A Bittersweet Remembrance
Like old friends, great restaurants have come and gone over the past three decades
By Erica Wayne 07/17/2014
So, it’s official. The Pasadena Weekly’s been in business for over 30 years, and so have I. Starting with our premier Jan. 5, 1984 issue, I’ve been churning out restaurant review after restaurant review with no end in sight. How does it make me feel? Goddamn old, for a start! A friend gave me a T-shirt when I started this gig; it reads “So Many Restaurants — So Little Time.” Well, not much has changed. There are still a huge number of restaurants; and, as for time, there’s less and less, at least for me!
When I think of my tenure at the Weekly, I’m reminded of three of my favorite songs. The first is Willie Nelson’s “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before” whose first stanza states: “To all the girls I’ve loved before, who traveled in and out my door, I’m glad they came along, I dedicate this song to all the girls I’ve loved before.” Just substitute “restaurants” for “girls.” And as I look over the list of the approximately 1,000 restaurants I’ve reviewed, there are many I’ve loved who are, alas, no more.
Monahan’s was a landmark. There was no better place in town to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.
Americo’s, that weird Argentinean pasta place with the best home-baked rolls imaginable! Café 60 North, whose master bakers George and Mike, devoted restaurateurs, both died of AIDS soon after their restaurant closed. I adored the Fishermen — both Mandarin and Italian, InnArty’s for fine wines and jazz, Maldonado’s for fantastic classical cuisine and entertainment.
Anybody remember Claude’s Mussels, Merida, Chicago for Ribs, Kuala Lumpur, Xiomara, Super Antojitos, Dino’s, The Chronicle or its successor Spencer’s, Monty’s, Madeleine’s, Marianne, Kabakians, Crown City, Brits? And where have all the flowers gone: Dandelion, Peony, Jasmine, Violet, Orchid, Fleur de Vin? Long time passing. Beadle’s Cafeteria — as I age, I realize the comfort this hangout for seniors, with its Jell-O, meatloaf and custard pies, provided. And, last but not least, the most recently departed (among them Yujean Kang, Noir, Scarlet Tea Room, Haven Gastropub and even Spring Garden, the first Chinese restaurant I frequented after arriving in Pasadena in 1979).
But as Willie sings: “The winds of change are always blowing,” and that brings me to my second song, the Beatles’ “In My Life” with its first lines: “There are places I’ll remember all my life, though some have changed. Some forever, not for better; some have gone and some remain … Some are dead and some are living; in my life, I’ve loved them all.”
And so it is with Pasadena’s restaurants. The sorrow I’ve felt at losing the ones that have closed is mitigated by the continued presence of those that have lasted through much of my tenure (such as The Parkway Grill, Shiro, Bistro 45, Cameron’s, Beckham Place, Robin’s, Kabuki, Burger Continental, The Raymond, Julienne, Happy Trails, Green Street, Tarantino’s, El Portal, Marston’s, Akbar, Mi Piace, President Thai, La Cabanita in Glendale and Sesame Grill in Arcadia). And some have even resurrected themselves: e.g., La Luna Negra (late of Green Street, now on Huntington Drive in Arcadia) and redwhite&bluezz (formerly on Raymond, now on El Molino).
The song goes on: “Though I know I’ll never lose affection for people and things that went before, I know I’ll often stop and think about them; in my life I love you more.” That may hold for lovers, but not necessarily for all new eateries. However, some have definitely eased my sorrow at the demise of old friends. For haute cuisine: Neapolis, AltaEats, Claud & Co, Union, Little Beast in Eagle Rock, Ba in Highland Park, Anthony’s in La Cañada Flintridge and Bashan in Glendale.
For plainer grub: The Counter, Slater’s 50/50 and Seco. Ethnic: Osek (Korean), Kal’s (Middle Eastern), Osawa (Japanese), Zilin (Asian Fusion) and Rice Thai Tapas, to name a few. And there are still more to come: Avanti is opening this summer on the site vacated by Spring Garden while Major Dave’s Chicken is coming to South Hill Avenue. Hope springs eternal.
Which leads me to my third song: Frank Sinatra’s “It Was a Very Good Year” whose last verse muses: “But now the days are short. I’m in the autumn of my years; and I think of my life as vintage wine from fine old kegs. From the brim to the dregs, it poured sweet and clear. It was a very good year.” As I think back over the 30 years I’ve reviewed for the Weekly, as we’ve both grown older together, I can’t remember a time I’ve ever disliked my job. Although some of the restaurants were pedestrian (or, occasionally, even awful), most were at least interesting and, at best, really enjoyable.
I’ve published a warning that Rose City Diner was obviously being run by aliens who knew what ’50s food looked like on Earth but had no idea of how to reproduce the tastes, a thank you to Jake’s for saving my marriage by providing an extra-mural locale where my mate could smoke cigars and play pool, taken friends on a Sherlock Holmes-based hunt for a San Gabriel Szechwan restaurant armed only with Mandarin characters jotted on a napkin by one of my husband’s Chinese grad students.
I’ve hosted take-out pizza and fried chicken contests at my home, eaten my way up and down Allen Avenue, marveled at the artistry of a “pot-holder” woven from zucchini at La Couronne, gone as far afield as The Magic Castle, Whimsic Alley and the Del Coronado Hotel to report, compared museum cafes across Los Angeles and actually had an omelet named for me by the late lamented South Pasadena Cookshack — a true honor considering they didn’t know who I was.
As a matter of fact, my 30 years at the Weekly, with the best editors and colleagues any writer could desire, have been an honor and great fun. My only real regret is that my co-reviewer, Dan O’ Heron, who began at the paper the same time as I, isn’t here to celebrate the anniversary and provide his own unique take on his experiences during the past three decades. As I often do when I think of those fine old restaurants which are no longer with us, I raise a figurative glass in salute to his memory. I know he’d agree that they’ve all been very good years.