Food Destinations: Pasadena, CA
"Food Destinations" is a blogging event proposed by I was just really very hungry's Maki Itoh that asks: If your favorite food blogger/ food lover came to town, where would you take him/her?
Pasadena, where I live, is known as a dining destination in a minor way. The restaurant rows in the Old Town run the whole gamut from trendy Thai to authentic Indian, French, Cuban and all manners of fusion, some of them quite good, but I tried to avoid Zagat-listed establishments as much as possible. Instead I tried to choose spots that offer the unique flavor of the place which is old Southern Californian, inflected by neighboring Latino and Asian communities, that decidedly sets itself apart from the LA scene.
Here is my list of top five places:
The Athanaeum (early-bird breakfast)
A good place to get an all-out all-American breakfast is the faculty club at the California Institute of Technology. Coffee is bottomless, orange juice is freshly squeezed. "Two eggs any style" is prepared with precision, replete with beautiful hash browns, choice of crispy bacon, ham or sausage. The stately dining room looks out to a Spanish-style patio surrounded by eucalyptus trees and may include a Nobel-laureate or two. No need to show ID; act like you came down from your Albert Einstein suite and ask to pay in cash. Breakfast served between 7-9 a.m. 551 S. Hill Ave. Pasadena, CA 91106 (626) 395-8200 athenaeum.caltech.edu
Europane Bakery (mid-morning break)
See previous post on Sumi Chang's artisanal breads and pastries. A recent discovery is their fabulous bread pudding. It is a small, perfect disk that you can hold in your hands and bite into. Pure butter, sugar and brioche, no superfluous flavorings or toppings -- there's no need, it's that good. You can judge the quality of the butter used by its luscious caramelized edges and the moist perfection of its interior, not too soggy or too eggy as most bread puddings are. Added bonus: Just a few blocks up is Vroman's, my favorite bookstore, with an attractive and intelligent selection of cookbooks and food-writing. 950 E. Colorado Blvd. Pasadena, CA 91106 (626) 577-1828
Cafe Verde (terrace lunch)
See previous post about this shoe-in-the box neighborhood restaurant that offers up wonderful Californian/Mexican fusion. Something I did not mention is the grilled chicken linguini bathed in creamy chipotle sauce with roasted pasilla, corn and cilantro. It's a lovely dish. Eating here made me become aware of the magic of chiles, the subtle ways they work to give dishes not only heat and bite but also depth and character. Bring your own bottle if you like; there is no corkage fee. Lunch served until 3 p.m. 961 E. Green St. Pasadena, CA 91106 (626) 356-9811 http://cafeverdepasadena.com/
Pacific Asia Museum (afternoon refreshment)
It might seem strange but the best gelataria in town is tucked away in a Chinese-style courtyard. Icecream was invented in China after all. Peruse the museum's small but distinctive collection of Asian art, then seat yourself by the koi-filled pond for a tasting of one of Leo's handmade creations. The Roma-native is blithely dismissive of American fear of fat; his speciality is an egg-rich variation called gelato all'uova, sublime. 46 N. Los Robles Ave. Pasadena, CA 91101 (626) 449-2742 http://www.pacificasiamuseum.org/
Note: The picturesque courtyard is often used for location shoots for film and TV. When the camera crews are around the cafe is closed so be sure to call ahead.
Pie n' Burger (old-fashioned diner)
A Pasadena landmark and sole exception to my non-Zagat rule. The cheeseburger comes half-wrapped in wax paper, vertically built up with iceberg lettuce, pickle, onion, slice of orange cheese and housemade Thousand Island dressing. You might cringe, but it works. Even purists come to love it. The crusty waitress will warn you against the chicken pot pie ("too many flavorings") and steer you towards the chile made from scratch -- nice with greasy fries. Try also the root beer float or a slice of double-crusted pie with bright red cherry filling, a classic. 913 E. California Blvd. Pasadena, CA (626) 795-1123 http://www.pienburger.com/