Cayo and Pasadena Restaurants in General
Maybe it was because I was exhausted from a trying week at work and wanted to be at home, rather than eating out with a friend. Maybe I was just in a funk. But, after having dinner at Cayo in Pasadena the other night, I found myself assessing the restaurant scene in Pasadena, and thinking that it suffers from a serious case of the blahs.
Cayo, located on South El Molino next door (north) to the Pasadena Playhouse, is the new home for chef Claude Beltran, formerly of Dickenson West, also in Pasadena. The menu displayed all the trendy touches, but didn't strike me as especially imaginative. A cream of parsnip soup was okay, but lacked the sharp, distinctive taste of parsnip. It seemed "toned down." A smoked trout salad with saffron dressing was another pleasant but unexciting study in muted flavors. The date compote accompanying the seared foie gras was too sweet, and too solid, an accompaniment for my taste, resulting in two separate things and two separate tastes that didn't integrate. Seared turbot was overcooked, and only served to bring back wistful memories of the perfectly cooked turbot I had last fall in Barcelona. My wife's roasted duck breast with a blood orange glaze was okay, but didn't ring any bells.
So I began thinking about where I'd get excited about eating in Pasadena. Shiro (technically in South Pasadena) is too precious for me, and lacks "soul." I ran through the other possibilities, and found my excitement meter stuck on low.
Am I off base here? Help me out here, fellow Chowhounds. What restaurants in Pasadena do you regard as "exciting"?
Pasadena has a lot of great places to eat--more, I'd venture, than in practically any non-Chinese suburb of Los Angeles. Pie n' Burger, as Dave tirelessly notes, has really fine California-style cheeseburgers and fries (and awesome fresh peach pies in season); Wolfe Burger has miraculous onion rings and very nice Navajo-style chile. M&M up on Washington is one of the best soul food restaurants in town (although I prefer the branch down on Avalon near Watts). Fu Shing is perhaps the best Sichuan restaurant in the country, although you have to order very, very carefully. El Taquito up on Fair Oaks is a godhead Mexican loncheria. Casa Bianca on Colorado in nearby Eagle Rock serves the best traditional pizza in the L.A. area. The wine list (if not the Chinese food) at Yujean Kang is good enough to make you weep.Swank stuff is trickier to find. I think Xiomara serves better Nuevo Latino food than most of the New York places, and I like the retro-'80s stuff--mango pizza!--at Hugo Molina, but if you're in a spendy mood, you'll generally do better on the other side of the hill.
re: j gold
Thanks Jonathan and Dave for your responses.
Jonathan, I'm intrigued but puzzled by your comment about Fu Shing being perhaps the best Sichuan restaurant in the country, "although you have to order very, very carefully." I have no idea what to do with your admonition. Could you please explain what I should do to "order carefully." Are there particular dishes that are great and others to avoid? If so, some specifics would help.
I've not been all that wowed by Xiomara. Some of the ideas on the menu sound interesting, but the results on the plate haven't made me a fan. Yujean Kang still serves up good Chinese food, especially when Yujean is in the kitchen. But he seems to spend most of his time these days at his West Hollywood restaurant on Melrose. My quarrel with the Pasadena Yujean Kang is that the menu hasn't changed in a gadzillion years, and Monterey Park isn't all THAT far away. For awhile, Yujean was doing special regional menus at his West Hollywood restaurant, and produced some new and interesting stuff. His Saturday morning cooking lessons followed by lunch at the West Hollywood place were also a lot of fun.
I think you're right about the high-end places, and my comments were aimed at that segment of the market.
re: Tom Armitage
To the huge and discerning San Gabriel Valley Chinese community, Fu Shing is THE Sichuan restaurant, the place to go for tendon hotpots, crab eggs with guy choy, honey ham, tea-smoked duck and the amazing, bright-red, soupy dish called something like ``spicy beef'' that may be the hottest Chinese dish I've ever had. It is the only place I would ever order kung pao dishes, which are spectacular. It is also the default Chinese restaurant for whitebread San Marino--NY hounds, think Greenwich--which means that it is not unusual to be digging into some delightful fried innard while listening to a Thurston Howell type trying to decide whether to order the shrimp egg fu yung this time, or whether he should just stick with the orange chicken. If you are not a Chinese speaker, you will automatically be lumped with these captains of industry unless you work very, very hard to make sure you are ordering the regional dishes. It's unfair, but sometimes that's just the way it is.
re: j gold
I don't KNOW most of the places you tout in Pasadena, but I'm printing out your post. Here's my problem, as I lamented privately to Tom. When you have moved from a place you live, most of your time is consumed with meeting old friends and relatives, and most of these meetings revolve around food.
It's awfully hard to reprogram these folks to become Chowhounds, and invariably we "settle." As a result, I've fallen desperately behind in my knowledge of L.A. food. I'm ashamed to say that I don't know Wolfe Burger -- I've been known to travel great distances for good onion rings.
re: Dave Feldman
Light a candle.
Wolfe is still pretty good. The chili is still great, as are the fries and rings, but the burgers are not so great anymore. The original owner, Josephina, passed away, and the burgers haven't been quite the same.
Still, it's worth the trek.
They serve the only large order of chili fries I can finish. You start, and you cannot stop.
I have the same reaction to Pasadena. If it weren't for Pie 'n Burger, I wouldn't feel passionate about any place in Pasadena. Have only been to Shiro once, but felt exactly the same way. Been to Parkway more often and find it pleasant and boring. The Yucatan Mexican place is O.K. Maybe I've ordered badly at Yujean Kang but where's the beef?