Spirit of fun
redwhite+bluezz brings cool jazz and great food to a hot night (or day) out
By Erica Wayne 06/23/2011
Well, we’re less than two weeks from the Fourth of July. It should be a celebratory time, but when I think of red, white and blue, it’s less the flag and more the red ink of the deficit, the white knuckles as I contemplate our seemingly endless recession and the blue I feel whenever I dwell upon the effects on friends and family.
But there’s a temporary antidote whose name is particularly easy to remember around Independence Day. It’s redwhite+bluezz, Pasadena’s great jazz club, excellent wine bar and marvelous restaurant. It’s a wonderful place to spend an escapist evening listening to cool, hot music and enjoying cool, hot food as well.
As the promise of sizzling sidewalks and 90-plus temps of mid-summer Pasadena nears, you can chill out at RWB with cool summer blues and hot summer whites. The former — a lineup of fine jazz performers who play seven days a week; the latter — one of several “wine flights” (three-vintage samplers) that can be paired with cheese and/or charcuterie and/or chocolate flights. You don’t have to upgrade to get the perks at RWB; and, unlike airlines, they never lose your luggage.
Some non-flight items at RWB seem deceptively simple: e.g., (Snake River Farms Kobe) beef burger with (30-month Grafton cheddar) cheese, applewood bacon, crispy onion strings, house-made barbecue sauce and a side of sweet potato fries ($19). Others, such as sugarcane grilled scallops with soba noodles, sautéed peapods, carrot shavings, onion, cilantro, miso and sweet yuzu soy sauce ($27) or Shelton’s free-range chicken with creamed fingerling potatoes, baby seasonal vegetables and Godiva white chocolate beurre blanc ($19) would do a Spago menu proud.
The dishes, from starters to desserts, are prettily presented. But nice crockery, Technicolor garnishes and the subtle melding of flavors doesn’t substitute for nourishment. At RWB plates are piled high — enough to keep even the manliest customers busy throughout one or two sets of entertainment. The only trouble: you have to keep putting down utensils to clap.
A few days back, my mate and I decided to forego the show and try RWB’s extended Happy Hour Eats (1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday). Alcoholic beverages are available at reduced prices (a bargain, except we had miles to go, etc. and couldn’t partake), and so is the food. We opted to share an order of crispy mac n’ cheese ($6), a barbecue burger ($12) and Speyside butterscotch pudding spiked with Glenlivet ($6).
RWB’s mac ‘n cheese is one of those creations that sings to me from afar. The menu annotation (“signature cheese blend, frosted flake panko crust, sharp cheddar béchamel”) doesn’t begin to capture how idiosyncratic and delicious this dish is (a series of golden brown triangles, crisp outside, molten inside, crunchy, buttery, peppery, in a word, magnificent!).
Our burger, 10 ounces of charred, rare, incredibly juicy beef topped with bacon, onions and cheddar on a toasted buttery brioche bun, is also pure heaven and more than enough for both of us. The excellent barbecue sauce has plenty of fire but no smoke. Instead of sweet potato fries alone, we ask for a mix of those and the garlic fries they also feature. We can’t decide which we like better and eat them all.
Now, about the pudding — I have one teensy complaint. It’s topped with chantilly crème, shaved chocolate and fleur de sel. This premium sea salt is all the rage right now, especially as a garnish for sweets. Caramels are rolled in it; brownies and shortbread are sprinkled with it. Aficionados dash it onto peanut butter sandwiches, hot fudge sundaes and (probably) jelly doughnuts. But our dessert was a victim of too much of a good thing. Hey, RWB, watch that shaker!
If you believe in ghosts, you know the northeast corner of South Raymond Avenue and Green Street is haunted. No less than six restaurants have died slow, painful deaths on the premises. (Actually, in Funnies’ case, it was a mercifully quick suicide.) One would surmise that the spirits of the deceased, protoplasmic or auricular, must surely hover somewhere, harboring ill-will and wishing the same fate to any successor.
Undaunted by this threat from predecessors’ phantasmagorical hands, redwhite+bluezz set up shop equipped with a formidable array of weapons. Unlike the earlier inhabitants, RWB is multi-dimensional, and all the dimensions are good. Result: the whole is even better than the sum of its excellent parts, and there’s no sign its popularity or quality is waning as it enjoys its fifth year.
Take, for instance, the care in choosing the wines, cheeses, pairings, flights, musicians (who play every night and Sunday brunch-time), and the quality of the service. And the full bar offering a bunch of “Dizzy’s Drinks” like the (honest!) Ella Fizz-gerald, with champagne, peach nectar and blood orange bitters, and the Chuck Berry (you know this one has to have blueberry liqueur, don’t you?). And the wine-tasting (“Flight School”) classes.
Despite the prior deaths that haunt this site, it’s obvious there’s nary a chance of yet another unhappy spirit joining those already on the premises. After a half-decade, RWB has so maintained and augmented the high quality of its food, drink and entertainment that those malevolent predecessors will have to show a lot more strength than they did in life to truncate the success of this amazing venture.