Restaurant of the Week: McKinley’s Grille

McKinley’s Grille, 601 W. McKinley Drive (at White), Pomona; open daily 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.

McKinley’s is the restaurant in the Sheraton Fairplex hotel at the Pomona fairgrounds. I’d been there a couple of times for fair-related lunches, and a few times more for service club lunches. Once I met Jon Provost and his wife for an interview over iced teas. But it had not occurred to me to go there for a Restaurant of the Week.

That is, until reader Ken Haerr contacted me to rave about the place. “If you haven’t already reviewed McKinley’s Grille at the Fairplex Sheraton, you must. There is a 5-acre farm to table plot at the LA County Fairgrounds that is dedicated to this restaurant,” Haerr wrote. “There is no reason that this restaurant should not be packed during off-event hotel times. My wife and I ate here tonight in an empty restaurant and the food was utterly spectacular.”

After Haerr’s email I was looking for an excuse to try out McKinley’s when a colleague’s farewell dinner was scheduled there. Bingo.

McKinley’s has a long main dining room with a bar, plus a private room, which is where our dinner was. The decor is all earth tones, comfortable but a little dull. But it’s swankier than a hotel coffee shop, that’s for sure.

The dinner menu has starters, salads, sandwiches and entrees, the latter ranging from $12 to $32. I opted against circling the table to photograph everyone’s food, especially since most people got sandwiches.

But the friend to my right had the Szechuan stir-fry ($12) with chicken ($6). She said the vegetables were fresh and likely from Fairplex’s farm and that the sauce had a pleasant kick to it. She took home half.

Meanwhile, yours truly splurged on the seared rare yellowfin tuna ($28), crusted with yuzu miso and served atop wild rice pilaf with wasabi cream and farm vegetables. This was a winner, light and delicious.

Our dearly departed was given a free dessert, a scoop of vanilla ice cream with berries. I don’t know if it’s on the menu as such, but it was enjoyed by the table. I didn’t poll the table, as I would at a lunch or dinner that was primarily about the food rather than a farewell, but everyone seemed to like what they ordered.

The restaurant also serves breakfast and lunch (the $16 burgers are made with ground brisket and short rib), with a mid-afternoon break in service, and has a wine list.

McKinley’s exists primarily for hotel guests and to provide catering for community group events on the premises, and thus perhaps doesn’t live or die by attracting regular folks in for meals. But I can see why the reader was excited about it, because the food is superior, the atmosphere serene and, at least on that Thursday, there was plenty of elbow room.

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Reading Log: February 2018

Books acquired: “A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures,” Ben Bradlee; “We’ll Always Have Casablanca,” Noah Isenberg; “Banking on Beauty: Millard Sheets and Midcentury Commercial Architecture in California,” Adam Arenson

Books read: “The Left Hand of Darkness,” Ursula K. Le Guin; “Gather, Darkness!” Fritz Leiber; “Lest Darkness Fall,” L. Sprague de Camp; “A Scanner Darkly,” Philip K. Dick

February was a dark month on the ol’ Reading Log, and not just because of Punxsatawney Phil, who predicted six more weeks of winter. (I don’t know how Pennsylvania is faring, but more winter has proved true for Southern California.) No, it was also a dark month because all four books had “dark” in the title.

Man, I had meant to read these precise books the past six years or so but didn’t get around to it, a testament to my deep backlog of unread books. “Lest Darkness Fall,” inspired by “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” has been waiting since I read Twain’s classic in April 2011.

(Incidentally, a couple of years ago I mentioned the title of Twain’s novel to a bookish friend in his mid-30s and he had never heard of it, nor could he wrap his mind around the title: “A what? Say that again. ‘A Connecticut’ what?” He broke up laughing. Huh.)

Anyway, this was a strong month. All four books were very good to excellent.

Le Guin’s 1969 novel has become a classic. (I owned it as a teen, sold it without ever attempting it in one of my frequent book purges, and bought it again a decade ago.) An emissary of a confederation of planets lands on one whose leaders either don’t believe him or see no reason to join up. The visitor slowly realizes how little he understands and how his prejudices are getting in the way of his own acceptance of these other-worlders, whose genders alter every month. A beautifully written, strangely enveloping novel.

Leiber’s 1950 novel is said to be his first good one. I admit I bought this ’60s copy because it was so well-preserved. A holy war between priests and witches isn’t what it seems on either side. Full of strong and slightly mysterious characters and visual writing. I read his “Best of Fritz Leiber” and “A Pail of Air” story collections in 2015 and became an admirer.

In de Camp’s 1941 novel, a scholar of the ancient world is hurled from the 20th century back to 6th century Italy, where he introduces innovations like the telegraph and “predicts” future events, and thus tries single-handedly to prevent the Dark Ages from falling. An early alternate-history novel, this owes a lot to Twain, but de Camp uses less satire, more plain humor and a deep knowledge of his subject. A lot of fun, and at 208 pages it gallops along quite unlike a lot of stately SF novels.

(By the way, Lyon Sprague de Camp once said he saw little need to write under an assumed name because his given name sounded more like a pseudonym than most pseudonyms.)

Finally, Dick’s 1977 novel, which was adapted for a 2006 film by Richard Linklater. I saw that movie and stuck my ticket stub inside the front cover of my unread copy. Nearly 12 years later, I finally read the book and used the stub as my bookmark.

In near-future Southern California, the drug Substance D is burning out the brains of the addicted, which is almost everyone, including those assigned to entrap them. One undercover agent is so undercover, he’s tasked with spying on himself, and that’s only one twist in this classic of paranoia, government surveillance and the dark side of the ’60s. Both absurdist and tragic, this late-period novel is one of PKD’s best and most personal.

These “dark” books made for an unusually strong month, as I said, one that leaves me lighter of spirit. It felt good to get all of these out of the way after intending so long to read them. Ditto with the “shadow”-titled books of January.

I can no longer remember where or when I bought these, other than de Camp coming from Brand Books in Glendale and Le Guin from Ralph’s Comic Corner in Ventura, and all of them falling into my hands in the first decade of this century.

That’s enough from me. How was your February, readers? Post away below.

Next month: a hornbook, a guidebook, and regular books too.

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Column: Fan’s website for Grauman’s cements its lore

I met Grauman’s Chinese Theatre fan Kurt Wahlner in Pomona in January for the neon dragon christening. We had a nice chat, aided by the tidbit that a lot of the research on his graumanschinese.org website was done at the Pomona Public Library (long may it wave).

I took his photo by the neon dragon, thinking he might make a good column. Upon further reflection, meeting him at Grauman’s itself seemed like a better photo opp and a chance to go into more depth on the subject. And so, Wahlner and his website are the subject of Sunday’s column.

The first and only film I saw at the theater was 1996’s “Independence Day,” when my parents were in town on vacation. (According to Wahlner’s site, it played five weeks.) I meant to mention that in the column but forgot. So I definitely needed a refresher on the theater, which my meet-up with Wahlner provided.

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Column: Home Savings financier banked on beauty

Painter Millard Sheets was also the designer of the classic Home Savings thrift branches, a career that is explored in a new book, “Banking on Beauty.” I write about that book and that work in Friday’s column. Above, the former Home Savings at Second and Garey in downtown Pomona, now owned by Western University of Health Sciences with Chase Bank on the lower level.

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Restaurant of the Week: Cross Court Cafe

Cross Court Cafe, 3410 Pomona Blvd. (at Temple), Pomona; open daily, 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., 4 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Pomona is home to many wonders, among them the San Gabriel Valley Badminton Club, which contains the Cross Court Cafe, a rare spot for Indonesian food. I wouldn’t have known any of this if LA Weekly, of all places, hadn’t written a restaurant review about it that was forwarded to me by a reader.

Looking for a place to meet a Chino Hills friend (everyone should have a Chino Hills friend), I picked the cafe near Cal Poly Pomona. Once through the doors, non-members have to be buzzed in — just say “restaurant” or “cafe” — and the cafe is down the hall. It’s an unprepossessing place, a few tables embossed with the club log, a paper menu taped to the wall and an order window. The couple who runs the cafe will probably be found seated in the dining area but will scurry to assist you.

Indonesian fried rice is the item to get ($7.50), a melange of sausage, pork and fried egg in a crispy rice with bits of garlic, shrimp paste and fish sauce. This was hearty and very tasty. We also had stir fry noodle ($6), not bad, and steamed egg custard buns ($3), a dessert we liked. I had a taro smoothie ($4) and she had a passion fruit green tea ($2.25).

Three weeks later, I had to be at Cal Poly for an interview about its mariachi ensembles and used that as an excuse to go back to Cross Court Cafe. This time I had pad see ew ($8), or maybe an Indonesian dish similar to pad see ew — it wasn’t clear and it wasn’t on the menu. That was good too, and I got a milk tea with boba ($2.75). But if I return, it will be for the Indonesian fried rice.

The cafe seems to be open much of the day and into the evening, except for a break in the afternoon. I was there past closing without realizing it and the cafe owner let me out.

It’s possible, I think, to rent a court as a non-member, but we didn’t try. It was fun to watch people play for a few moments who know what they’re doing.

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Two views of Magu

The painter and sculptor Gilbert “Magu” Lujan was featured in my “Pomona A to Z” series of columns in 2004, representing the letter M. A pioneering figure in the Chicano art movement, and in later years a resident of the Pomona Arts Colony, he died in 2011. But he’s still remembered.

Lujan’s work was the subject of a PST: LA/LA show, and across from the dA Center for the Arts in downtown Pomona, a utility box’s mural pays homage. See above. I suspect the (Grauman’s?) dragon is a reference to his most-seen work, the Hollywood-themed decor of the Hollywood and Vine Metro station. Magu’s pose is clearly based on the portrait by my colleague Will Lester for my column about him, which is included in my “Pomona A to Z” book. If the artist’s name turns up, I’ll credit him/her.

Update: Antonio Mejia is the name of the painter. Thanks to Chris Toovey for the credit.

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