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Pasadena is not completely weak

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After the "Pasadena is Weak" thread, we had to revisit our favorite places just to be sure there was hope.
In order of "strongness":

Masion Akira - on good nights rivals Spago. You have to be into the French Japanese thing, but there are pure French and pure Asian selections. The tasting menu (Rabelais - 5 courses for $50 - $68 with two wines) is a revelation. Recently had scallop aspic, Copper River salmon - wild - with dill cream, escargots in brioche, TRULY SPECTACULAR roasted veal tenderloin in a port reduction, and poached pear. Wines are ok, though there are a lot by the glass. Weak Rose with the tasting menu was a major disappointment but others were fine (Domaine Chandon Pinot Noir, a full bodied Vouvray). IMHO this is he best dinner in Pasadena.

Bistro 45 - lots of detractors, but not us. Consistently well executed Napa type California cuisine, reliable service, amazing wine list (largely CA, but many wines that you simply cannot get elsewhere) at not astronomical prices.

Maddeline's - probably the most underrated place in Pas. Quiet elegant place with competent service. Relatively simple menu (veal delmonico, Korbuta pork chop, roasted chicken, seared duck breast, etc) but excellent preparations; usually not crowded. Probably a hundred wines by the glass, many top notch, though not at bargain prices

Arroyo Chop House - often panned, but simply the best steakhouse in the City (no apologies). World class service, no nonsense big meat, nice sides, elegant surroundings. No bargain, however, and wines are grossly overpriced.

Ritz Huntington The Dining Room - overrated, but still pretty good. Reliable service and nice surroundings. Chef will cater to whims if asked. Reliable preparations but always leaves just a little to be desired. Extremely expensive.

Parkway Grill - overly complicated preparations, service can be a little pushy, but if you order simply this can be a pleaant meal. Also overpriced.

Not Pasadena, but Cafe Beaujolais in Eagle Rock never fails to satisfy. Bona fide old school French preparations (a vanishing art), over the top French waiters, interesting wines (ask for the specials). Lots of noise and not overly comfortable. Prices are great. Even with the owners deserting to Cafe de la Gare in So Pas, the chef seems to have stayed behind.

Pasadena is OK. Only the west side seems better to me. Having recently done a round of highly touted restaurants in South Pasadena I have to ask whether it is not the inheritor of the "weak" appelation (have not yet tried Mike and Anne's though).

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  1. While I agree with you that Pasadena is not completely weak, I have to disagree on a couple of points.

    I think Maison Akira has slipped recently. Not the same attention to detail or execution. Still good, just not great.

    Celestino is also very good, as is Red White and Bluezz.

    And as to South Pasadena vis-a-vis Pasadena? No comparison. The South rises again!

    6 Replies
    1. re: ipsedixit

      Sorry, but must disagree on Celestino's - I do like pasta to be al dente, but not crunchy! Also, way, way, too much salt. The plus is well-done cocktails, but the food - blech!

      Would rather eat at Tarantino's where at least it's cheap.

      1. re: jazzlover

        Celestino is Northern. Tarantino's is Southern. Different strokes.

        1. re: mc michael

          I realize that they are entirely different, I simply meant to say that the bang for your buck at Tarantino's is worth it, where Celestino is vastly over-rated in my opinion.

          1. re: jazzlover

            I like Tarantino's. I think it's the garlic for your buck that does it.

      2. re: ipsedixit

        We flew Southwest to Chicago recently and they had a list of the best Italian restaurants in the US in their magazine and Celestino was the only one listed from LA. It is right around the corner from my house and I have never been!

        1. re: WildSwede

          I think getting into an airline magazine could be more about marketing than anything else. But I do think that Celestino is quite fabulous. Great food, great waiters, nice dim lighting.

      3. I recently discovered Central park and was PLEASANTLY surprised! Yea Pasadena :)
        http://rantsnravesnreviews.blogspot.com

        5 Replies
        1. re: rantsnravesnreviews

          Um...Houstons, Arroyo Chophouse, and Saladang Song anyone? Sushi of Naples and their lunch specials? The little french bakery on Colorado (one block from Lake) that has THE BEST pastries I've ever had in my life!!! If you can trek up to the Black Cow Cafe in Tujunga, let me know what you think too? I miss living in Pasadena, and call me crazy, but once I get a craving for that Avacado sandwhich and steak fries from the Hat...YUMMY! I feel it coming on now...

          1. re: twobitesUH

            Eurpoane is the bakery you speak of. Yeah, those of us living here know that the OP on that original post had it all wrong. I say, go elsewhere, then!!

            1. re: twobitesUH

              I'm often at Sushi of Naples not for their lunch but for their happy hour. Cheap beer, a FREE appetizer, and decent but not great food. This only applies at the bar unfortunately.

              1. re: twobitesUH

                Do you mean the Black Cow Cafe in Montrose?

                1. re: Spiff

                  Yes!! That' s the one.

            2. Maison has definitely slipped! I went there a couple a couple times and wasn't impressed at all. Seems a lil run down as well..

              1 Reply
              1. re: cynthia105

                We went to Maison for the first time for our first anniversary. Excellent service, but the food was underwhelming. The highlight by far were the desserts.

              2. And add to it, arguably the best cheesesteak samwich at Fredo's, as well as some of the best Chinese food in the world just a couple of miles away in the SG valley and Pasadena's not so bad!

                1. Though I live in Pasadena, I gotta hand it to South Pas when it comes to dining. I never made to the late but lauded Bistro K, but between Cafe de la Gare, Mike & Anne's, Shiro (best restaurant in either Pas or South Pas), Briganti, and brunch at Firefly, South Pasadena wins hands-down. I'm also looking forward to trying 750 ML. Given how much smaller South Pas is, the % of good places trumps its neighbor to the north.

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: Jack Flash

                    Totally agree about So. Pasadena.

                    Just within the vincinity bounded by Fair Oaks, Mission and El Centro there's a surprsingly disproportionate number of great dining choices, most of which you've mentioned.

                    By the way, it's Bistro (not Cafe) de la Gare, right?

                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      I suspect that cheaper rents in South Pas make for more cutting edge cuisine.

                      1. re: mc michael

                        I'll be the dissenter on South Pas. Although I appreciate that it has come a ways since the days when Buster's and Shiro were the only games in town, now that Bistro K is a memory, the new crop of restaurants tend to be expensive and pretty mediocre, and would be unremarkable on the westside, or even on Ventura Boulevard: unremarkable bourgeois food for unremarkable bourgeois customers. Tre Venezie, Europane, Yujean Kang, Bistro 45 and Vertical may be flawed, but at least they are uncompromising and original, which is more than you can say for 750ml, Briganti, Bistro de la Gare and Mike & Anne's. (I do have a grudging affection for Firefly.)

                        1. re: condiment

                          "unremarkable bourgeois food for unremarkable bourgeois customers."

                          That has been my experience with most of the hyped westside restaurants praised on CH

                          1. re: Ernie

                            I think this statement pretty much covers both Pasadena AND the Westside.

                            1. re: Woolsey

                              Actually it doesn't. At least in Pasadena you are close to the rest of SGV for outstanding Asian and Mexican food.

                            2. re: Ernie

                              There's a very nice strip of moderately priced Persian restaurants and markets on Westwood Blvd. (between Wilshire Blvd. and Santa Monica Blvd.) in Westwood. :)

                              Also, I think Pasadena has a very diverse community of residents and restaurants. :)

                              1. re: katkoupai

                                Shamshiri Grill is OK, I like the fresh bread but sometimes the kebabs are on the bland side and their rice can be uneven. Great lunch special though. Overall I like the Shamshiri in Glendale much better. Barg and koobideh are consistently flavorful and juicy, rice and tahdig are reliably good too. I miss the old Shamshiri in Hollywood the most though.

                                1. re: Ernie

                                  Hmm. I didn't even know there was a Shamshiri in Hollywood. What happened to it? :)

                                  My fam used to like the Shamshiri in Northridge very much.

                                  I haven't tried the Shamshiri in Glendale. We usually end up at Raffi's Place, when in Glendale. :)

                    2. Ok someone mentioned this point on the original post thread but the "Pasadena is weak" ruling seemed to have it's roots in Old Town which is like saying "Santa Monica is weak" based on dining experiences on 3rd Sreet Promenade. Not to be a bad imitation of Jeff Foxworthy but--If you're a restaurant within..oh let's say...a 1/4 mile of a Gap store...you're probably a weak restaurant. (Repeat this set up replacing Gap with Sephora or AMC Theatres or Urban Outfitters...you get the picture )

                      1. I generally enjoy meals that are $10 and under, so I'm unsure if I'll ever make it to many of the places mentioned already. I will, however, provide a list of some places that I enjoy in Pasadena.

                        Mediterranean Cafe-- good combo plates for under $10 (Lake and Del Mar)
                        Zankou Chicken-- I like the tarna plates (Colorado, near PCC)
                        King Taco-- good and cheap (Arroyo Parkway, between Colorado and Union)
                        Saigon Noodle-- decent pho and spring rolls (Raymond, between Colorado and Union)
                        Magnolia-- decent bar and bar food, with a worthwhile happy hour (Lake, between Del Mar and California)
                        Violet's-- really good cupcakes (Holly St., near Fair Oaks)
                        21 Choices Frozen Yogurt-- great frozen yogurt (Colorado, near Fair Oaks)

                        I can't forget my new favorite Mexican place in the area:
                        Rosarito #2, on Lake, near Orange Grove-- huge, tasty combo plates for less than $7.

                        In South Pas, I recently tried Senor Fish, and I really liked it. I haven't tried much else in South Pas.

                        Now, I'm getting hungry. :)

                        Also, I would just like to send a shout-out to Trojanhorse because he's the guy who wrote the OP ("Pasadena is weak"), and we actually like a lot of the same places in Pasadena.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: katkoupai

                          I love Senior Fish....was like my Sunday Mass. Shop at Tj's (buy some beer) go get a shrimp burrito...take home and eat (with beer)....

                          1. re: chefthisguy

                            Yes, Senor Fish is conveniently located across the street from the Trader Joe's in South Pasadena. :)

                            Senor Fish is a place that I tried specifically because of posts on Chowhound, as are a number of the other places that I mentioned above. :)

                            I have been to the Eagle Rock and the South Pas locations, but I was unable to find the one in Alhambra. I must have driven by it and missed it.

                            Just as a note, I like their shrimp tacos more than their rice and beans, which need a bit more flavor. Their salsa bar is also good. :)

                            http://www.senor-fish.com/

                          2. re: katkoupai

                            For good and cheap Mexican in Pasadena, I like EL TOREO CAFE in old town Pasadena, right next to the Cheesecake Factory on Fair Oaks.

                            El Toreo Cafe
                            21 South Fair Oaks Ave
                            (626) 793-2577