Wednesday’s column starts with the latest from the Chino Valley Unified school board, where one member made the TV news for a nine-minute monologue at a recent meeting on a multitude of hot-button topics. From there, I’ve got three Culture Corner items (two involving Debbie Reynolds — how about that?), two examples of the 909 in the news and even more.
Occasionally I would eat at the Pick Up Stix at 131 W. Foothill Blvd. in Upland, especially before City Council meetings. On April 28, after bowling nearby, I drove up, hungry, and found this sign: “Temporarily closed due to equipment repairs,” with a note that there’s a new Upland location at the Colonies shopping center.
Turns out the Foothill location is permanently closed. It’s about to become home to a Lebanese restaurant, Mes Amis. Was the sign an example of denial?
I’m reminded of a New Orleans restaurant that used to operate in Montclair. The landlord canceled the lease and sold the property, but the restaurateur claimed to me that he didn’t know anything about it. After the last day, a sign was posted on the door that the restaurant was “closed for remodeling” — not long before the building was demolished.
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 says 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.
Sunday’s column reports on the last two (!) Ontario City Council meetings. (I had to watch one on video.) They’re starting to act up again, which will teach me to abandon them for Chino.
Friday’s column starts with news for classic rock fans: Doors drummer John Densmore is headed to Claremont for an appearance Saturday at Rhino Records. After that, I’ve got three Culture Corner items (from Claremont, Pomona and Ontario) and three items about local filming.
Reader Erik Griswold drew my attention to a Special Olympics web page for Claremont, one of the host cities for the 2015 Games. Its picture (see above) shows a much wetter college town than we’re used to. “Looks like there’s been some flooding in Claremont since I was last there!” Griswold exclaimed. Anyone want to try identifying this photo? Might be a different Claremont.
RA Sushi, 13925 City Center Drive (at the Shoppes), Chino Hills
Some people rave about the RA happy hour (3 to 7 p.m.); I went with friends a few years ago and wondered what the fuss was about. I suppose I’m kind of a purist about these things, and RA seemed too much like a party place, not a Japanese restaurant.
But a friend wanted to meet there recently for dinner, and so five of us converged on the Shoppes one Saturday night. It was warm enough that we got a table on the patio, which wraps around two sides of the wing-like exterior.
Gazing into the distance, the green hills of Boys Republic across the way were visible, giving the sense that the mall was nestled in a rural area. Not entirely true, but not entirely false either. I do like the Shoppes, and there’s a Barnes and Noble a few paces from RA.
We got a bunch of rolls, photographs of which I believe are in descending order below: lobster salmon ($13.45), with lobster, mango, avocado, cucumber, topped with salmon, lobster and lobster cream sauce; crazy monkey ($10.25), with smoked salmon, mango and cream cheese; Viva Las Vegas ($13.60) with crab, cream cheese, tempura batter, topped with spicy tuna, crab and piece of fried lotus root; and rainbow ($12), a California roll with tuna, yellowtail, shrimp, salmon and avocado arrayed “to look like a rainbow,” the menu explains.
These were all pretty good, actually. Viva Las Vegas with its crunchy and smooth textures was described by one person as the best specialty roll she’d had. I don’t know if I had a favorite, but maybe the lobster salmon. I also had a scallop nigiri ($5), fine.
There’s alcohol too. Somebody ordered the Umami punch ($18), 60 ounces (!) in a giant glass, meant for two; everybody had some. Even I took a couple of sips.
RA is still kind of a party place, by which I mean it comes off as the Yard House of sushi, but it proved a convivial spot to hang out with friends. The interior is snazzy. There’s better sushi in Chino Hills, which is to Asian food what Pomona is to Mexican food, but RA is OK.
Wednesday’s column breaks some news about Dennis Yates, the mayor of Chino, who plans to retire from the City Council when his term ends in 2016. He was first elected in 1992. The council is remarkably stable, without a new member since 2001. But that will change with Yates’ retirement.
Without cable, I needed a place to watch the “Bar Rescue” episode Sunday about The Palace in Upland. So I chose San Biagio’s N.Y. Pizza, which is directly across Seventh Street from the bar. In fact, the TV crew had used an empty storefront next to Biagio’s as their office during the taping back in March.
Watching the show there was a slightly unreal experience. As seen in the photo above, you could watch the episode on one wall-mounted TV (that’s some of the Palace staff on the screen) and then look out the window to see the Palace itself, the orange-tan building in the background.
Pizzeria owner Biagio Pavia watched much of the episode with me. It was late afternoon, before the dinner crowd. The enthusiastic Pavia tried to encourage a customer near the TV to watch; he claimed not to be interested, although he did chime in at times. Another couple professed polite interest.
People are so jaded in Southern California. A neighboring business is on national television right at that instant and they’re like, shrug.
Pavia, though, was curious, keeping up a running commentary of questions and comments, many of the “What is that?” variety, while I was trying to listen and take notes. I had to explain at times that what was on the screen was a commercial.
Anyway, the Palace was run by two brothers-in-law who didn’t get along, surveillance of the kitchen showed cross-contamination, the decor and vibe didn’t seem very Middle Eastern and the bartenders didn’t know how to pour a drink, or even grip a bottle properly.
The bar needed so much work, the “stress test” took place off-site, at Pomona’s Stein Haus, allowing the TV crew a full 36 hours to remake the Palace. The stress test was a disaster, with pita bread coming out of the kitchen hard as a rock and the bartenders completely overwhelmed. One was fired on the spot. Host Jon Taffer cut it short.
“You are the worst team we’ve ever seen!” Taffer shouted in frustration. Of course, reality TV hypes up the drama, as well as the results, and by the end, the brothers are friends again, the staff knows its business, the decor is lovely and business is up.
Pavia exclaimed, “They change everything, look!” as the new decor was unveiled.
I’m looking, I’m looking.
He hasn’t been to the City of Gracious Living, but President Obama did eat at Upland, the New York restaurant whose chef was born at San Antonio Hospital. Evidently Obama ate brunch there Saturday with daughters Malia and Sasha, reports Eater NY, which opines: “The leader of the free world has great taste in restaurants.” Thanks to readers Ann Lara and Matt Krupnick for the tip. Lara also found an Instagram video of Obama leaving the restaurant; in the still above, he’s in dark blue in the center of the frame.
My blog post about my visit to the restaurant is here, with a link to my column on the chef. Nice to know the president of the United States and I have similar taste in food. (We also both like Pi Pizza in St. Louis.)