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Pasadena Restaurant Week in Review: The Culinary Trinity

by  Jeanine Lewis on March 30, 2012
Pasadena Restaurant Week in Review: The Culinary Trinity

Being a neighbor to thriving Los Angeles, Pasadena is often overlooked as a tourist attraction outside of the Rose Parade season. To the contrary, Pasadena offers a small town oasis nestled just twenty minutes east of Downtown Los Angeles. Its own downtown went through a bit of a renaissance. With all the new shops, outdoor mall and trendy hot stops, it should be referred to as Neo-Pasadena, however it is ironically called Old Pasadena. Old Pasadena celebrates its uniqueness with original restaurants and wine bars all within walking distance from one another. It reminds me of a Parisian district with something interesting to try at every corner. This year, on almost every corner during the week of March 25 – 30, Old Pasadena restaurateurs eagerly participated in the second annual Pasadena Restaurant Week.

The Pasadena Chamber of Commerce hosted a city wide event featuring three course meals that were priced from $26-$44 for dinner and $15-$25 for lunch. More than 70 restaurants participated during the week from simple lunch spots to elegant dining for dinner. Of course I wanted to try them all, but my fitness trainer advised against it. Begrudgingly, I negotiated to at least try three.

Malbec
1001 E Green Street
Pasadena, CA  91106
626-683-0550

Malbec is a cozy place on lovely Green Street. In spirit with its name, they have an extensive malbec wine collection. As a medium bodied red wine, malbec grapes are one of six grapes allowed in the blend of red Bordeaux wine. Argentina is becoming recognized around the world for their malbec crops. The waiter was extremely helpful in suggesting the Catena malbec. The Catena family has grown vines in the foothills of the Andes Mountains in Mendoza, Argentina. It had traditional malbec flavors of blackberry, mocha and a particular spice or "kick" to it. It was an excellent pairing with their beef empanadas as an appetizer. The empanadas were fresh and flaky with tender beef that melts in your mouth. I didn't want the first course to end it was so good! The highlight of the evening was the final course, a chocolate and caramel crepe called Crepe de Dulce de Leche. It was sweet without being overpowering. It also was just enough for two to keep the guilt at bay, however this dish is so innovative and delectable, you might not want to share it!

Noir Food and Wine
40 North Mentor Avenue
Pasadena, CA  91106
626-795-7199

The first time I walked into Noir, I was at home. I arrived early before the after work crowd piled in and I struck up a conversation with a nice man that seemed to very knowledgeable about New Orleans cuisine. After a bit of chatting, he excused himself into the kitchen. When he returned, he had his chef jacket on and an entrée for me to try. I was pleasantly surprised and excited to try his rendition of NOLA-style food. It was a small bowl of shrimp and Andouille sausage gumbo with green onion rice. The shrimp was well-seasoned and the full dish was surprisingly spicy. The broth was light with a cayenne-type heat, however chef Claud didn't use cayenne just the spice from the Andouille sausage and the fresh ingredients gave the dish its unique flavor. I adored it.

I indulged in a shiraz wine flight which was amazing. The staff was very knowledgeable and had that Southern hospitality that I miss so much. Customer service is certainly not lost in Noir Food and Wine. For Pasadena Restaurant Week, Noir broke the mold and offered four courses. A fromage board to start, Belgian endive or fresh burrata and arugula salads or grilled curry shrimp for the second course, USDA prime hanger steak, achiote chicken breast, or pan seared grouper for the third course, and bananas foster with vanilla gelato, almond cheesecake, or chocolate terrine for the fourth. Being that I am a frequent patron of Noir Food and Wine, I have tried a variety of dishes already.

Chef Claud often changes his menu to keep regulars coming back to try something new and tasty. The highlight to my most recent evening was certainly the almond cheesecake with Nutella sauce with a late harvest riesling pairing. It was one of those times when you close your eyes and are thankful to be present in this moment just to taste the cheesecake. Everything here is freshly made to order and the proof is most definitely in the bite. Freshly prepared food coupled with downhome service is the recipe every restaurant should model. But, alas, we can't all be Noir Food and Wine after all.

Vertical Wine Bistro
70 North Raymond Avenue
Pasadena, CA  91103
626-795-3999

Right in the heart of lively Old Pasadena is Vertical Wine Bistro. Like many Parisian restaurants, you must go upstairs to enter Vertical. The architectural design of the entry way was well thought out with a mix of rustic material and modern light fixtures that gets patrons excited to see what visually will come next. From the moment you walk in, you are cheerfully greeted by a hostess and made to feel welcome. It is surprisingly large inside and modernly chic. If you don't fancy a traditional table, they provide lounge chairs, cushy bar stools, and a long wooden table great for group conversations. In addition to their three course menu special for Pasadena Restaurant week, they also had a pairing for each selection for a bargain price. Since my fitness trainer was not with me, I made the executive decision to add the wine pairings to my course selections.

For the first course, I had mussels with red peppers and pepperoni paired with a crisp Sonoma chardonnay. The surprise of the pepperoni was a welcomed one and the dish was fresh and flavorful. I had the Atlantic salmon on a bead of creamed spinach topped cauliflower for my entrée. It was nothing short of spectacular, seared layer on the top and moist on the inside. It was perfectly prepared. The pièce de résistance was the final course, the molten chocolate cake and hazelnut gelato paired with a sparkling moscato.   Those of you who know me, know that I am not a chocolate enthusiast, but this dessert was delightful. There were strawberries on the side to add a bit a citrus to the sweet. It was worth having then and it will be worth having again.

Pasadena's culinary community can compete with the Los Angeles elite restaurants. There is a variety of cuisines for everyone and every desired price point. Since it's such a walkable city, you can walk off the calories. After this week, I will be walking to work.

Jeanine Lewis

Jeanine Lewis

Jeanine Lewis is a renaissance freelance writer. As an alumna of University of Washington, she has been published in a variety of subject matters. full bio

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