At Dish Bistro & Bar, you can enjoy the comforts of home –– provided you live in a world foodie capital.
By Bradley Tuck 07/01/2010
A friend and I were pipe-dreaming recently about opening a neighborhood bistro. We ummed and AAHed about what kind of food we’d serve, the type of building it would occupy and how we would run it. We both agreed on one thing in particular: As owners, we would have to be there all the time. Every restaurant needs a welcoming figure that greets you and treats you as though you are
a guest in his or her home. Clearly this is a philosophy shared by David Johnson, the affable owner of Dish Bistro & Bar in Old Pasadena.
Dish is tucked into a nice brick-walled space with lofty ceilings and a big bar in the corner to which regulars, of which there seem to be plenty, can cozy up for a glass of wine. A dark wood banquette lines another wall, and rows of bistro tables are packed with chatting diners by 7 o’clock on a Tuesday night. Johnson is bobbing around and greeting diners, chatting to regulars at the bar. The next thing to greet me at my table is a slab of moist, fluffy, homemade focaccia with a bowl of chunky pistachio pesto. That’s a great start.
The chef, Job Carder, was enlisted by Johnson on a visit to the now-shuttered Manzanita Restaurant in the Sonoma County foodie capital of Healdsburg. Carder had been at Manzanita since 2007, after a career at some of Los Angeles’ most popular restaurants, including Café Bizou and La Scala. In Sonoma, he’d developed a love for the region’s rich abundance of wild seafood, seasonal produce and farm fresh meats. When Johnson offered him the chance to bring that passion back to Southern California, he jumped at it. The menu at Dish, revolving as it does around these ingredients, wouldn’t look out of place on any Sonoma tablecloth.
Hog Island Oysters, from Tomales Bay north of San Francisco, are served with a Bloody Mary sorbet and Champagne mignonette. Popping one near your nose is like that moment when you step out of the car next to the ocean on a cold morning. Santa Barbara spot prawns are in season, and here they sit in all their ruddy glory in a broth spiced with chili oil, with pea tendrils and plump, sweet fresh English peas. You should ask for another slab of bread to mop up the sauce. House-made lobster ravioli is delicate but headily fragrant with Perigord truffle shavings; a brandied lobster “bisque” sauce provides a rich velvety coating that will have you scraping your fork over the china so as not to waste any of it. Had I been dining alone, I might have surreptitiously run a finger around and licked it.
Half a braised Jidori chicken came in a delicious jus, bedecked with tiny baby vegetables. Soft globs of half-melted garlic cloves nestled under the skin. If you’re on a date, make sure you share this dish, just to be on the safe side.
Carder is a big proponent of the “slow food” movement, which promotes regional cuisine made with locally farmed produce and livestock. He makes his own charcuterie for the restaurant. These are the kinds of touches that you almost trip over in Sonoma, but less so in Southern California. At Dish, you can eat a charcuterie plate of house-made lamb terrine, duck prosciutto and a torchon of foie gras with some grilled bread. I had slivers of the duck prosciutto with strawberries, drizzled with 25-year-old balsamic vinegar.
Strawberry shortcake with vanilla cream and a crisp shortcake bonnet was something I didn’t think I could manage, but the berries were so juicy and sweet, it would have been churlish not to at least try.
Service was friendly, efficient and I was allowed to nurse a glass of rosé for two hours without being pressured to glug it down and order more. In the corner of the bar, a television was beaming a baseball match. Normally, I’d resent its presence, but here it looked at home, unintrusive. A group of regulars sat watching, sipping their wines, slapping shoulders as they chatted, clearly feeling at home. And that’s the best compliment that David Johnson and the staff at Bistro could ask for.