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Sunday Brunch at Firefly Bistro, So Pas (a review longer and possibly more enjoyable than the brunch itself)

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Okay, I will add my shoulda-woulda-coulda to those talking about the Firefly Bistro in South Pas. The SO and I went before a matinee of Fences at the Pasadena Playhouse (excellent), cautioned by some earlier posts but with Cozmo card firmly in hand. We love a good bistro as well as a good adventure, and after years of drought, appear to be on a brunch kick, so all the stars lined up and there we were on tree-lined El Centro, a block away from the Gold Line.

We arrived a little early for our noon reservation, waiting 15 mins for a few tables to clear before we were seated, close to the middle of the back patio, which was comfortable, if not still, on a hot Sunday. Lots of wonderful plants and flowering trees, unplugged strands of lights – I could see how with the right company and glass of wine the patio might be magical at night. BTW we had no clue why bags of water were mysteriously but seemingly strategically hung across various overhead pipes (to keep birds out we wondered?) but didn’t ask.

Our server came right over seeking our drink order, which we gave, asking for some water as well and we shoulda known something was up as he said are you ready to order now too, despite our being there for exactly one minute thirty seconds. In time, SO’s Bellini and my Mimosa arrive, water never does. We place our order, choosing a leisurely and indulgent round of fresh strawberries with creme fraiche and the Truly Handmade Danish (a pastry chef is listed on the menu). Oops we don’t have the Danish today (thanks for telling us now, anything else, no I think that’s all we’re out of). The waiter recommends the coffeecake in its place, what is that like? Fluffy he says. How ... descriptive. Okay, why not.

For entrees, SO orders the Firefly Benedict, with grilled turkey, poached egg on homemade biscuits and gruyere sauce. A number of choices intrigue me, including two dishes with Dungeness Crab, but I go for the Frittata with rock shrimp and avocado and an orange chipotle sauce. Do potatoes come with these I ask? I think so the waiter says but if not I’ll bring you some. (?) By the way, what about the water, oh yeah he says. Never comes. We seek out obliging busboy. Mind you, the place has maybe ten 2-tops, as many 4-tops, but it’s not full, with two waiters and two bus people working. The hostess appears to have no job but to greet and seat, while the owner is an apparent itinerant schmoozer.

Drinks drained, ten minutes or so elapse. We wait for an offer for another round, which never happens. We seek a water refill from the busboy. Right-handed, he doesn’t move the glass but instead reaches across and in front of SO, elbow-to-nose, and pours. Unintentional? Probably. Poor training? Likely. Rude nonetheless. And kinda startling. Waiter standing nearby is summoned for another Mimosa. I was just going to ask you, he says. Like when? How about a basket of bread, as we see on other tables. He disappears for five minutes. Drink appears, as do the starters and the mains, plus a basket of two pieces of plain toasted white bread, all at once, brought by three people we’ve never seen before. Do you normally bring everything all at once, I inquire gently to the one who seems most senior. No, who’s your server, he asks. The guy in black. Oh, he should have brought these out earlier. Everyone leaves.

Our little 2-top crowded with plates and drinks, a basket, we decide to hold the starters as dessert and dig into the hot dishes. SO is immediately disappointed his poached eggs are not runny. Let’s send them back, I say, we have the starters. No, I don’t need a scene he says, remembering perhaps a particularly dramatic moment years past when firm eggs caused some sort or bloody uprising ending in a coup d’etat? Not in my memory but I know he means no when he says no, so I dig into my “frittata”. The quotation marks are because I think of, know of, and even have been known to make frittatas as a sort of flat omelet with whatever filling there is, mixed in. Au contraire, Firefly Bistro frittata is a flat disk of egg topped with whatever they’re serving, in this case, shrimp and avocado. Strange, thin and dry, but voila it did come with potatoes (cubes of seasoned Yukon gold but no onions or peppers or...). The SO makes do chipping away at his hard boiled eggs, commenting on the oddity of eggs with turkey not turkey sausage, but he thoroughly enjoys the homemade biscuit (of course what’s to compare with but the cheap-o white bread toast).

Meanwhile, the owner who had been stopping at each table comes by and apologizes for the “mixup” saying the starters are on the house. Thank you I mumble through crumbly dry eggs accented by avocado but then he’s gone – no small talk, no questions on how’s the food, the weather, our smart outfits. Anyway I thought the waiter woulda been a better person to apologize but what do I know in this increasingly stratified and upside-down world where starters finish your meal. So in short order we end with the beginning and the strawberries are perfectly ripe and nicely complemented by the crème fraiche. The coffeecake was, well, fluffy. It was a simple, light cake, still a bit warm (as was everyone on that patio!) with a pleasantly satisfying brown sugary hint-o-cinnamon crusty crumble. Quite lovely and probably a better finish than a start. Since they took the first-and-final off the bill, I couldn’t use the Cozmo card (which requires $40 in food, oh well); our total was $42 with drinks and tax, pre-tip.

It was an hour later and getting even warmer and we were over the place. If we lived around the corner, I know we coulda looked at Firefly differently, as the neighborhood place it is, rather than the stylish bistro it purports to be. But we don’t, it isn’t and so while it wasn’t the worst experience in our lives, it was far from the best, and we’re in no happy hurry to return.

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  1. I had lunch there with friends and ended up with a salad full of dirt. I cooked professionaly for twenty years, i know what happens. Nevertheless, my mouth full of dirt was dismissed from the owner as 'well we know where lettuce comes from.' Well yes, but no. An sincere apology would've suited me better. We've never been back.

    1. I just went for the 1st time on Friday for lunch and enjoyed it very much.

      1. Too bad about Firefly - I've always had great brunch experiences there. And that flat white bread you are talking about is actually home-baked there, and it might look flat and plain, but it's actually very flakey and buttery in the middle (much like Japanese white bread). It's one of my favorite things about Firefly.

        Better luck next time, if you are willing to give it another shot.

        1. The bags of water hanging from the rafters are to discourage flies. For some reason, the refracting light disorients them, and they leave. Up until two weeks ago, I was the pastry chef at Firefly Bistro, and if I still were, you would have had homemade strawberry jam with your plain toast, which, by the way, is not made in-house but comes from Heirloom Bakery a block away, as did your yummy coffeecake. The coffeecake was brought in to supplant the danish that I used to make (but no one else will likely be crazy enough to labor over.) I'm sorry you had an indifferent experience at Firefly, because even though I no longer work there, I know the owners' hearts are in the right place. In fairness, too, it's going to take a few weeks to adjust to brunch service without their pastry chef, so I hope you will give them another chance.

          Know of any restaurants looking for a pastry chef?

          2 Replies
          1. re: mancina

            Thanks for clarifying - someone told me a while back that they make all their bread there. Good to know the right info.

            I loved your grapefruit tart, btw. It was much like a keylime pie, but with grapefruit. One of the best desserts I've ever had. And I once had a very memorable toffee/hazelnut cake there as well. Let us know where you land!

            1. re: mancina

              You make good desserts! Keep up the good work.

              Since the coffeecake was supplanted...hm, I'm wondering if they charged the same amount as your danish, since yours is worked on in-house, but the cake was bought elsewhere!

              I know pastry chef Koa Duncan from Water Grill recently moved.

              Best wishes in everything!

            2. Maybe the person who said we made the bread at Firefly was referring to the homemade danish, banana bread and ocasional fig-anise artisan bread I made for a cheese plate. Thanks for the complements. I'll keep you posted on the job front.