Poutine on the Ritz
At the end of a long, long hallway on Colorado, culinary adventurers can discover imaginative savories and sweets at the new Kings Row Gastropub.
By Bradley Tuck 08/01/2011
As the saying goes, sometimes it’s about the journey. So it was, that in the midst of Carmageddon, which actually turned out to be more Y2K than 2012 (at least, by rep), I ventured from the sanctuary of my home in Hollywood to Old Pasadena to try out a recent addition to the dining scene --- Kings Row Gastropub on Colorado. I say “on Colorado,” though as they themselves point out on their website, blink and you’ll miss them. Their doorway is on Colorado. You then pass down a long, long hallway into the restaurant itself, on the site of the former Neomeze.
The space itself is soaring and masculine. It’s a pub, no doubt about that. There’s a bar with a retractable ceiling that allows the air to circulate and makes the space feel even bigger. A friendly host will guide you to a table in the very European-looking beer garden that has been carved out of an alley behind Colorado. It all feels very young. And in a good way. This is what Pasadena needs right now.
It’s really not as Indiana Jones as I made it sound, what with all the apocalyptic references of the previous paragraph. But one thing is for sure --- it’s definitely an adventure. Chef Rob Rice and his partners (also Neomeze’s owners) Hago Girsgossian, Shivie Dhillion, Qusam Raiz and Aidin Yousef opened Kings Row in April, and in so doing have assembled a menu of simple pub and bistro classics, infused with some great twists, well executed and without pretension. You come here to eat, not to chatter about the ingredients. A case in point is the poutine. At Kings Row, they call it the Cheeky Bastard. Beef cheek braised in Arrogant Bastard ale for five hours, then slathered onto French fries, with a layer of melted sottocenere cheese. If one wanted to get all foodie about it, one could wax lyrical about how the ale gave the gravy a heady depth that worked with the flavors of the Venetian-style cheese, a great and complex indulgence aged with a rind of ash, cinnamon and nutmeg. Or you could just eat the darned thing and say, ”This is the best poutine I’ve tasted!” In fact, the following night I went to a very well-known meat-centric L.A. restaurant and ordered the poutine to compare. Well, I would have, except it didn’t.
Then there were the duck sliders --- little burgers of ground duck in a brioche bun with sweet caramelized onion and mustard. We opted to get the “Porto fries” on the side --- thick wedges of battered, deep-fried Portobello mushrooms with dipping sauces. Those sliders make being a duck a dangerous proposition, is all I can say. I’ll never look at a duck in the park the same way. In the future, Jemima Puddleduck will simply appear as a juicy bite, wrapped in soft, buttery bread, with a hat of dark sweet onion jam. Be afraid, Jemima. Be very afraid.
That much meat needs at least something green to mollify the conscience, so grilled asparagus was ordered. What appeared is essentially a take on the French classic frisée au lardons, but with asparagus. A mound of frisée tossed with pieces
of crisp bacon, topped with grilled asparagus, and a fried sunny-side-up duck egg.
Asparagus is one of nature’s best tools for dipping into a yolk; the flavors and textures are perfect together. Here you chop it all up together and the leaves of the frisée are coated with the rich egg too. Absolutely perfect.
It was a hot summer evening, so to lighten things up a bit ceviche was a good addition --- a bowl with three plump shrimps perched on the edge, peering at a fresh, zesty mélange of citrus-marinated seafood. Plantain chips provided the crunchy scoop with which to make the journey from bowl to mouth.
The perfect accompaniment to this was a cocktail, the Paloma.
It’s a deceptively potent blend of El Jimador tequila, Saint-Germain liqueur, ruby red grapefruit, agave syrup and Izze soda. “A perfect
outdoor summer cocktail,” was the verdict of my dining companion. “Tequila can be harsh, but everything in this drink was well bal-anced, and dangerously easy to drink. One more of these and you could wake up two towns over with your shoes missing.”
There was no room for dessert, but we ordered it anyway. Our server, Alex, steered us toward the Whiskey Brain, a sort of bread pudding with a whiskey-walnut-caramel sauce. It was all delicious. I’d have loved a blob of ice cream with it, to gild the lily.
Chef Rob Rice and his partners have done Pasadena a great service in opening Kings Row. They purposely called it a gastropub
because they wanted to be clear about what Kings Row is --- great food, great beers and friendly service. The menu and the beer
selections rotate regularly, so you can keep coming back and continue to be surprised. In the coming months, they plan to open a whiskey bar in the basement, with a barrel and more than 70 varieties in the bottle. It will have a speakeasy feel, with a piano serving up ragtime to complete the picture.
In September, keep your eyes peeled for a whole-pig roast, in partnership with LA Canvas Magazine, American Wine and Spirits and Stone Brewing, in aid of one of Hago’s favorite charities, Five Acres child and family services agency. I, for one, will be back. There’s a mac ’n’ cheese with white chocolate on the snack menu, which has been keeping me awake at night, just wondering.