I love Pasadena for its charming architecture and old buildings that still have character in an age where many L.A. cities have either lost their charm under levels of seed and decay as in the downtown Theater District or are trading in their antiquated mementos of endearment for the new, technological and flashy. I also love the feel of history that is embedded throughout its streets, home of the annual Rose Bowl parade, and the way whole generations of families will walk down the streets and dine together in a very Wasp-ian fashion reminiscent of old school burgeoning orange grove and ranch land Southern California before it became the melting pot that I do still indeed love today, but for different reasons.
Last night we ate at Bistro 45 in Pasadena for the Pasadena Restaurant Week prix-fixe dinner, an excuse to visit the charming area. The Cute Gardener had already been there and hardly goes back to places twice so I figured we had a leg up on knowing the food would be good. I was surprised at how much I actually ended up liking the dinner, considering I have been to so many restaurants of late and my bar has risen considerably. It’s not often that I enjoy a whole meal in its entirety; feeling like each dish carries the overall quality consistency of the entire meal into on cohesive impression of goodness. I also like places that can’t be pigeonholed by its inhabitants as being a joint serving any particular demographic solely a.k.a. seniors, hipsters, etc. but draws a crowd of diverse diners across age, social, and other classifications. Bistro 45 fit all of these characteristics for me.
The portions here were perfect throughout the meal, and yes, it’s because it was a prix-fixe price portion but nevertheless I was happy about that. The roasted beet salad contained honey yogurt, frisee leaves, candied oats (a nice touch from the overdone walnuts or pecans), cocoa and winter greens. The beets were perfectly cooked and flavorful and the lettuce was dressed separately from the beets (nice touch!) in buttery oil and a salt tang.
The filet of fatty, pan-roasted Atlantic salmon was cooked exquisitely and melted in the mouth. It was served with roasted organic eggplant that carried a surprising caramelization of oil and cumin that was musky, smoky, masculine and scrumptious. The spiced pearl pasta made a nice bed for the fish and roasted cherry tomatoes were hot and plump-ly popped in the mouth.
The Pitman Family Farms Duck Cassoulet arrived with tender duck meat falling off the bone, three kinds of beans with varying textures, yummy peppery lamp sausage bits, shards of crispy bacon, dried tomatoes and fried bread all topped by a heavenly and rich mustard cream that when swirled in, blended all the otherwise biting flavors.
A chocolate “soup” in individual pots was served for dessert. Like a soufflé, it had a light and bready top but the innards were a luscious thick hot and porous pudding of decadent chocolate. I could have done entirely without the extra chocolate sauce or the generic vanilla ice cream.
I liked the fact that as the room got fuller, the waiters turned down the lights a couple notches every twenty or so minutes. The darkness went as nicely with our dishes as our bottle of Copain Pinot Noir Tous Ensemble.