Alexander’s Steakhouse (Pasadena, CA) [2]

Alexander’s Steakhouse
111 N Los Robles Ave
Pasadena, CA 91101
Dining date: 1/27/17

DSC04220

I’ve been to Alexander’s Steakhouse in San Francisco and Pasadena a few times and have had a few good meals here. This latest visit was prompted by DineLA restaurant week, in which the restaurant was offering six courses for $115. One of those courses, the steak course, offered an option of an 18oz dry aged New York strip or 3oz of Kagoshima wagyu. This tasting menu provided quite a bit of value (compared to regular pricing) and an opportunity to try a little bit more of the menu here.

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Alexander’s Steakhouse (Pasadena, CA)

Alexander’s Steakhouse
111 N Los Robles Ave
Pasadena, CA 91101
Dining date: 8/28/16 and 9/1/16

Exterior

Alexander’s Steakhouse opened in Pasadena last year, the first SoCal location for the Bay Area-based chain. It’s a highly regarded steakhouse; the original Cupertino location garnered a Michelin star for three years (2011-2013). I’ve been to the San Francisco location once to celebrate a birthday, but this would be my first two visits to the Pasadena location.

The concept is a traditional steakhouse with a lot of Japanese influences. There’s plenty of beef options, domestic and international, with a full suite of appetizers, side dishes and other steak accompaniments. Dishes like an uni tamago and udon mac and cheese really show off the Japanese flair.

Kitchen

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Union (Pasadena, CA)

Union
37 E Union St
Pasadena, CA 91103
Dining date: 2/15/15

exterior

I often think of Pasadena as a city of chain restaurants (albeit the good chain restaurants), and that relatively conservative palates make it hard for unique chef-driven concepts to thrive here. That may not be true, but there haven’t been many that have tried in the city. Union is one of the more interesting openings in some time, where chef Bruce Kalman (Urbano Pizza, The Churchill) is cooking up seasonal farm-to-table Californian-Italian fare. I’ve never been to The Churchill, though I’d been to Urbano many times and still kind of miss it.

Since the restaurant opened last March, I’ve heard plenty of good things about it including being named LA Mag’s second best restaurant opening of 2014. That, combined with my experiences at Urbano, made Union high on my list of restaurants to try. But, I just never quite got the final impetus to go until I was invited in this past weekend.

chalk art

Loved this chalk art showing how serious they are about their ingredients.

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Sushi Kimagure (Pasadena, CA)

Sushi Kimagure
220 S Raymond Ave
Pasadena, CA 91105
Dining date: 8/8/12

kimagure signage

I first heard about Sushi Kimagure in an LA Weekly article from Jonathan Gold earlier this year. He called it “the best sushi bar Pasadena has ever seen,” not that Pasadena has many notable restaurants. Still, I’m always looking for good Japanese east (or north) of Little Tokyo, and Kimagure sounded like it had great promise.

Sushi Kimagure opened last year, when chef Ike-san departed his long-standing (since 1985) Sushi Ike in Hollywood. The new location is very different from the Hollywood Blvd. location in a more quaint Pasadena train station complex shared with La Grande Orange and The Luggage Room. Many of the regulars at Sushi Ike seem to have followed as well, as many of the other parties this evening had developed their relationship with Ike-san at the old location and were eager to share their memories over the years.

kimagure door

Tables are almost exclusively via reservation and the menu is pretty much omakase-only. There are two different options, an $80 one and a $60 one. The $80 omakase has more of a focus on cooked foods, while the $60 menu is primarily a sushi omakase. We didn’t really know that at the beginning (and it’s not particularly clear on the menu), so we ended up with the $60 meal.

albacore with scallions and white onion

albacore with scallions and white onion

Our first dish was this light starter with tart, refreshing flavors featuring crisp onions and fish. Scallions and fish are such a great combination.

yellowfin tuna
yellowtail

yellowfin tuna

The sushi began with a pair of tender pieces of fish. I thought these were both good.

kanpachi (amberjack)

kanpachi

Next, the kanpachi had a clean flavor with a delicate chew.

sweet shrimp

sweet shrimp

Usually one of my favorites – sweet shrimp was broken down right and sliced right before serving. I noticed some inconsistency in the rice on this piece as it seemed to be packed a little denser, as well as have a little more texture.

mushroom chawanmushi

mushroom chawanmushi

Pork, scallops, shrimp, and mushrooms were distributed throughout this light custard. Kind of soupy at the bottom. Warm and comforting, I found this to be a welcome intermediary between sushi courses.

red snapper

red snapper

Similar to the kanpachi, this one had a delicate chew too, with a clean flavor of the sea.

shrimp heads

shrimp heads

I thought this was an interesting presentation for the shrimp heads. The interior of the head was removed and plated separately from the shell, leaving the meat without the crunch of the shell. Very different from the fried version.

halibut with kelp

halibut with kelp

The halibut had a little bit of chew to it, while kelp provided a different dynamic of sea flavor.

ikura and uni

uni ikura

The ikura was a good, albeit typical, example of the eggs, but I found the cool sweet uni to be a top-notch one. Excellent! We ordered another order of the uni later in the meal.

japanese scallop

scallop

Tender, soft scallop from Japan came next. I liked the scallop, though the shiso leaf underneath was a little overpowering for me.

seared salmon

seared salmon

This was a unique bite, something I don’t think I’ve had before. The salmon was seared, providing smoky notes to complement the fatty piece of fish. Fresh scallions provided a nice bite to counter the richness – excellent!

mountain yam and masago hand roll

mountain yam and masago hand roll

I thought the textural interplay was nice here, between the slimy mountain yam, bite of the eggs and crisp sprouts.

snow crab

snow crab

The sweet, succulent crab meat went really well with the soy. I don’t often see large crab legs in sushi form – I wish I did more often.

sea eel

sea eel

Tender and almost falling apart, I usually prefer freshwater eel but I liked this one quiet a bit. Just a little bit of the sweet sauce complemented the fish.

assorted fruit and red bean jello

dessert

To finish, we had a simple plate of fruit and a red bean jello.

Seconds of salmon, uni, red snapper

Sushi Kimagure was a good meal. I wouldn’t consider it in any ‘Best of LA’ lists, but I could see how it would be tops in Pasadena. I’d rank it a tier below the likes of second-tier options Sushi Zo and Mori; given the price point though, I think it’s a very attractive sushi bar. For 60 bucks, it’s one of the better sushi meals. The highs were quite high (seared salmon and uni), but the overall meal suffered from some inconsistency. Still, the bad wasn’t really that bad. I’ll be back.

C.H.E.F.S. Dinner @ The Royce (Pasadena, CA)

C.H.E.F.S. Benefit
The Royce

The Langham Hotel
1401 S Oak Knoll Ave
Pasadena, CA 91106
Dining date: 5/14/12

langham

Foie gras dinners seem to be all the rage in California right now. For the most part, it seems restaurants want to celebrate (and serve) the ingredient while they still can, while bringing awareness to the ban and the issues at hand. Also, I’m sure some restaurants are using the impending ban to drum up business and charge top dollar for some high-profile dinners. On Monday, 4 LA restaurants held foie gras dinners that I think firmly fell into bucket #1.

Melisse, Lemon Moon, Animal and The Royce held foie gras dinners on the same night, each having a different NorCal vs. SoCal “battle.” Tickets were purchased in advance, with $100 going to food, wine, tax and gratuity; the other $100 went straight to the Coalition for Humane and Ethical Farming Standards (C.H.E.F.S.), a nonprofit aiming to promote humane and ethical farming standards (ie. repeal the ban).

Each restaurant featured an all-star lineup of chefs from Northern and Southern California; I opted for dinner at The Royce (my first time since the remodel from The Dining Room). An impressive 5 Michelin stars were shared between the 6 chefs: Douglas Keane, Cyrus (Healdsburg); Peter Armellino, Plumed Horse (Saratoga); Micah Wexler, Mezze (Los Angeles); Michael Cimarusti, Providence (Los Angeles); Victor Scargle, Lucy at Bardessono (Yountville), and David Féau, The Royce (Pasadena).

royce doors

royce interior

Foie Gras and Cherry Blossom Parfait, Barley, Sea Beans and Shiso
Douglas Keane, Cyrus, Healdsburg
Mumm Napa Brut Reserve NV

Foie Gras and Cherry Blossom Parfait, Barley, Sea Beans and Shiso

mumm

We started with this parfait served in a martini glass. The rich foie, with the texture of a cold mousse, was complemented by earthy barley and the bright flavor of shiso. It was definitely on the heavier side for a first course though.

Artisan Foie Gras Torchon and Bigeye Tuna with Mustard Fruit and Saba
Peter Armellino, Plumed Horse, Saratoga
Testarossa Winery “Plumed Blanc” 2010 Arroyo Seco

Artisan Foie Gras Torchon and Bigeye Tuna with Mustard Fruit and Saba

plumed blanc

I liked the presentation of this one, with a tube of foie torchon pressed through the interior of the tuna. The creamy foie and meaty, smoky tuna were a nice pairing, and I thought the mustard fruit brought a welcome sweetness as well. A crispy tuile provided delicate texture.

Foie Gras Custard, Spring Vegetables, Smoked Sturgeon, Rye
Micah Wexler, Mezze, Los Angeles
Cornerstone “Stepping Stone Corallina Rose” Syrah 2011

Foie Gras Custard, Spring Vegetables, Smoked Sturgeon, Rye

syrah

This was one of the strongest dishes of the evening, centered around a light foie gras custard. Delicious on its own, I thought the smoked sturgeon (which kind of tasted like bacon), spring vegetables and crispy rye breadcrumbs really added complexity and more rounded flavors. Loved the colors too. Yum!

Foie Gras Sauté with Grilled and Partial Dehydrated Strawberries
Michael Cimarusti, Providence, Los Angeles
Hill Family Estate Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc 2009 Napa

Foie Gras Sauté with Grilled and Partial Dehydrated Strawberries

Foie Gras Sauté with Grilled and Partial Dehydrated Strawberries

sauvignon blanc

Another of the stronger dishes, we were told this was the staff favorite during their tasting. A generous lobe of foie gras was seared perfectly, leaving a creamy, luscious interior. I liked the strawberries to go along with the liver, as well as the textures from two dehydrated crumbles, foie gras (the white) and black sesame (the black). A sweet sauvignon blanc pairing was a nice accompaniment.

Pan Roasted Duck Breast with Forbidden Rice and Foie Gras “Risotto,” Pickled Ramps, Duck Confit, Cherry Jus
Victor Scargle, Lucy at Bardessono, Yountville
Arkenstone “Obsidian” Howell Mountain 2007 Napa

Pan Roasted Duck Breast with Forbidden Rice and Foie Gras “Risotto," Pickled Ramps, Duck Confit, Cherry Jus

obsidian

The duck breast came out medium-rare, though sort of lukewarm in temperature. It was good duck but not particularly special. I liked the forbidden rice risotto, which added a strong earthy flavor…though that may have overshadowed the flavor of the foie. Of all of the courses, the liver was most subtle in this one, but I didn’t really mind it at this point.

Dry-aged Beef “Boullion,” Foir Gras Fondue, Tarragon Printed Pasta, Crimini Mushroom
David Féau, The Royce, Pasadena
Ackerman Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Napa

Dry-aged Beef

Dry-aged Beef "Boullion," Foir Gras Fondue, Tarragon Printed Pasta, Crimini Mushroom

cabernet

The last savory course was another seared lobe topped with what was like a foie gras snow. Interesting. It was cold and melted easily, making for a pretty unique vehicle of foie flavor. The bouillon was warm, rich and comforting and I really liked the tarragon printed pasta too. Cooked to an al dente texture, it definitely exuded the tarragon flavor as well.

Strawberry Coconut Sorbet, Petit Fours

strawberry coconut sorbet, petit fours

strawberry coconut sorbet, petit fours

Next up came a palate cleanser. The strawberry and coconut sorbet was well-balanced and refreshing, while the accompanying sweets were a nice treat.

Pacific Rose Apple Tart “roti,” Vanilla-Calvados Ice Cream, Roquefort Papillon
Charles Hours “Urolat” Jurançon 2010 France

Pacific Rose Apple Tart "roti," Vanilla-Calvados Ice Cream, Roquefort Papillon

Charles Hours "Urolat" Jurançon 2010 France

I was expecting to see some type of foie gras component in the dessert, but that wasn’t the case. Instead, a warm apple tart, folded over like a roti, was topped with a vanilla ice cream that carried a hint of alcohol undertone. Thin and crispy sheets of roquefort provided the texture, as well as a bit of funk.

We finished with a few chocolates – white (with Piment d’Espelette), milk (with espresso) and dark.

royce chocolates

I thought this was a good meal and kind of a bargain considering $100 of the price tag went straight to charity. It was definitely a heavy meal, seemingly moreso than the foie gras dinner by Ludo a month ago. While advertised as a competition/battle it actually wasn’t at all. If I had to pick a winner though, I’d say SoCal won given my favorite dishes were from Cimarusti and Wexler. However, none of the dishes were individually letdowns.

I was disappointed that none of the chefs (other than Féau) came out of the kitchen to stay hi to diners. Not a make-or-break at all, but I do enjoy that interaction in these types of special event dinners.

Carmela Ice Cream (Pasadena, CA)

Carmela Ice Cream
2495 E Washington Blvd
Pasadena, CA 91104
Dining date: 9/27/11 and 10/23/11

signage

Carmela makes my favorite ice cream in LA. I don’t really have a sweet tooth, but I do have a soft spot for ice cream. Occasionally, I crave the stuff.  I once made a round trip from downtown LA just to get ice cream here. In all, I’m not sure how many times I’ve been here…six? seven? Not enough.

Located in northeastern Pasadena, near Altadena, its location isn’t exactly convenient to most of LA. As a result, I’ve never seen it too busy – sure, there have been a couple instances where the line was (barely) out the door, but there’s also been a number of visits when only a couple of guests are there. I’m pretty confident that if this was in mid-city LA, long lines would be a frequent occurrence.

pastries

interior

The shop is minimal. Outside of ice cream, they sell only a few items – some baked goods, Intelligentsia espresso (for an affogato), and a couple other miscellaneous sweets. There are no tables or chairs (there is a bench outside though), so it’s not an ideal place to lounge around and slowly enjoy a scoop or two. It doesn’t matter though. I’m here solely for the ice cream, and it’s damn good.

There’s usually about a dozen flavors available at any time. About half are constants on the menu, while the others change frequently.

menu

Dark Chocolate, Fresh Mint w/ Cacao Nibs, Intelligentsia Espresso

dark choc, fresh mint, espresso

Lavender Honey, Waffle Cup

lavender honey in waffle

Earl Grey, Brown Butter Sage
Intelligentsia Espresso and Salted Caramel

earl grey and brown butter sage, espresso and salted caramel

I’ve been able to try just about every flavor throughout my visits. I can’t say I have a favorite (it seems to change often), but seriously just about every flavor has been good. The Intelligentsia espresso has a bold, deep coffee flavor…just as expected. I really enjoy the fresh mint flavor, especially with the small bits of cacao scattered throughout. Lavender honey and salted caramel are two of my favorite ice cream flavors in general; they’re excellent here. And, while the flavors are obviously integral, I think the consistency and mouth-feel of the ice creams are just as important. Carmela’s has a wonderful richness and creaminess that coats the mouth, with a slightly yielding bite (I bite my ice creams, not lick). So good. It’s not my favorite ice cream shop ever (Bi-Rite), but it’s definitely up there.

Often, I bring a cooler to take a couple pints home. If I can enjoy the ice cream for a few days, it makes the drive that much easier to justify.

to go case