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Central Park Cafe, Pasadena

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I've been looking forward to visiting Central Park Cafe on Fair Oaks in Pasadena for some time. I drive by this site almost every day and admired the way they refurbished the building after the old Soda Jerks place closed down. I read some of the reviews here first, and then went with my father and wife this evening. I have to say that although some signs of a good restaurant were present, on the whole I was quite disappointed.

The atmosphere was pleasant if a bit loud when crowded. The exposed beams, stained cement floor, and B&W portraits of celebs all worked well. The tables felt a bit close together, but none of that would have mattered if the food had been a home run.

The beverages menu was a very, very bad sign. The extensive wine list was in startling contrast to the complete lack of any decent beer whatsoever, with the single exception of Samuel Adams. THIS IS CALIFORNIA! More amazing beers are brewed and distributed here than almost any other state in the country. Craftsman brewery is located right here in Pasadena and could easily supply this place with kegs. There is NO EXCUSE for a California bistro that serves food that CRIES out for fine craft beer like steaks and seafood to not take beer even slightly seriously, with only a ubiquitous Boston-brewed beer as a decent choice. When my Sam Adams did come, it was served in a chilled water glass. Again, absolutely pathetic. Go to Cost Plus and invest in a few cases of proper beer glass, for hops sake.

We started with the fried calimari, which was good. The bits of chile added flavor and color, and the two dipping sauces - a homemade tartar sauce and some sort of tomato sauce - were nice.

Next I got my Caesar salad, which was horrible. The moment I saw the salad, I felt a kind of desolate sadness emanating from the pit of my stomach. The lettuce was obviously from a bag, all pre-cut to the exact same size. The croutons were also pre-packaged and completely bland. The "parmesan" was likewise frozen and pre-grated and merely dumped on top of the salad from a bag. The dressing was mediocre. No Worcester sauce. No anchovies. No egg. No life. I could only eat about 1/3. Why bother putting Caesar on the menu if you can't do a decent version?

The main course was, fortunately, worth eating. On the advice of a previous reviewer here, I ordered the flatiron steak cooked medium rare, and found it to be delicious. It was served on top of some potato gratin and the reduced wine sauce was well done. The carrots and beans were nicely cooked. My father had the Sand Dabs and really enjoyed it, though the mashed potatoes were a bit bland. My wife had the fish and chips, and enjoyed the fish and tartar sauce but found the french fries to be completely pedestrian. Our dessert, creme brulee, was fine but nothing special.

Central Park Cafe, in short, is a few steps away from being a good restaurant. The lack of any serious attention to beer is, for me, a deal breaker, and I will not return until they fill out their beverage menu. I also found the inclusion of a Caesar salad that only barely improves on the packaged Caesar salad from Trader Joes to be insulting. Otherwise, a decent night out.

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  1. I have only had breakfast there, and I enjoyed it. :)

    2 Replies
      1. re: adevejian

        I got the pancakes, with blueberries on top. I asked for extra fruit. I also ordered a side of sausage.

        My friend got the $4.95 Beligan waffle special. This was more worth it than the pancakes that I ordered.

        My sausages were a little undercooked, but everything on the whole was good. We also ordered two coffees. Overall, we were pleased. Was it the best breakfast on earth? No. Was is a decent breakfast, for a decent price? Yes.

        The parking lot was a bit cramped, but we both did find parking in the small lot next to the restaurant.

    1. I had the Napa Valley salad there and it was delicious. Also one of the better burgers in the area, similar in style to Mike and Anne's in South Pasadena. On a hot day, their slushy lemonades are unbeatable.

      3 Replies
      1. re: heckonwheels

        I prefer 2 of their other restaurants, Beckham Grill and Wild Thyme. The fried artichoke hearts/aioli, the endive goat cheese salad, the lamb shank, etc. at Beckham seem to beat out most anything at the CPC.

        Something isn't quite working at Central Park Cafe, but it's a great location with potential, maybe they can transition some of the betterness of the other 2 places to it.

        My husband did like the flatiron steak.

        1. re: MaryT

          Okay, I'm the guy who recommended the flatiron steak...and after having subsequently cooked four or five of them (cryovac'd, from Ralphs of all places) I have to say they require next to no skill to be wonderful. Same with sand dabs (the only skill they require is trying to FIND some!). So maybe what we liked about this place was the excellent choices they made, putting food items on the menu that any idiot could get right without having to think about it. This category does not include the ribeye, which someone besides me found weird (so I wasn't crazy after all), nor those consistenly gluey mashed potatoes; it does include that delightful potato gratin. And if altadenafoodguy enjoyed his vegetables, I guess that means they've finally decided to cook them instead of just warming them up a bit.

          1. re: Will Owen

            On our lone visit, my wife & I were perfectly happy with our selections, which included the aforementioned flatiron (hers), and a pork chop. It was a hefty chop, not the slightest bit overcooked. I'm not afraid of a pork chop that has a slight touch of pink in the middle. This helped to keep the meat moist. Far too many places simply cook these things to death.

      2. My DC and I had dinner at Central Park last Tuesday night - walked away reasonably content, but not in any hurry to return.

        The bread (a foccacia) was fresh and the oil/balsamic dipping sauce fine, but the bread had been heavily salted and we left most of it in the basket (not normal for us, especially me - I like good bread!).

        Both started with the crab bisque - rich and creamy but it needed some fresh cracked pepper AND it was served between lukewarm and warm - not nearly as hot as we would have liked.

        DC had a fish special of Ono in a curry sauce over spinach and mashed potatoes - he said it was flavorful but lacking "something" to give it some pizzaz. We later concluded that a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime would have sparked the flavors. I had the flat iron, medium rare - cooked perfectly and quite delicious. The au gratin herbed potatoes were delightful - flavorful and cooked through without being mushy. However, the green beans and carrots served as the vegetable side, whilebeing well-seasoned with herbs, were very much under done. I was actually unable to stab the carrots with my fork they were so crisp, and the steak knife couldn't cut them. Very frustrating. Also, both of our entrees were served warm, not hot - really felt like they'd been finished and waiting for a few minutes before being picked-up and delivered to our table.

        For dessert my DC ordered the brioche bread pudding with caramalized apples and I had the double chocolate mousse. The mousse was rich, smooth, and marvelous (though the serving was too much for me and I only finished half - and I'm a good eater!). I'd order it again, to split. The bread pudding was the miss of the night - we were expecting a typical bread pudding (torn pieces of bread, in this case with apples diced and scattered throughout, a custard poured over the mass and baked) - what was served appeared to be a slab of one piece of brioche that had been placed in a baking pan over a sliced and brown-sugared apple, with the custard poured over. It tasted somewhere between a baked french toast and a bready upside-down cake. Just dense, heavy, and not very flavorful.

        Total for dinner (two soups, two entrees, two desserts, one glass of wine, one soda) with tax but before tip: about $80.

        Service was okay - professional and reserved. Complaints: soups and entrees being served warm instead of hot, undercooked vegetables. Also, server didn't tell us the specials until asking if we were ready to order, which meant a last minute change for my DC.

        Not a bad night, and no major complaints with the food, but just not something were inclined to repeat.

        1. Haven't tried Central Park, but AltadenaFG, you should know that the ONLY real Caesar salad to be had in the SGV is at DeLacey's Club 41 in Old Town. They still make it from scratch for you right at your table. Don't bother with any restaurant that doesn't make it from scratch for you.

          DeLacey's is not stellar in any other food category, but we love to go there for Happy Hour snacks (perfectly good, cheap calamari!), beer, and Caesar salads!