

So I made a special trip and met a Chino friend for lunch. After four taquerias cycled through the building in five years, Mariscos el Puerto took it over three years ago, a sign it’s got staying power. While the gas pumps and canopy are gone, the building still resembles a gas station from the street.

Inside, you wouldn’t know it, at least not in the dining area. You order at a counter that might be original. Otherwise, it’s just a restaurant, one with colorful wall-filling murals of undersea scenes, and no Slurpee machine in sight.

I got a fish taco ($1.75), a shrimp taco ($2.29) and a limonade ($2), the latter ladled from a jug on the counter and pleasantly pulpy. The tacos were crunchy and very good. Presumably, to live up to their building’s heritage, they change the oil frequently.

My friend got a ceviche tostada ($3) and a taco. Her verdict? “Cheap. Cheap and good.”

Mariscos el Puerto is a good place to pull in, if you brake for tacos. Also, the former gas station sells beer and wine, in case you want to — wait for it — get lubricated.

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