A Picnik in Old Pas
The latest restaurant at Colorado Boulevard and Pasadena Avenue has lots of delicious company
By Erica Wayne 08/07/2014
I’ve always been fond of the extremely complex collection of businesses that occupies the southeast corner of Colorado Boulevard and Pasadena Avenue. The multi-space architectural warren opening onto the central fountain-graced patio has housed some fine local eateries over the past quarter-century. Among them: Old Town Bakery, Clearwater Seafood, Sorriso and, with one of the shortest life spans in the history of Pasadena restaurants, 168, named after its West Colorado Boulevard address.
But lately it seems I just can’t keep up. Sorriso, which appears to have been moved rather than closed, now can be found just down the street at 46 E. Colorado Blvd., near its sister restaurant Bar Celona and a little more than a block from another sister, iX Tapa.
Picnik’s related to other eateries: KTCHN, Bar + Fish, Punch and Bulgarini Gelato. But I’m truly at sea trying to figure out how close the kinships are. Only Picnik and KTCHN have standard hours. KTCHN, on the east side of the patio, closes at 2 a.m. while Picnik opens at 11 and closes at 10 p.m. KTCHN shares its space with Bar + Fish, which is only open from 5 p.m. until, as its website states, “the kitchen runs out,” Thursday through Saturday. And above the Picnik bar and interior seating area, Punch runs a “speakeasy” type lounge whose hours are from 7 p.m. to midnight Thursday through Saturday. It seems no one onsite seems to know the exact times when the advertised Bulgarini brings his phenomenally delicious gelato to the patio.
Our visit was at 3 p.m., mostly to check out the spaces and to have a late lunch at Picnik before the advent of their “Happiest Hour” (4 to 7 p.m. daily) when we presumed they would be at their busiest. Lucky us, there were few clients vying for the staff’s attention and we were able to place our order at the bar and seat ourselves.
Picnik’s menu is relatively short and sweet. There are 12 house-made sausages of beef, chicken, lamb and Beeler’s Family Farm heirloom Heluka pork. These are seasoned with spice variants and capped with two of four toppings: sauerkraut, sautéed or raw onion, sautéed market peppers and pickled red cabbage. In addition, Chef Eduardo Ruiz has done a number on seven other “prepared and paired” hot dogs with a menu subtext that they “kindly decline any substitutions with sausages below.”
Four burgers, three salads, three platters, eight sides and a single dessert finish up the menu, although you’re invited to check out the 24 crafted beers on tap, 20-plus domestic and imported bottled beers, wines, specialty cocktails and crafted soda bottles (such as chocolate covered maple smoked bacon soda). We settled on iced tea to cool off in the heat and allow us to savor the food.
I’d read Yelpers’ complaints about the meager size of the wieners (no Anthonys here), so in addition to two of them, we ordered an Israeli couscous salad ($12.50) with merguez sausage, dried fruit, almonds, herbs and white wine vinaigrette plus two sides: chiles toreados (a trio of roasted jalapenos with lime and salt - $3), peewee potatoes (fingerlings with harissa and caper dip - $4.50) and a bread pudding bar ($5.50).
The size of our dogs was, indeed, underwhelming, but we were quite satisfied with both the garlic and sage chicken ($6.95), which we had garnished with sautéed peppers and onions, and our Malaysian dog (pork skin, chile, citrus and shrimp paste - $7.95) with its smattering of sauerkraut and pickled cabbage. The sausages were juicy, subtly spiced and served on toasted, still warm, baguettes — a real treat.
The lightly dressed salad was disappointing. We picked out the dried apricots and almonds but left most of the chewy bland pasta. The merguez was excellent, lamb spiked with harissa, cumin and smoked paprika by Picnik’s on-site Electric City Butcher. I would have preferred true North African couscous, which might have sopped up more vinaigrette.
We adored the slightly blackened jalapenos and could have eaten far more but found the potatoes less appealing. We saw a heap of fries ($3.75/$5.75) go by and agreed that they might have been a better choice. But we were immensely pleased with our sweet with our rectangle of firm pudding, which was moist and exceedingly rich. A menu annotation reads “devil’s (sic) on horseback, brandy” — most likely dates, bacon and perhaps almonds. We tried unsuccessfully to ferret out the various flavors and textures but enjoyed it nonetheless.
Now let me say I came to Picnik irrationally predisposed not to like it. First of all, as an admitted extreme pedant, I’m highly annoyed by the letter K when substituted for C. I hate names like Krispy Kreme and (doubly due to the egregious Z) Kozy Korner. The K at the end of Picnik doesn’t even add to alliteration! And don’t get me started on KTCHN’s lack of vowels. Strike One.
In addition, I took an immediate dislike to Picnik’s uncomfortable wooden chairs (both dining area and patio) no matter how the furnishings augment the theme. Throughout our meal I stared longingly at the well-cushioned bar stools while my fanny complained about the un-upholstered seat upon which I had placed it. Strike Two.
But there is no Strike Three. By the time we left (and despite the disappointment of Bulgarini’s absence), we were sated and more than willing to return for more sausages and beer on a cooler afternoon or evening. We also want to try KTCHN’s innovative breakfast menu and, perhaps, some seafood at Bar + Fish and a cocktail or two at Punch. If only we can keep the hours straight.