Category Archives: South Pasadena restaurants

Quick Bites: Fiore Market Cafe- South Pasadena

While driving around during one gorgeous Southern California morning, J and I passed by the old Bistro K space attached to the Fremont Centre Theatre in South Pasadena and saw that “Fiore Market Cafe” had taken its place.  Having spent many evenings savoring the creative and mouthwatering dishes of Chef Laurent Quenioux back in the Bistro K days (Chef is now cooking at Vertical Wine Bistro) we just had to stop in and investigate.  I’m glad we did.

I love a chalkboard menu

The tiny corner space is now laid out like a deli/cafe, featuring prepared salads (Spicy Udon Noodles, Fennel Slaw and Curried Cauliflower were a few of the items available today), and menu of made-to-order sandwiches and fresh salads and an array of gorgeous baked goods piled high on different cake platters.  The lemon bars, red velvet cupcakes and large, flat chocolate chip cookies looked especially good.

Coconut, lavender and red velvet cupcakes

Seating is right outside the market in a lusciously landscaped patio, decorated with clay pots of the fresh herbs used in many of the dishes.  The romantic, spring-like feel of both the inside and outdoor spaces hasn’t changed since it was Bistro K and was one of the reasons why we always went back.  The rustic, European-country style is so utterly charming and makes the patio a perfect place to enjoy lunch al fresco.

Mulberry scones

Unfortunately we’d just eaten so we didn’t have the appetite to try any of their savory dishes, but we couldn’t resist buying a beautiful oatmeal cookie from the case.  It was slightly crisp around the edges and chewy in the middle and tasted of fresh butter, brown sugar and oats.  Wow.  I guess I’ll have to add that cookie to the list of things I’ll be craving again soon.

I’m excited to go back and have a proper lunch at Fiore but will have a hard time choosing between the Short Rib Sandwich on Homemade Bread, the Tempeh Bacon, Avocado and Lettuce Sandwich and the Roast Chicken and Maple Glazed Bacon Salad with Blue Cheese, Egg and Dill-Peppercorn Dressing.  Hungry yet? They also sell salami, jams and other gourmet goodies in the market.

In addition to the Tempeh Bacon sandwich (made with Vegenaise) the cafe also offers Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes and a Lavash Wrap made with Soyrizo so carnivores and vegans can live happily ever after….or at least, eat happily together!

Fiore Market Cafe
1000 Freemont Ave.
South Pasadena, CA 91030
(626) 441-2280
Hours: Mon-Thu 11:00am-6:00pm, Fri-Sat 11:00am-7:00pm Sun: CLOSED

Daisy Mint in Pasadena

It seems I rarely blog about my “regular” places- as in, I only post about special-occasion restaurants.  I guess if you get coffee at the same shop three times a week, it never occurs to you to whip out the camera.  However, we all keep going back to the same places because they’re GOOD, and the other day I was thinking of how I should stop taking them for granted and start blogging about the places that keep me fed and happy all the time!  I mean, isn’t it nice to go to a restaurant knowing that you’re going to get great food and service?  So here’s my tribute to one of those places: Daisy Mint in Pasadena.

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Bar Celona, Pasadena

I basically grew up in Pasadena. My family lives in Temple City and my sister and I spent many, MANY teenage/twentysomething nights in Pasadena, usually at the old E Bar or eating at many of the good restaurants the town had to offer. I remember my parents took us to a place called Julianne (not the one in San Marino) where I had my very first duck l’orange and I thought it was the best thing I’d ever eaten. Pasadena always had a festive, special-occasion quality about it and I spent much of my time there while growing up.

Cut to now. Pasadena, especially Old Town, has seemingly turned into a chain restaurant mecca, wait, the “high-end chain restaurant mecca” is more like it. Cheesecake Factory? Check. Il Fornaio? Check. Louise’s? Check. Houston’s? Check. Toss in a few strange fusion places like Thaitalian (wait, they went out of biz) and sushi-for-the-masses like Afloat Sushi (still in biz) and you have the odd, uninspiring food scene in Pasadena, save for a few gems like Vertical Wine Bistro, Parkway Grill (which has had it’s share of ups and downs) and Arroyo Chop House. Then Bar Celona came along………well, more like Chef Josef Centeno came to Bar Celona.

NOT Chef Centeno, but a patron of the restaurant that looked straight out of Spain, thus the photo!

Chef Centeno gained popularity while at Opus Restaurant and has brought new life to Bar Celona. I’d been there before his arrival and it was good, but now it is really special- I mean it’s food that hasn’t been available in Pasadena before, in my opnion. It’s SO NICE to go to my beloved neighborhood and sit down for plate after plate of inventive, fresh, creative and well prepared food such as the offerings of Chef Centeno and Bar Celona.

Last week I was invited to dine at Bar Celona to celebrate their five year anniversary and their annual “Running of the Bulls” celebration. I’d been to Bar Celona a few times in the past and had mostly good experiences there, so I was excited to go. In the interest of full disclosure, I will say that my meal was comp’d, but since I’d had many of these dishes before I can tell you that the freeness of the food didn’t change the flavor, ha. Now, onto the food, and there was a lot of it, my friends:

An amuse of crisp fried sardines with honey water. Sounds strange, tastes salty and sweet and then, it’s gone cos you popped it in your mouth.

Oyster & cremini mushrooms- I’m a big fan of mushrooms, garlic and wine, and this was all three with a dash of cream. What’s not to like?

Wild arugula with baby tomatoes, hazelnuts, roasted garlic vinaigrette- again, a combination of a few of my favorite things- peppery arugula with crunchy roasted nuts:

Chard and goat cheese croquetas: My favorite of the evening, but as you know from many previous posts, croquetas (korokke in Japanese) are in my “Top Five” of favorite foods. These were perfect- golden, hot and crisp on the outside, tender with a slight tang from the goat cheese on the inside. I mean, just look at them. They’re nuggets of golden goodness and a great match for the albariño I was drinking

4 oz pork shoulder conserva: potted meats/fishes seem to be everywhere these days, from Barbrix (except they don’t serve it in a pot…boo!) and Palate (the potted lamb is truly outstanding) and this one was rich, meaty and again, perfect for wine. We barely made a dent in it so they offered to let me take it home…..then I promptly forgot it at the restaurant. Imagine all of the fantastic sandwiches (the conserva on rye bread w/ pickled red onions, cornichons, and dijon mustard!!!) missing from my life now that I left that pork conserva behind……I pay for my mistakes. Damn me!

Warm octopus salad, white nectarine, herbs, smoked paprika- normally I don’t really love savory food with fruit in it, but this worked out so well- it also had hearts of palm in it which added a nice contrast in texture to the tender octopus. I wonder what cooking method Chef Centeno uses to get his octopus so tender? I’ve heard Italians put wine corks in their poaching liquid, Japanese put dried adzuki beans in it but beat the raw octopus with a daikon radish before poaching………what’s your method?

Quail stuffed with tart cherries, apricots, chorizo, roasted figs: you’re like, “uh, aren’t you the girl who said she doesn’t like savory food with fruit in it?” Yeah, that’s me, so what’s this dish containing – count ‘em- THREE different fruits in it doing on my table? Well, to be honest, it was recommended, and I’m glad it was- there’s nothing like spicy Spanish chorizo to offset the sweetness of fruit, and quail is one of my favorite birds. S declared this dish his favorite of the night.

And, finally……..drum roll please…………Crispy pork belly, brussels sprouts, fried egg, salbixtada (a sauce made from almonds, tomatoes, garlic). This is a dish that would have Anthony Bourdain rolling his eyes into the back of his head in ecstacy. Several slices of crisp, fatty pork belly on a bed of fragrant, tender lentils drowned in the runny yolk of a soft poached egg. It reminded me of my friend D who is a fan of all things pork fat and drippy egg.

After we were done eating, we rolled ourselves into the other rooms of the expansive restaurant to check out the “Running of the Bulls” party, complete with mechanical bull set up for daring patrons! S and I didn’t think it was a great idea to participate after gorging ourselves on 60% of the menu and hey- I watch “Wipeout” and know what happens to people who partake in those kinds of activites….it ain’t purty. Bar Celona was also promoting their “all you can eat paella” which happens every Sunday this summer and had a paella station set up on the back patio, along with tables of different sample cocktails for people to try. It was kind of like wine tasting- you sip a little here, you sip a little there, then a little while later you realize, oops, I’m sorta drunk! Although the two bar areas and back patio were fun, the main restaurant dining room is much more my speed, with exposed brick walls and an open kitchen.

I’m happy that Bar Celona has become a true food lover’s destination with the Centeno menu and hope it continues to showcase fresh, local ingredients prepared in such creative ways. In a land of chain restaurants, it’s nice to know that there is a place to get some really well prepared dishes and have a reason to revisit my old stomping grounds often.

Bar Celona
46 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, CA
(626) 405-1000

Lil’ Parlor Pizzeria, South Pasadena

[Taking a short break from the South America posts for a minute as there are a million photos to sort through. I should have some more posts up soon!]

I’ll be totally honest and say I’ve never been a fan of Steven Arroyo’s restaurants. I never “got” Cobras & Matadors after several trips there, and my two visits to his South Pasadena wine bar 750 ml never did it for me either. I haven’t heard a lot of positive things about his downtown place, Church and State, so I thought maybe it best for me to stay away from that one as well.

So why did I try Lil’ Parlor Pizzeria, the new pizzeria opened in the old 750 ml space by this very same restaurateur? There is no real thin-crust, wood-fired pizza in my neighborhood, and the 7 minute drive from my door to the South Pasadena restaurant made it easy to at least give the place a shot. Other than sushi, Italian is my favorite food on the planet; thin crust, lightly dressed pizzas are near the top of that list along with a pile of al dente parpadelle clinging to some sort of slowly braised ragu.

J, my friend Ikea (not his real name but it’s a nod to his Swedish heritage) and I strolled in at around 7:30 PM on Friday night. We were warmly greeted and I immediately noticed the giant leg of prosciutto that sat on the counter, ready for me to dive into. Ok, maybe it wasn’t waiting for me but it was a good sign that maybe, just maybe Steven and I have a future together (as restaurateur and customer, of course).

We sat down, placed our orders and the wine was quickly brought to the table. Although J’s glass was filled well to the middle with his white wine, my glass was filled less than a third. Ikea suggested I take a sip, look at the waiter and say “Mmm, good, I’ll take this one!” and then give the glass back as if I was simply given a taste and that I wanted more. Although the idea was appealing, I figured I’d just sit this one out and hope that my next glass was more half full than half empty.

Appetizers: J ordered the heirloom tomatoes w/ burrata, and although I thought it a bit late in the year for the tomatoes I didn’t say anything. I should have. Look, you can spread burrata on a rusty iron and it’d still be divine. But even the rich creamy heavenliness that is burrata couldn’t save the grainy, bland heirlooms. We left most of it untouched.

Ikea fared far better with his baked ricotta w/ peppernata, aged balsamic and olive oil. The slab of baked ricotta was extremely mild and could have used some salt, and although J dubbed it as “tofu,” Ikea seemed happy with his choice.

I ordered the charcuterie plate – a nice selection of salami and prosciutto plus some pepperoncinis, olives and cheese. Very good, nice portion and nice selection.

Now for the pizzas:

Ikea went for the “Old School,” a pizza topped with pepperoni, tomato sauce, mozzarella and oregano. He deemed it delicious and thoroughly enjoyed every bite.

J was the real winner here- his “The Woods” pizza looked so bare upon first glance that I was worried, but powerful flavors coming out of the fresh chanterelles, smoked onions, fontina and rosemary were unbelievable. We kept looking at it, then tasting it, just wondering how such minimal toppings could pack such a punch. Truly delicious. I’m craving one as I type this actually.

I, unfortunately, lost the pizza battle with my Margherita pie. The “roasted tomato sauce” was bland and as grainy (oddly!) as those heirlooms and there was barely a smidge of mozzarella. Yeah, I know, I said I liked minimal toppings but, in the words of Oliver Twist, “Please sir, may I have some more cheese?” (minus the cheese part). Luckily I had some of the prosciutto and these incredibly sweet peppers left from my charcuterie plate so I doctored it up and it was fine.

I have to say, even though it was a hit and miss, I’d definitely go back to Lil’ Parlor Pizzeria. The crust is the key- it’s tasty, it’s perfectly thin, it’s beautifully crusty without being too hard and the yeasty flavor of good bread runs deep. As always, I’d take into consideration that the restaurant is still fine tuning since they’d been opened less than a week when we went. All things considered, the pies are good and that’s what I want- a good pizza place near my house. I hope the margherita gets a little better and they stop serving mealy tomatoes, but that mushroom pizza alone is worth making the seven minute drive for……….heck, it’s worth making an hour drive for. Oh, and my second glass of wine was indeed more of the “half-full” variety.

Lil’ Parlor Pizzeria
966 Mission St,
South Pasadena, CA

The Best Restaurant in Los Angeles: Bistro K, South Pasadena

Alright alright- now before you all get into a tizzy with your own opinions on what the best restaurant in LA is, let me explain. Of course I haven’t been to EVERY restaurant in our large city. I’m sure that many of you think the tasting menu at Spago or Urasawa are generally thought of as the best cuisine LA has to offer. This may be true as I have sampled neither. However, I just have to say that Bistro K puts out amazingly creative, delicious, artfully prepared and absolutely delicious food at astoundingly reasonable prices. The fact that you must bring your own wine (they don’t have a license) and get charged nothing for corkage is an added bonus. It’s unusual to find such consistently innovative, playful and scrumptious food at a tiny, local place like Bistro K. There’s no Hollywood starlet getting drunk in the bar (there IS no bar), no agent-types ordering fat free mineral water and not a single valet in sight. It’s just a teeny, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it space attached to the South Pasadena Playhouse. Whoda thunk that this hole in the wall cranks out some of LA’s finest cuisine? Now, on to the food!

Let’s get this party started……..

Bistro K has two seatings if you want to sit inside- the first starts at 5:30 or 6:00 pm but you must be done by 8:00 pm when the second seating starts. Outdoor seating has no restrictions but, even with heat lamps, the patio can be quite cold in the winter. J and I opted to go at 6:00 pm, with a bottle of Bollinger in hand. After we were seated, our waitress carefully explained that there was a five course tasting menu available, as well as an eight course, although there probably wouldn’t be enough time for the latter. There were so many delightful sounding things on the regular menu that we chose to order a la carte.

After we placed our order, we were given the “bread basket” of three crostini served with a creamy tarragon goat cheese spread. This hasn’t changed since we started going to Bistro K a couple of years ago and something we really enjoy. It went perfectly with the champagne as well.

J started with the Bistro K salad. Talk about simple perfection. Loads of the freshest, highest quality produced simply dressed with a very light vinaigrette. Watercress, arugula, butter lettuce and Belgium endive piled onto a plate- could anything look more appetizing? Each leaf burst with flavor and we knew that we’d never want an average salad again. Yup- a salad without whistles and bells got me THIS excited. It was as if everything was picked from the garden and plated within the last ten minutes.

Beautiful, fresh salad….

After we polished off the greens, J’s appetizer of Scrambled Egg, Vodka Cream Scented with Jasmine, Topped with American Sevruga came to the table, the black caviar glittering in the soft candlelight like tiny beads of onyx. (ok, are you laughing now? I think I’ll stop trying to wax poetic from now on). Let’s just say it looked beautiful, and tasted even better. Creamy soft scrambled eggs placed back into its shell and topped with salty caviar….talk about a match made in heaven for a glass of bubbly. My Sweet Potatoes Puree Millefeuille Layered with Smoked Haddock From Scotland and a Splash of Green Tea Sabayon gave the caviar a serious run for its money in both the looks and taste department. The combo of the salty smoked fish and the smooth, sweet puree was seriously addictive. I think I have to order it again on my next visit since I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

J’s scrambled egg with caviar

My smoked haddock with sweet potato puree…..

For my main course, I couldn’t resist ordering the Braised Beef Cheeks in Beer, Pumpkin Spätzle, Oven Braised Rutabaga and Turnips. I have a rule- when beef cheeks appear on a menu, I must order it. Cheeks are some of the tastiest of animal or fish parts, and this was no different. The meat was tender and falling apart, its juices coating the toothsome spatzle……and I thought to myself, “Pinch me, I think I’m dreaming.”

Beloved beef cheeks with special spätzle

J’s Slow cooked kid goat served in a crispy flour tortilla, Garlic and Shallot Confit Nage with Fresh Cilantro, Green onion Gratin with Chard and Asiago Cheese was equally delicious. Think Gourmet Burrito. The toasted flour tortillas were stuffed with only the tender and flavorful goat- no filler- and served with a braised green onion topped with a light sprinkling of cheese. All of the flavors combined so well, and was so reminiscent of the classic meat/tortilla/grilled green onion dishes you find at many Mexican restaurants, only better. Another dish we’ll have to order again before the menu changes.

Kid goat never tasted so good……..

Although we barely had room for dessert, J ordered the pear tartin. I have to say….this was the only disappointment as the pear was not as tender as we would have liked. The flavors were there, but it was difficult to slice through the fruit since it was undercooked in the middle.

The so-so dessert

Overall, the Bistro K dining experience is something that every food lover should experience. The quality is unbeatable and you’ll always get something that you’ve probably never had elsewhere. The service is top notch and you get the feeling that the small staff truly believe in and admire the chef- the pride in their faces is obvious. It may not be the most glamorous of spaces or in a hot, trendy neighborhood, but Bistro K, to me, is the best restaurant in Los Angeles right now.

1000 Fremont Avenue
South Pasadena, Ca 91030
626 799 5052