Not for locals only

Not for locals only

ALTAeats can compete with LA's finest

By Erica Wayne 09/26/2013

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The dog days of summer seem particularly loathe to slouch into hibernation this autumn. Even though the sun is setting ever earlier, the thermostat this September seems way more like August than October. But it's not just the temperature that's sizzling. There's a new restaurant in Altadena that's really hot! ALTAeats, in business for just over a half-year, is beginning to draw clientele from all over the Los Angeles basin.

We first visited the restaurant on a sultry Monday evening about a month ago and found it packed. Our table, like all those lining the lateral walls, was so close to the ones adjacent that we could easily eavesdrop and, since it's a kind of informal environment, actually converse with our neighbors about their meals despite the relatively high ambient noise level due, in part, to the high ceilings and hard surfaces.

The exterior of ALTAeats is almost unnoticeable, with no sign to alert passersby. Once you've located the entrance, you walk into a sleek and minimalist dining area, with contemporary blond wood furniture, including a long central "shared neighborhood" table that divides the dining area into two aisles, each flanked by smaller tables and banquettes running the length of the room, and an open kitchen at the rear.

The menu is made up of "small" and "large" dishes with the notation that all plates are meant to be shared. That's not a problem since everything we and our new friends at the next tables ordered was oversized. The first item to come to our table was a loaf of hot white bread, fresh from the oven, fragrant and yeasty as only homemade breads can be. After savoring its captivating aroma for all of 10 seconds, we tore into it and slathered it with sweet butter.

Then, heeding the menu's admonition, we began to bargain our way through the list to select our "to be shared" items. It was difficult, given the number of intriguing dishes. Among the small plates, we were able to eliminate the little gem salad with grape tomatoes and white anchovies ($9) because of my husband's unfortunate aversion to anchovy (which makes ordering a pizza to share equally problematic).

Then we decided to forgo both cauliflower with pine nuts and cumin and roasted Brussels sprouts with pancetta and poquillos (each $7), although when we saw them arrive at other tables, heaping portions of gorgeous veggies easily enough for four to share, we mildly regretted the decision. And, with reluctance, we put aside baby lettuce with bacon-wrapped dates and gorgonzola and a quinoa summer salad (both $10).

We were left at last with black mussels with basil and tomato ($12) served with a couple of charred, butter-laden crostini, and a trio of fat, succulent scallops ($15), each prepared in a different fashion. One was seared with a sprinkle of chopped mint, the other one panko-crusted with a chimichurri sauce and the third was lightly coated in curry. The mussels came in a tasty broth and the crostini did some sopping-up duties, but the bread remnants were even better. In the menu now posted on ALTAeats' Web site, the crostini has been replaced with frites in more authentic Belgian fashion (and the dish has been reduced to $10).

Then it was on to entrées. The fish du jour ($30) was mako shark with couscous and a sprig of broccolini, pronounced delicious by our neighbors to the right. But since it's endangered and since we'd read that ALTAeats' owners had operated a restaurant in Barcelona for several years, we chose paella ($25) instead. It came to the table in a huge cast-iron pan and was drop-dead gorgeous. And if the rice was a bit bland, the seafood was impressive: calamari, fish, huge tail-on prawns, scallops and lobster.

Our second entrée was a choice among meats. There was a blackboard special three-inch high veal chop that our neighbor to the left raved about - a hanger steak with mash ($17) and a rack of lamb ($28) with potato-leek gratin, root veggies (baby carrot and parsnip) and haricots verts. The steak (a right-hand neighbor's main course) looked great. But, with silent apologies and promises of increased donations to PETA and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, I selected the lamb. It came to the table cut into four succulent pink chops, colorfully garnished and sided with a square of one of the best (and richest) scalloped potato preps I've tasted in recent history.

All the desserts on tap that night (each $8) were tempting (chocolate mousse with raspberry coulis and crème anglaise, a sampler of vanilla, cherry and goat-cheese/tarragon crèmes brulees, and apple tart with cardamom and caramel), but we were especially taken with the bourbon butter pudding with bacon and decided to share it with a (rather expensive at $7) French-press coffee. The pudding, blended with mascarpone and just enough crumbled bacon to counter the sweetness of the butterscotch, topped with heavy whipped cream and a gorgeous edible pansy, was a spectacular finale.

And, speaking of on tap, so far ALTAeats is without a liquor license. This and the fact that the restaurant doesn't charge any corkage fee make it easy to dress up your meal with a vintage or two of your own choosing and receive a relatively modest check for a highly satisfying repast largely worthy of the best of your cellar.

ALTAeats
1860 N. Allen Ave.,
Altadena
(626) 794-1162
Major cards
No liquor license

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