Good spirits

Good spirits

redwhite+bluezz remains Pasadena’s premier jazz supper club in new Playhouse District location

By Erica Wayne 04/25/2013

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When redwhite+bluezz first came to Pasadena in 2007, it moved into the space on the northeast corner of Raymond Avenue and Green Street in Old Pasadena that one would swear was haunted or cursed. No fewer than six prior restaurants (Stella’s, Funnies, Harry’s, Fleur de Vin, Cafe des Arts and Spencer’s) died slow, painful deaths on the premises. Actually, in Funnies’ case, it was a mercifully quick suicide. But, in any case, it seemed spirits of the departed hovered, harboring ill-will and dooming any successor to the same fate.

Undaunted by this threat from predecessors’ phantasmagorical hands, the rw+b ghost-busters set up shop equipped with a formidable array of weapons. Unlike earlier inhabitants, rw+b was multi-dimensional — and all of those dimensions were good. Result: The whole was even better than the sum of its excellent parts, and the restaurant prospered, exorcising any malevolent spirits.

Success obviously emboldened rw+b’s new owners, since they recently pulled up stakes and moved to yet another, more spacious but equally cursed locale: The site adjacent to the Pasadena Playhouse, at 37 S. El Molino Ave.

Over the past few years, the restaurants occupying that lovely, airy space — good ones like Playhouse Bar and Grille and Elements Kitchen, as well as bad ones, like the Middle Eastern establishment whose name, happily, escapes me — rose and fell almost as frequently as the curtain on the plays next door. But rw+b was unafraid and opened there, using the same tools it used in the last exorcism: Fine jazz, good food and excellent wine and spirits.

It’s a wonderful place to spend an escapist evening (or Sunday brunch), listening to cool hot music and enjoying cool hot food as well. And it’s also a great venue for early dining before heading for the theater next door. Conforming to the Playhouse’s schedule, it’s open for dinner every night except Monday.

As the promise of warm weather nears, you can chill at the new rw+b with eponymous reds, whites and blues. The last is a lineup of fine jazz performers who play six evenings a week (plus Sunday brunch). The first two are part of a great selection of close to 80 vintages, including a trio of “tasting flights” (three-wine samplers), which can be paired with similar “flights” of cheese and charcuterie. You don’t have to upgrade to get these perks at rw+b. And, unlike airlines, they never lose your luggage.

Some non-flight items at rw+b seem deceptively simple. There’s the spicy western barbecue burger (eight ounces of Wagyu beef) with aged white cheddar cheese, bacon, crispy onions, house-made barbecue sauce, brioche bun and a side of sweet potato fries for $16. Other dishes, such as Jidori free-range pan-seared chicken breast with roasted Yukon gold potatoes, seasonal vegetables and Godiva white chocolate beurre blanc ($21), would do a Wolfgang Puck menu proud.

Late last month, my husband and I took in the Playhouse hit “An Evening with Janis Joplin” and tried out the new rw+b venue. Since jazz starts early (6:30 p.m.), we were able to enjoy an hour of music with dinner before heading next door. My mate ordered country short ribs, braised and boneless, set atop a bed of mashed potatoes and decorated with glazed carrots and crispy onions ($20). I splurged on a generous filet of Loch Duart salmon with chimichurri and crispy potatoes diced with sweet, slightly spicy piquillo peppers ($25).

To start, we shared a salad of orange carpaccio with red onion, avocado, watercress, red wine gastrique, extra virgin olive oil and fleur de sel ($9), our only disappointment. Unlike other bounteous salads delivered to neighboring tables(spinach with strawberries, spiced walnuts, goat cheese, bacon and balsamic/brown sugar vinaigrette and creamy garlic Caesar), ours consisted of a diminutive array of orange and avocado slices, a smattering of diced onion, a few tendrils of watercress and nary a drop of dressing.

However, when our super solicitous server stopped by to ask how we liked the salad, and the hot, yeasty rolls served with it, we expressed our dissatisfaction, told him we were suffering a bad case of salad envy and were instantly assured we would not be charged, which made it all right. So did the dessert we had time to share, a rich chocolate soufflé ($9) paired with Fosselman’s vanilla ice cream set on a bed of sliced almonds and a small pot of salted caramel sauce.

The only thing I really miss on the revamped rw+b menu is their mac ‘n cheese, one of those creations that sang to me in my dreams — golden brown triangles, crisp outside, molten inside, crunchy, buttery and peppery. In a word, magnificent!

Oh, and the garlic fries, another minor addiction of ours at the Raymond and Green location. I’m hoping both will reappear as rw+b settles into its new location.

Despite the numerous ghosts that haunted the new El Molino site, there’s very little chance of another unhappy spirit joining those already on the premises. After more than five years in Pasadena, redwhite+bluezz has so maintained the high quality of its food, drink, service and entertainment that anyone with ill will would have to show a lot more strength than they did in life to truncate the success of this amazing venture.

37 S. El Molino Ave.,
(626) 792-4441
Full bar/Major cards



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