Photo by Jack GouldLet's just get this out of the way: there are few fountains in Fountain Valley. City lore says the word "fountain" in Fountain Valley is derived from the many artesian wells and abundant local water supply. Abundant B.S., more likely. Around the turn of the century, that "abundant water" had local folks mocking the area as "Gospel Swamps." Fountain Valley is more likely a cute marketing device someone came up with to attract hicks. Fountain Valley is a bland, landlocked, middle-class, mostly white but increasingly Asian, bedroom community whose greatest claim to fame is a Family Fun Center amusement park with a Bullwinkle's and an Original Tommy's World Famous Hamburgers. Incidentally, Fountain Valley was incorporated as Orange County's 21st city in 1957, the same year that Stavros Niarchos presented his wife, the former Charlotte Ford, with the "Ice Queen," a 128.25-carat, pear-shaped diamond the Ford family later nicknamed "The Skating Rink." Hey, the Family Fun Center has a skating rink. Creepy!
Mile Square Regional Park. Since shopping inside more than 352 million retail outlets is the only other entertainment in Fountain Valley, residents and visitors spend a great deal of time outdoors. And one such outdoor place is this 640-acre park, an oasis of green grass in an otherwise cement suburban jungle. Mile Square is one of the county's regional parks, but the city also has recreational facilities there. Whatever turf you're on, you'll find softball, baseball, soccer, golf (even night golf!), fishing, in-line skating, biking, archery and picnicking facilities. Off Euclid (county side) or Brookhurst (city side) between Heil and Warner aves., (714) 962-5549. Parking is $2-$5 on the county side; free on the city side.
NO MEAT ZONE
There are two Asian restaurants within seven blocks of each other on Brookhurst Street that specialize in vegetarian Chinese cuisine. And not just the usual meatless dishes, but selections in which the "pork," "chicken," "steak" and "seafood" are actually soy or seaweed. Offering entres that please people who are trying to eat healthier but still crave meat as well as vegans who demand no flesh or animal byproducts in their food has made both restaurants favorite gathering spots for EarthSave Orange County, which promotes food choices that are healthy for people and the planet.
Alisan Natural Food & Restaurant. Other than one unimposing shelf filled with health-food products and publications, Alisan seems like any other run-of-the-mill Chinese restaurant. Chinese music plays lightly on a stereo, an indoor fountain flows near the takeout counter, and Chinese art and sculptures abound. But how many Chinese restaurants do you know that display at each table a poem about man and nature's vital need for clean water? How many offer with their entres a choice between white rice and brown? And how many serve "kung pao napa cabbage," "yuba (layered tofu) with broccoli" and "crispy soy chicken in garlic brown sauce"? The faux-meat food is every bit as good as its flesh-filled counterparts, while the prices are a buck or two less per item compared with most Chinese restaurants. The kung pao tofu with peanuts lunch special—which comes with spicy tofu cubes, steamed zucchini, brown rice (or white) and a spring roll (or salad)—is just $6.50 with tax, a bargain considering it took two days to finish. 17201 Brookhurst St., (714) 962-0055.Au Lac Vegetarian Restaurant. Besides Chinese food, you'll find a wide range of Vietnamese vegetarian fare here. We recommend starting with the Vietnamese-style steamed jicama rolls, in which mint, soy ham and fresh basil are folded into sheer rice paper. Make sure to dip the rolls in the peanut sauce. There's also traditional Chinese-style eggrolls filled with chopped veggies. Next, move on to the steaming hot pots with soy seafood swimming in a tasty broth. Even the flecks of egg in the fried rice are fake, and Au Lac also serves guilt-free desserts. No wonder Ava Park, founder of Orange County People for Animals, once told the Weekly this is her favorite restaurant. She even celebrated Thanksgiving there! 16563 Brookhurst St., (714) 418-0658.
WHERE THE REST OF US CAN EAT
Mel's Diner. Just about every chain restaurant under the sun and a few quality indie jobbers can be found in Fountain Valley, but when you want to throw caloric caution to the wind, there's no beating Mel's. The cooking is home-style, the portions huge and the waitresses friendly. Other than a hot cuppa joe (yep, that's here, too), what more do you want? Rubber biscuits? Mel's biscuits don't bounce back, but they sure are warm, flaky and tasty, especially when topped with creamy, bacon-and-pepper-packed gravy. That alone should be enough to hold you, but you'd be a knucklehead to leave without ordering the hubcap-sized, homemade cinnamon rolls topped with generous dollops of pure melted butter (served weekends only). Damn, they're good. But you'd better walk home. 9430 Warner Ave., Ste. 1, (714) 963-2662.
OOO! OOO! ME! ME! HIRE ME!
Kingston Technology Co. Believe it or not, the world's largest independent third-party manufacturer of computer-memory modules has its headquarters in sleepy Fountain Valley. A company with annual sales of $1.6 billion is in Fountain Valley. A company that was on Forbes' last "Top 500 Private Companies" list is in Fountain Valley. A company that has been on Fortune Magazine's past four "100 Best Companies to Work for in America" list is in Fountain Valley. FOUNTAIN VALLEY!?! What makes Kingston such a hot place to work? Oh, maybe the ONE HUNDRED-FREAKIN'-MILLION-DOLLAR bonus package the company's founders doled out to employees in 1996, changing even the lowliest receptionist's life forever. Unfortunately, the technology sector's recent nosedive has hit even mighty Kingston. In March, amid a softening personal-computer market, the company was forced to cut jobs for the first time in its 14-year history. Those 19 furloughed workers were joined by another 80 two months later. Sure, among a global work force of 2,200, that number is just a blip, but when you go to drop off your rsum, just remember: don't call Kingston; they'll call you. 17600 Newhope St., (714) 435-2600.
YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE
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Sleepiness. Few fountains. A since-removed city councilman who used to plop a handgun onto the council dais. Sure, we kid Fountain Valley. But one area in which the town may have all others in OC beat is alternative-energy sources. The largest private commercial solar-power system in the Western hemisphere was dedicated in Fountain Valley on Dec. 6, 2000. Almost one acre of advanced solar photovoltaic panels were installed on the roofs of an industrial building and a three-story office building. At the time of the dedication, a company official cited "the deteriorating reliability and increasing cost of the deregulated power industry" as the reason his company invested heavily in solar in Fountain Valley. City Hall itself is no slouch, becoming the first municipality in the state to participate in a program in which incandescent bulbs in traffic signals were replaced with light-emitting diode (LED) lights powered by the sun and backup battery units. Fountain Valley taxpayers are saving an estimated $300 per intersection per month in energy costs with the LEDs, and Southern California Edison picked up the tab for the lights and fixtures. Whatta deal!
Illustration by Bob Aul
PSYCHIC EYE BOOK SHOP. As far as I know, this is the best place to shop in Orange County if you need some dragon's blood, hemlock, black water or sulfur. They stock a wide range of books: Ken Wilber to Og Mandino, although I thought it was too poetic that their visualization shelf was empty on my last visit. The place itself looks like a gift shop Jan and Paul Crouch might have opened if they worshiped Satan. 18225 Brookhurst St., (714) 593-2800; www.pebooks.com. (Art Gardner, Huntington Beach)