The same old magic

The same old magic

The Raymond becomes more charming with age

By Erica Wayne 02/05/2014

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The Raymond has always been irresistible. Perhaps it's the hundred-plus-year-old cottage itself, or the tranquil wooded setting. Perhaps it’s the candle-lit patios or the classical music wafting through the windows. Whatever the cause, I've never known a soul who resisted its charm.   

Because of its magic powers (and the fact that it’s always been a financial splurge), I tend to save The Raymond for special occasions. The first time I took my husband, as I’ve reported before, was soon after our household-meshing in 1989. He arrived late from UCLA because of a stalled car, mumbling nastily about mandatory death sentences for freeway breakdowns. 

The Raymond came through. Almost upon arrival he was transformed from intransigent grouch to purring tomcat.  Maybe it was the Craftsman architecture, the music, our cozy booth or the extra-strong martini that arrived within a minute of ordering. Whatever! By the time we looked at the menu, he was asserting that The Raymond was likely his favorite restaurant, although he thought he might have something to eat before committing.

Neither food nor service did anything to change his mind. And, while we get back only occasionally, The Raymond is still, after 25 years, his favorite place and my first choice for a romantic interlude, usually in February or March for Valentine’s Day, my birthday, or our anniversary. And there’s hardly a whimper, even if a UCLA basketball game’s on TV that night.
 
The restaurant changed hands about 10 years ago. After her husband’s death, Suzanne Bourg — the master chef and hands-on proprietor who had molded The Raymond to reflect her unique spirit — sold it to Rob and Leslie Levy. I wondered if any of The Raymond’s seductiveness would dissipate.
 
Soon thereafter, with an out-of-state grad school chum, we made an impromptu stop to see if The Raymond could accommodate us for brunch. As expected, they were completely full. But the quick-thinking hostess noted that a party of six had turned up with only four. A separation of tables allowed us a perfect place on the patio to catch up. 
 
Despite the crowd, gentle breezes and cheerful birdsong created an atmosphere of peaceful repose as we contemplated a menu which, thanks to “conservative” thinking by the new owners, included (and still does) pre-Levy favorites like scrambled eggs with hollandaise, tomato and crumbled bacon ($14) and chicken curry with peanuts, raisins, coconut and mango chutney ($19).
 
But that was nearly a decade ago, and The Raymond certainly hasn’t rested on old laurels. While the cottage’s warren of small wood-clad rooms has remained almost completely unchanged, the menus, especially the evening offerings, have expanded well beyond those crafted by Suzanne. 
 
Starters at dinnertime range from $8 to $28 (mostly $12 to $16) and entrées from $28 to $40. The fact that items are mostly a la carte (Suzanne, bless her, specialized in three-course prix fixe dinners) means our Raymond visits are infrequent. But it’s also the reason we booked a table for six when the restaurant offered a fabulous dinner menu for $45 during dineLA week.
 
By that evening, a few items had changed, so we had to forgo wild shrimp with fried potato, spicy tomato sauce and garlic aioli and spring pea salad with chorizo, ricotta salata and lemon. However, roasted golden beets and tangerine (with crushed pistachio, watercress and Greek yogurt) and ahi sashimi (with cucumber and pear salsa) were fine substitutes.
 
Our four friends all opted to begin with creamy Cajun corn soup, well-stocked with tiny Creole shrimp, fresh herbs and a touch of smoked paprika that provided a nice kick. Each portion was poured tableside into a large bowl, and each recipient was delighted with both presentation and flavor. 
 
Our only disappointment was that the wonderful bread (a single thick slice of warm sourdough ceremoniously presented to each diner on a large plate) was whisked away before the soup and other appetizers arrived. Dang! A permanent bread plate and another piece or two prior to the meal’s finale would have been appreciated.
 
Our entrée selections were almost as lopsided as our starters: Three orders of 72-hour wine-braised short ribs on a bed of liquefied potato, with green beans and radish-onion-carrot slaw. The herb-infused gravy was luscious and the boneless meat fork-tender. Portions were more than generous.
 
I had focused on Pekin duck, but since it had also disappeared from the dineLA menu, I “settled” for roasted hanger steak, which turned out to be the table favorite: thick and juicy, with charred exterior and warm rare interior. Perfection! The smoked potatoes were equally wonderful, and there was, as promised, “the flavor of bacon.” 
 
Our two pan-roasted fish entrées were gorgeous. Medium rare salmon arrived, crisp skin up, with roasted maitake mushrooms, green beans, sweet soy and potato emulsion. Redfish, similarly positioned, was dressed with black trumpet mushrooms and a textured mélange of quinoa, cauliflower and crunchy popped sorghum.
 
For dessert, three of us couldn’t resist “classic” crème brulee and fresh berries. But two ordered a much more complex and innovative sweet labeled “apples and oats.” A kind of deconstructed granola, it included braised honeycrisp apples, candied oats, golden raisins, curry apple butter and a scoop of milk and cinnamon sherbet. On top was a delightful frizzle of crispy shredded filo. 
 
My mate chose the “banana-rama” — a magnificent concoction of caramelized bananas, tart passion fruit sponge, yogurt, a slab of dense chocolate ganache with a dollop of roasted banana ice cream. By the time we had all sampled and re-sampled it, the poor man got very little, although he was offered plenty of crème brulee in exchange.
 
We left completely happy (although two rounds of $13-$14 cocktails raised the price of the excursion considerably). Before departing, we stopped to admire a passing order of gigantic hand-cut onion rings with malt vinegar aioli ($8) and to put in three reservations for Valentine’s Day. Trust me, with The Raymond, it pays to book early. n

The Raymond 
Restaurant
1250 S. Fair Oaks Ave., 
Pasadena
(626) 441-3136
theraymond.com
Full bar/Major cards

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