Southern California commuter train, truck collide, 50 hurt

UPDATED 2:11pm:

A Los Angeles-bound commuter train slammed into a produce truck apparently stuck on the tracks in a Southern California city during the morning rush hour on Tuesday, injuring 50 people in a fiery crash, several of them critically, authorities said.

The truck driver, who was not hurt, left the scene of the crash in Oxnard on foot and was found, disoriented, one or two miles away, Assistant Police Chief Jason Benitez said.

Benitez said the 54-year-old driver from Arizona was not arrested but authorities were trying to determine if there was any criminal wrongdoing.

The collision just before 6 a.m. PST (1400 GMT) in Ventura County, northwest of Los Angeles, overturned three double-decker Metrolink rail cars. Two others derailed but remained upright.

The force of the impact smashed the truck apart and burned-out chunks and twisted wreckage still smoldered hours later.

Authorities said the train, which had been traveling at 79 miles per hour, had used an emergency braking system.

Metrolink spokesman Jeff Lustgarten said the rail cars had safety features that helped absorb the energy of the impact.

“I think we can safely say that the technology worked. It definitely minimized the impact. It would have been a very serious collision, it would have been much worse without it,” Lustgarten said.

The crash came three weeks after a Metro-North commuter train struck a car at a railroad crossing just north of New York City and derailed in a fiery accident that killed six people in the area’s worst rail crash in decades.

Ventura County Emergency Medical Services administrator Steve Carroll said 50 people were hurt in Tuesday's crash, 28 of them transported to local hospitals. Authorities had earlier said 51 were injured.

National Transportation Safety Board Member Robert Sumwalt told reporters investigators would examine the train's recorders and seek to determine if crossing arms and bells were functioning properly.


“We are concerned with grade crossing accidents. We intend to use this accident and others to learn from it so that we can keep it from happening again,” Sumwalt said.

The collision took place where the Metrolink tracks cross busy Rice Avenue in Oxnard, a street used by a steady stream of big rigs and farm trucks and lined with warehouses and farmland.

“It is a very dangerous crossing,” said Rafael Lemus, who works down the street from the site of the crash. “The lights come on too late before the trains come. It is not safe.”

Twenty-eight people, some with significant head, neck and back traumas or broken bones, were taken to six hospitals, Emergency Medical Services administrator Steve Carroll told reporters. Another 22 were treated at the scene, he said.

A spokeswoman for Ventura County Medical Center said the hospital had received nine crash victims of whom three were listed in critical condition. Hospital spokesman Bryan Wong said the train's driver was among those critically injured.

Los Robles Hospital & Medical Center received six patients with minor injuries such as back, leg or shoulder pain, said spokeswoman Kris Carraway.

St. John's Pleasant Valley Hospital in nearby Camarillo was treating two patients for minor injuries, a spokeswoman said.

The incident caused significant delays to Metrolink lines in Ventura County, forcing commuters onto buses. Oxnard is an affluent coastal city of some 200,000 about 45 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

In 2008, a crowded Metrolink commuter train plowed into a Union Pacific locomotive in Chatsworth, California, killing 25 people and injuring 135 in an accident officials blamed on the commuter train engineer’s failure to stop at a red light.

In 2005 a Metrolink train struck a sport utility vehicle parked on the tracks in the Los Angeles suburb of Glendale, killing 11 people and injuring 180.

Oxnard Kosher Dining Is a Sur Thing

“Kosher gourmet” sounds like an oxymoron. And “Oxnard kosher” sounds like the nocturnal ravings of some deluded diner.

Well, get used to it. Gourmet kosher dining has arrived in the Southern California farming community of Oxnard. Paris, London, New York maybe. But Oxnard? Home of big-box grocery chains, Mexican cantinas and strawberry fields forever.

Oxnard’s population is more than 70 percent Latino, which could explain why Tierra Sur, the finest new kosher restaurant on this coast (or almost any other), has decided to open with a decidedly Mediterranean-Spanish flavor, with a large dose of Tuscany thrown in for good measure.

So what’s a nice kosher restaurant doing in a place like this?

Tierra Sur is found deep in the heart of Oxnard’s industrial section, 60 miles north of Los Angeles and a mile and a half off Highway 101, nestled in the confines of the Herzog Winery.

Herzog itself has come a long way. It began making kosher wine back in 1848 in the small Slovakian village of Vrobove, where Philip Herzog crushed grapes for Austro-Hungarian royalty. The winery moved to upstate New York in the early 20th century, and then switched to California, where it is now headquartered and makes surprisingly good wines.

The front of its $13 million state-of-the-art winery houses an elegant tasting room and gift shop, which features high-end table wear, glasses and gifts appropriate to the sophistication of the entire operation.

But the pièce de résistance is Tierra Sur, with its high-ceilinged dining room, flanked by tall windows draped in heavy silks, soft leather dining room chairs pulled up to intimate-sized tables adorned with white table clothes and Reidel crystal stemware. The lighting is subdued, and the color scheme — earth tones of soft olive, gold and browns — highlights the elegant Mediterranean menu.

All this décor is very nice of course, but what about the food?

It more than measures up to the ambience.

Chef Todd Aarons, who grills some of his best creations in an outdoor wood-burning fireplace on the patio, grew up in Los Angeles, graduated from the California Culinary Academy and cut his kitchen teeth at San Francisco’s Zuni Café. Two years later he moved to Savoy in New York’s Soho district. However, his cooking chops and tastes were really formed during a sabbatical in Tuscany, working at four restaurants and imbibing the culture of the Mediterranean table through his pores.

Following his return to California, Aarons went to a post-graduate program at Beringer Vineyard’s School for American Chefs in Sonoma, developing his skills in matching wine with food.

But it was while working for an Italian coffee company in Israel, and developing menus for Italian-Mediterranean restaurants in Netanya and Tel Aviv, that Aarons rediscovered his Jewish roots, fell in love with an Orthodox young woman and eventually became a ba’al teshuvah. Now the dietary laws of kashrut have became the most important element of his cooking.

Aarons commutes to the new restaurant from his home in North Hollywood, where he lives with his wife and three young daughters within the eruv.

Before his Oxnard venture, Aarons ran Mosaica, an upscale glatt kosher French Mediterranean restaurant in New Jersey. But the opportunity to create a restaurant from scratch with the financial support of the Herzog brand was impossible to resist.

So with sous chef Chaim Davids, Tierra Sur opened in late 2005 with kosher supervision by the Orthodox Union. But if you expect pickles, corned beef on rye, or matzah ball soup — fuhgeddaboudit.

Dinner with five-star service — on a par with a dining room in a Four Seasons or Ritz Carlton — changes not just with the seasons but every evening according to the chef’s whim and the availability of the finest and freshest ingredients.

The Mediterranean influence is most visible in the appetizers, many of which come directly from the Spanish tapas or Greek mezes so beloved of the countries bordering that sea.

Platillos were small plates of delicate salt cod beignets; mushrooms a la Greque, cooked in truffle oil (one of the many instances where the absence of butter in the kitchen does nothing but improve the flavors); and a baba ghanoush that is fire roasted in the patio oven. The boudin blanc was a house-made veal-and-chicken sausage with roasted pink lady apples and turnips, and a corn and salt cod chowder was a warm starter on a foggy Oxnard eve.

The dinner entrees, which range in price from $25 to $44, include a farm-raised venison imported from the Mashgichim farm in Goshen, N.Y.; a delicate pan-seared wild Pacific king salmon with braised leeks, root vegetable Spanish tortillas and tarragon salsa; a marjoram and honey roasted chicken leg stuffed with porcini mushroom and chick pea ragout; and a pomegranate-marinated roasted lamb with sautéed broccoli rabe and fresh fava beans. Hannibal Lector eat your heart out. (A more modestly priced menu of soups, salads and sandwiches is available for lunch.)

Desserts like orange almond flan, a warm Mexican chocolate cake with caramel frozen custard and churros y chocolate are simple, inexpensive and delicious.

And, of course, the food can be accompanied by a dazzling selection of kosher wines — by the glass or by the bottle — from winemaker Joe Hurliman.

Already Tierra Sur, which also offers a wine-tasting menu, has been discovered by the Ventura dining cognoscenti and its private dining room has become a popular spot for everything from award dinners held by the Ventura’s Jewish Federation and its various offshoots to dinner celebrations for local corporate heavyweights such as Camarillo’s Amgen.

And the Orthodox are coming from miles around. There is always a fair sprinkling of men in kippot and women in wigs lining up to wash their hands at the small stainless steel sink hidden discreetly in a corner of the dining room.

On the night we went, customers included a couple who had driven up from Hancock Park, a family from the San Fernando Valley headed by a lady who doubles as the Jewish chaplain for the Los Angeles womens prison and a grandmother from Leisure Village in Camarillo who was treating her grandson and his wife from Philadelphia to a wedding anniversary dinner.

And in all cases, their food reviews were a unanimous thumbs up.

Tierra Sur Restaurant is located at 3201 Camino Del Sol in Oxnard. The restaurant is open everyday but Saturday for lunch, and Sunday, Tuesday through Thursday for dinner. For more information, call (805) 983-1560 or visit for links.

Sally Ogle Davis is a Southern California-based freelance writer. Ivor Davis writes a column for The New York Times Syndicate.


Winemaker Brings Kosher to Oxnard

Fruity, oaky and sugary; I taste blackberries, vanilla and sugar, lots of sugar; full-bodied, strong finish, and very sweet; horrible and, yet again, very sweet. That was the kosher wine tasting of yesteryear.

Today, we can raise our glasses and toast the groundbreaking of the new Herzog Wine Cellar in Oxnard. Herzog kosher wines, which buck the sugar-heavy stereotype and have earned accolades from leading industry publications like Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast, will soon be produced in our own neighborhood. After 20 years of generating kosher wines in Northern California "rent-a-wineries," Herzog now looks to put itself on par with the best of the state’s other vintners and own its own home. Upon completion, Herzog’s $13 million, 73,000-square-foot cellar will be the largest new winery in California and the largest kosher winery on the West Coast.

Founded in 1848, the Herzog family winery was the royal wine supplier to the Austro-Hungarian Emperor. After Nazis seized that winery during World War II, family head Eugene Herzog moved to New York City. He worked as a winemaker, truck driver and salesman for the Royal Wine Corporation, earning much of his pay in company shares. By 1958, he was the majority shareholder and purchased Royal Wine Corp. Today Royal Wine Corp. is a worldwide producer, importer and distributor of upscale kosher wines, liquors, spirits and grape juices. The Oxnard site will produce Royal Wine Corp’s Baron Herzog and Herzog Premium Reserve labels.

"If you are selling premium wines and you are growing, you need a larger home," said David Herzog, current CEO of Herzog Wine Cellars and Royal Wine Corp. The Oxnard facility, which will replace the Herzog’s leased space in Santa Maria, will produce approximately 130,000 cases of wine in its first vintage and has the capacity to produce 220,000 cases in future years. The new winery will feature advanced warming tanks to spur fermentation, a 50,000-gallon blending tank and a climate-controlled aging room to help the barrel aging process. An in-house laboratory will allow for more comprehensive wine analysis and the temperature-controlled warehouse will maintain the wines’ high quality after bottling. The additional resources also provide Herzog Cellars the opportunity to experiment with small runs of specialty wines.

Royal Wine Corp. hopes the new site will help develop stronger community relations. Just 50 miles outside of Los Angeles, the winery may be a popular day trip for Southland Jews. The winery will offer guided tours, a Herzog Wine Club and wine tasting events for consumers and members of the trade. The Herzog Wine Cellar will even boast an onsite kosher deli and kosher catering facility.

"We looked to build a facility that would be in close proximity to a large observant population," said Eitan Segal, Royal Wine Corp.’s director of public relations. "We wanted to serve the community and we wanted to make life easier on our observant employees, many of whom were commuting from Los Angeles to Santa Maria."

Cellarmaster John Goodman, his wife, Jordana, and their three children tried to lead an Orthodox life in Santa Maria, but found it increasingly difficult. In search of Orthodox schools, synagogues and a more active Jewish community, the Goodman family relocated to Agoura Hills five months ago.

"From a professional standpoint, I’m excited about the move to Oxnard since the winery’s expanded capabilities will allow us to produce even better wines than we currently produce," Goodman said. "From a personal perspective, I am looking forward to reducing my current commute from 135 miles to 30 miles when the winery moves to Oxnard."

The Herzog Wine Cellars is expected to open by fall 2004 and release its first vintage in 2005.