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Pasadena -- Mission Impossible?

  • m

I am tasked with the seemingly insurmountable challenge of planning a ladies' networking dinner for my firm.

All of us are out-of-towners, and as such, the majority stay at -- and would prefer to dine near -- the Westin Pasadena on Los Robles.

I enjoy innovative cuisine from all cultures. My colleagues, however, are less adventurous and anywhere lacking at least several "safe" options will likely terrify them, cause them to eat only the bread basket, or both. To illustrate, our last dinner was at Twin Palms, which everyone absolutely raved about. I thought it was fine, no major issues, but tremendously boring in the food department.

Here are the restrictions. I have resigned myself to the fact that I will not find anywhere that meets all criteria, but I would be happy to meet at least most.

-- In or near old town Pasadena
-- 2 courses and several shared bottles of wine at no more than $50/pp, before tax and tip
-- Pleasant ambience (most of the attendees will likely pay more attention to the surroundings than the food)
-- Able to accomodate a group of 15, relatively comfortably
-- Choice of several "safe" menu options (e.g. the menu from Bistro K would send people running for Olive Garden)
-- This one is purely selfish, and the one that is most likely to go unfulfilled: at least a few somewhat innovative options, or if not, then fantastic renditions of common dishes

I'd add to the list "not touristy" but my initial impression is that this is an anomaly in old town.

Is this an exercise in futility? Am I destined to eat at Buca di Beppo or similar?

Please help! And if you ever need any recommendations as to where to eat in Toronto, you know who to ask :)

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  1. Try TWIN PALMS ... it seems to best fit your criteria.

    1 Reply
      1. Parkway Grill or Cafe Bizou.

        1. Marno -

          There are plenty of options that will satisfy everyone. In the courtyard where the Westin is located there is a California Pizza Kitchen and McCormick and Schmicks. I'm not too keen on either and as you prefer.. something more adventurous. Here's some options that you can surely walk to or drive the 1/2 mile down the hill:
          Cheesecake Factory (If you don't have in Toronto),
          Indian - 2 really good places-Mezbaan on N. Fair Oaks 626-405-9060 and All India Cafe on the other side of Colorado on S Fairoaks (near Cheescake) 626-440-0309.
          Italian: Louises Trattoria on Colorado across from Cheescake on Colorado, Mi Piace E Colorado and Fair Oaks 626-795-3131 If you are going soon, check for their fabulous pumpkin ravioli in brown butter-YUM!)
          And, for casual yummy Thai -Boba World and Noodle World (within the same confines) (next to Cheescake) on Colorado

          If you and your cohorts are after a cheap but fab burger and fry dinner, walk the other direction to Walnut and El Molino and eat at Rick's. It's a local landmark that will soon disappear to make way for condos!

          2 Replies
          1. re: Kitchen Queen

            Thanks for the suggestions. I should have added that I'm trying to avoid chain restaurants -- I'm the only Torontonian (although a native Chicagoan). The rest of the group is from Atlanta, Seattle, Pittsburgh, New York, San Fran, Houston, and also Italy and Bulgaria (not sure which cities). So, the American folks are quite likely to have eaten at many a Cheesecake Factory in their time.

            I would LOVE a burger dinner -- I gave Pie 'n Burger a shot a few weeks ago (thanks to the folks on this board). Really tasty. The "sauce" on the burger reminded me of a thinned Thousand Island dressing. I've seen this on other burgers out here. This is a Southern California thing, I take it? What is it, exactly?

            1. re: marno

              Ricks is your typical take away burger joint but, with great respect. Cheryl Crow even used it as an album cover! Go for a cheap good meal. (I don't eat meat so, can't tell you how they taste? Most chowhounds love this place tho).

              Here's a nifty different kind-a place: La Luna Negra. I enjoy it every time I go. Spanish Tapas, NOT mexican but spanish. Tapas are great with groups and this place is fun. It also has great Sangria and Flamenco in the evenings (F-SA). On Green and Fair Oaks. 1 block s. of Colorado. The Indian suggestions are good and Mi Piace for Italian (lunch is less$). None that I have recommended will burn holes in your pockets. If your up for a small drive or a long walk, go to Go China on Lake at Walnut. (Next to the Ralphs shopping center) Fab chinese without the $$$ (Because it's off the beaten track)Family owned not chained or franchised. It's the only one.:)KQ

          2. I second Cafe Bizou and would give Yujean Kang a qualified rec if and only if the group is amenable to Chinese.

            4 Replies
            1. re: bodie

              I've been intrigued by Cafe Bizou (for the sand dabs? I've never heard of these but they sound interesting). However I mentioned "French" to one of the ladies and was told "I don't know about that..."

              I'm thinking Italian, upscale Mexican or regional American would be safest.

              1. re: marno

                For upscale Mexican, I recommend La Huasteca in Old Town Pasadena. Diverse menu with a good mix of familiar and interesting Mexico City DF-style cuisine.


                1. re: marno

                  Sand dabs are a small flatfish, usually replaced by Rex sole when the supply runs out. They are delicious, though not to any legendary degree, but a platefull of these simply dusted with flour and sautéed in butter is as pleasant a supper as anyone could wish. I have had very good ones at Café Bizou, and not expensive, either.

                  1. re: marno

                    Cafe Bizou is not really French, more like California fare with a little bit of theme decorating. It is a very standard menu, reasonably priced and not at all challenging. I think it perfectly fits your parameters. They post a menu online and you can see for yourself how standard the fare is:


                    By the way, Sand Dabs are really just rex sole, in this case small filets that are dusted in flour and served in caper butter with mashed potato and veggies.

                2. I second Parkway Grill. What about Derek's Bistro? Or, The Terrace at the Ritz Carlton Huntington?

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: chica

                    Parkway Grill sounds great... but a little pricey for us. And don't even get me started on The Terrace. Every few weeks, I stay at the Ritz (for a break from the Westin) and I am DYING to try either of the restaurants... either the Terrace or the Dining Room. Unfortunately, my #1 dining companion is in Canada and I'm not yet up for hitting the Dining Room solo. I'm sure after enough meals from Trader Joe's and the like, I may cave. We'll see.

                    1. re: marno

                      lol. I've dined in The Dining Room solo before -- and it's fabulous! I was treated like a queen.

                      What about GreenStreet Restaurant? It's pretty 'safe' - as in regional American, with huge salads, sandwiches, entrees most people would readily order. And for you, you'll definitely find some chowworthy tastes you'll enjoy, like cajun shrimp, tuna burger, or salad with mango, cilantro, and rice. ;-)

                      For upscale Mexican, I've found La Huasteca on Fair Oaks pretty dependable. They serve the standards, like a delicious mole chicken, and some dishes I normally don't see, like cactus salad. Great desserts, too.

                      Good luck!

                  2. I third Parkway Grill. They will not be disappointed. Maybe you can arrange in advance options of say three entrees, and particular wines, etc., to keep it within budget. You, or they, can even have little menus printed up (easy on computers these days) in advance, and not have the full menu? In any regard, I think this suits you perfectly.

                    1. Villa Sorriso is an italian restaurant in old town. it has a pleasant courtyard and offers italian food, probably the only type of cuisine that will fit the bill of safe, but
                      with a few more 'risque' options.


                      Cafe Bizou is not a cutting-edge French restaurant by any stretch. It's bistro food. In fact I'd say most of the food they serve there is what is now in most American restaurants as 'french influenced' dishes.


                      They have a $2 corkage so you can pick up a few bottles of wine from the Heritage wine company right up the street. They're real friendly there and will help you pick out some wines that will meet your taste/budget expectations.


                      1. Maybe the patio at Il Fornaio.

                        1. How come no one has mentioned Cafe Santorini? They have a semi-private room, great food with a variety of "safe" choices(chicken or beef kebabs) and more interesting dishes like lamb, risotto, stuffed grape leaves, taboulleh, hummus... It's *kind of* touristy because it's in the courtyard of Old Town Pasadena, and most mains are in the $20 range, so I think you'll be able to stay within your $50 per head limit. Here's a photo of the semi-private area. You can also peek at the menu.


                          Last thing - the gelatto downstairs from Cafe Santorini is to DIE for. It's really good.

                          I also like the Villa Sorriso and Cafe Bizou recs. Those are also good choices.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: kotatsu

                            I second Cafe Santorini (I was scrolling through this thread with the thought of adding it myself). My office had a private party there, and it was great. Don't let the "ethnic"-sounding dishes scare your party. There are plenty of recognizable and tasty options to choose from.

                            1. re: ITurnedOutTV

                              I was doing the same, scrolling down, looking for Cafe Santorini. They have good variety on their menu, including pizza and pasta in addition to above. Pricing is within budget, and you can all sit under the strings of lights on the rooftop patio.

                          2. Delacey's Club 41 has a room that you would probably be able to get. They have a wonderful caesar salad (tossed tableside) and clam chowder. They are pretty much a steak/chops/seafood place. I think everyone would find something they like there. See link below.


                            1. #1 choice - PARKWAY GRILL - they can work with your budget, it will be memorable for your whole group and meets all your requirements

                              #2 choice - CAFE BIZOU - people love this place and it's menu is accessible to others; i'm lukewarm on the food, but held two events here and the staff was incredible and you can't beat the price. the room for 15 is really great and a tight u-shape configuration of tables works well for networking.

                              #3 choice - YUJEAN KANG - they've done a very nice u-shape table and can also do an accessible menu. you might even get yujean to come out and take a bow.

                              #4 choice - CAFE SANTORINI - between this and cafe bizou, cafe bizou is a no brainer, but the food is good. they charge for the private space/loft (not really a room). the rococo room is too large for your needs. service is lukewarm. it's loud and clausterphobic in the space.

                              they are not officially open for dinner yet, but the SCARLETT TEA ROOM on green st. in old town does cater and does do private parties. the space is girlie and elegant. call and ask for karen and see if she can accomodate. her lunch fare is very, very good. i'm sure her dinner will be very good too.

                              good luck.

                              1. Cafe Atlantic. A Cuban cafe, the less expensive sibling to the fabulous and fabulously expensive Xiomara a few door south of Cafe Bizou on Raymond in Old Town. Enter through Xiomara. They share the same kitchen. I am told they also share the same knockout mojitos if the ladies are inclined. Not for dainty vegetarians. Delicious. Pleasant brick courtyard, perfect for a lady lunch. Mi Piace, however is hard to beat and may be more familiar as it is very Italian.

                                1. I second Cafe Atlantic (or their sister restaurant Xiomara's) -- there's also the CrepeVine (though you may need to call ahead if bringing a large party, they are a small restaurant.)

                                  Bistro 45 is another interesting restaurant with a good mix of adventurous and safe dishes.

                                  1. I have to agree with Bizou and Atlantic. Both very good.

                                    Oh, and let it be known that Il Fornaio in Pasadena (as far as the chain itself goes) is WRONG WRONG WRONG. I've had at least five people (all from different sets of friends) tell me how wrong it is over at the Pasadena location.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: pizookie75

                                      Good to know. It used to be very good. Beverly Hills branch remains good. OTOH, I've heard many assessments of mediocrity re Bizou recently.

                                    2. OK my two cents.
                                      I don't think you're married to old town. Here's my suggestion.
                                      Bistro de la gare in South Pasadena. If you like, you can arrange a menu au plaisir du chef so you won't be bored - arrange it in advance and explain the nature of the clientele. It's a charming place - only about 10 minutes or so from Old Town.
                                      Bonus fun surprize - meet at old town, start a walk, end up at the train station near city hall (gold line) have prepurchased the $3 all day pass for everyone - hand them the tickets - go down to the mission st station in south pass (two or three stops) walk the 1/2 block to bistro de la gare. Enjoy your meal, network on the few minute train ride (no driving and parking and caravanning to worry about) the food is excellent and familiar - best onion soup i've had in southern california. Reserve a nice table or set of tables.
                                      Afterwards, take the train back (runs until at least 11 if not midnight) and walk over to Leonidas for a quickie hot chocolate and/or little chocolate treats before bidding everyone a sweet good night.

                                      Then you can scout around for late-night menudo parlors on your own.

                                      I think that should work out quite nicely.
                                      BISTRO DE LA GARE
                                      921 MERIDIAN AVE #A
                                      SOUTH PASADENA

                                      btw, sand dabs are a local fish. they're sauteed at cafe bizou. they're quite good. you can find them at many restaurants in the area.
                                      2nd, when i was at school in the great eastern slab of our country, i once applied 1000 island (or as they quaintly called it, russian) dressing to my hamburger. A good friend looked me up and down (he'd lived in Texas for a short time) and said "Ah-Ha. A denizen of our Great American West." I don't know if putting 1000 island on burgers is widespread in the West, but when I was growing up (here in LA) it was ubiquitous.
                                      And it just tastes right - ofcourse, this is a local voice speaking.

                                      1. i 4th parkway grill! you can make your reservation ahead of time, and tell the hostess that you want to keep the budget. i work there, and we do this ALL the time for people. just talk to the manager, and make sure its all set ahead of time, we have typed up seperate menus for people, so you have a limited amount of items available to your guests. and we have an amazing burger! it has the brioche bun, cabrales bleu cheese and sweet potato fries! or our kobe beef burger! also very yummie!!!!!!! we have a private room which we're remodeling, but we can accomidate 15ppl, no problem, just make sure you call ahead of time to see if the table's available, its the beginning of the holidays, we're already getting busy!!!! good luck!