As Time Goes By
The Raymond Restaurant, on the site of a 19th-century hotel, is undergoing yet another metamorphosis, into a sophisticated destination for discriminating foodies.
By Bradley Tuck 11/01/2010
“Nothing endures but change,” Heraclitus said some 2,500 years ago. It’s a theme that has been contemplated by dozens of the greatest minds since, and it springs to mind as one enters The Raymond Restaurant on Fair Oaks Avenue.
Looking at the little Craftsman bungalow hunkered down in a hollow next to a busy stretch of road, it’s hard to imagine the grand Raymond Hotel that stood on the site from 1886 to 1895, until it burnt to the ground in a conflagration that lasted just 40 minutes.
An even grander structure, thankfully more fireproof than the first, was erected in 1903 and survived until 1934, only to succumb to the travails of the Great Depression, when it went into foreclosure and was razed to make way for housing development. The structure that houses The Raymond Restaurant was once the hotel caretaker’s cottage. Now traffic streams past it at a fair pace along Fair Oaks, and the little cottage bears witness to the progress that comes to most places, like it or not.
As for its home turf, Pasadena has a reputation, somewhat deserved, for being a bit conservative when it comes to restaurants. It’s a shackle that has slowly been shaken off elsewhere in town, with some interesting market-driven menus being offered at places like Dish Bistro and Elements Kitchen. And under Executive Chef Tim Guiltinan and new General Manager Chris Mangandi, The Raymond is about to take off its spectacles, shake out its hair and give diners a come hither look.
Guiltinan has been stirring things up on the food front since arriving from Costa Mesa’s Café Rouge in October 2008. Mangandi came in 2009, bringing his vision for a younger, livelier restaurant, which inspired even more dramatic changes to the menu. And now, at Mangandi’s behest, the small bar at The Raymond is about to get a new lease on life in the capable hands of innovative bartenders Aiden Demerest and Marcos Tello and their consulting company, Liquid Assets. The Raymond has long been known for an encyclopedic wine list that appeals to its older core clients. By bringing in Demerest and Tello, who between them have performed lauded alchemy at Seven Grand, The Edison and The Varnish, the hope is that a younger, cocktail-savvy crowd will discover the bar. Along with the new libations, a remodel is in the pipeline, with plans to tear down a wall and open up the space to the beautiful wisteria-shaded patio beyond. A new name, 1886, will mark it as a destination in its own right, a place where drinkers can gather in the balmy nighttime air long after the kitchen closes.
On a recent Saturday night, the crowd was definitely a mixed bag, with older patrons who were clearly very familiar with the layout, and some young couples on dates. The dining room itself looks a little staid, and it would be nice if it got to unbutton a bit in the makeover, but it’s welcoming and comfortable as it is. The service is also friendly, with none of the stuffiness one might expect from a 35-year-old fine dining establishment.
Guiltinan is a big fan of seafood who has been trying to wean the clientele away from meat and potatoes since taking over. He’s doing a great job of it. With suppliers in the Northwest sending him super-fresh fish, he’s able to offer some dazzling sashimi. It’s on the menu as a starter and was as clean and silky as it gets. A side of gorgeous salad leaves, as crisp as if they’d just been pulled from the garden, was dressed with olive oil, lemon and smoked salt. So simple. It’s an ingredients-driven menu. Tiny grilled baby octopuses were perched on tarragon-infused chunks of cantaloupe, along with hearts of palm, a lovely item you don’t see too often. An entrée of Alaskan halibut with Venus clams, anise and garlic was crisped beautifully and sat in a robust chorizo and piquillo pepper broth. The thing that rings consistently through Guiltinan’s cooking, whether it’s a simple salad or a Peking duck, is clarity. In both presentation and flavor, there isn’t any extraneous “noise” to dull his message.
It will be very interesting to go back to The Raymond once this latest metamorphosis takes place. Change is a good thing, by and large, and the little bungalow will have a new set of stories to tell.