Dinner at Green St. Tavern, Pasadena
I know that Pasadena is not exactly the place people turn to for fine dining, but I just thought I'd alert people to a delicious new dining option that I discovered walking in Old Town last night. It's called the Green St. Tavern, and it's on 69 W. Green, just west of Fair Oaks. Apparently it just opened a few days ago, and it sounds like there was another restaurant located there beforehand, so perhaps others who know the area better would know what establishment it replaced.
First off, the decor as you walk in is wonderful. Very understated, earth tones, with very nice lighting and the probably the softest leather chairs I have ever sat in. It's very small, with a bar in back, creating a nice intimate vibe (indeed, the restaurant's motto, listed beneath its name, is "a place for social intimacy"...I guess you don't want to read too much into that...but I digress). My girlfriend kept going on about how the whole ambiance was very "masculine," right down to the silverware. I also have to put in a plug for their menus, which are bound in this rugged leather booklet with a leather tie that you unwrap to open the menu. It kind of reminded me of playing D&D as a kid, when the dungeon master would lead us into a tavern to consort with orcs and elves and wizards and such. Very cool.
But really, as us chowhounders know, a restaurant should be about the food, and here the Green St. Tavern did not disappoint. To begin with, our server screwed up our appetizer order, but it actually worked out in our favor, because we got to try both appetizer dishes we were considering, instead of having to choose between them. Our first starter was an heirloom tomato salad with citrus, avocado, and "hydroponic greens," i.e. salad greens. We both loved this salad. The ingredients were very fresh, and the dressing was tasty, but light enough to let the natural flavors shine through. Next, we ordered a grilled heirloom tomato plate with burrata, opal basil, and 12 yr. balsamic, basically an embellishment on the classic insalata caprese. I have found almost all restaurants do a disappointing job with this standby, but Green St. was different. The burrata was a surprising and delicious changeup from the usual fresh mozzarella, adding a wonderful creaminess and flavor complexity to the dish. Also, I'm usually opposed to cooking heirloom tomatoes, but the light char from the grill really worked to enhance their flavor. Additionally, the balsamic and basil pesto dressings were absolutely divine. Altogether, this is probably the best caprese salad I've had in a restaurant.
For our main dishes, I ordered the sole vegetarian entree on the menu, which was a gnocchi dish with jumbo asparagus, reggiano, oyster mushrooms, and truffles. Again, I have to say that this is probably one of the best pasta dishes I have ever had. They make the gnocchi daily in-house (according to our server), and they certainly know how to make them. They were crisply sauteed on the outside, yielding to a delectable creamy interior. But what really made this dish was the balance of ingredients. Most times when I order gnocchi, it's basically a pile of gnocchi with some sort of sauce. This dish had almost as much grilled asparagus and mushrooms as gnocchi, making for a much more varied and interesting dish. The buttery sauce combined with the reggiano was a perfect finishing touch.
My girlfriend, since she's meat-starved at home with me doing the cooking, ordered the filet mignon. I can't personally attest to the quality of this dish, since I'm vegetarian. However, I will say that my girlfriend was very impressed with it. As is usually the case at restaurants, they did not prepare the meat as rare as she wanted it, but it was still quite deep red (I think she likes it towards the blue end of the spectrum). I'm not sure if they used any special rubs or spices, but I do know that she tore into it and finished it all, which is a rarity. The sides were quite interesting as well: grilled pears instead of potatoes, and some sort of root vegetable-cheese puree, which sopped up a lot of the juices and sauces from the plate.
Finally, we ordered dessert. There were three choices, and to my dismay none of them involved much chocolate (note to owners: for some people dessert is not dessert if there's no chocolate): a granny smith apple strudel, a fresh strawberry and frozen custard dish, and a chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwich. After consulting with our waiter, we opted for the ice cream sandwich. It was quite good, but didn't quite rise to the level of the rest of the meal. The vanilla chocolate chip ice cream was delicious and creamy, and the cookies were good, but not great. What would have really dramatically improved this dish is if the cookies were warmed up. But overall, it's pretty hard to screw up cookies and ice cream, right?
For all of this (we didn't order wine), we got out of there for $72 total, tax and tip included.
Aside from having no chocolate desserts, I only had two other small complaints, or perhaps "areas for improvement." First, the restaurant has the misfortune of being located right next to a cigar shop, which meant that we had to deal with the faint but distinct smell of cigar smoke wafting in from outdoors. Our server did his best to mitigate this problem when we brought it to his attention, closing the back door to the restaurant to reduce the air flow coming in the front door. This certainly helped. Second, the music was this horrible "smooth jazz" type elevator music, hardly befitting the sleek decor. Fortunately, it turned out that we were dining right next to the owner, Armand, and he eagerly solicited my suggestions. They have XM satellite radio, so I suggested he find a "cool jazz" station (i.e. Miles, Coltrane, and the like), or perhaps a trip-hop station if he wanted something edgier. He promptly got up and found the "cool jazz" station on the receiver, which instantly improved the ambiance. He was very thankful for the suggestion. I hope the elevator music doesn't drift back into the mix.
Overall, this was a surprisingly good dining experience, especially given the paltry dining options in Pasadena. For what you get, I'd say it's quite reasonably priced, although it's obviously far from a budget option. I'm already looking forward to my next visit.
I take issue with your characterization of the dining options in Pasadena as paltry. For a city of it's size especially, the selection of good dining is pretty impressive. If you mean the selection of choices of restaurants that provide a good vegetarian menu is paltry, then that may well be the case, but you should have been clearer. Some excellent restaurants in Pasadena.