Splendor in the Grass
Bar 1886 is the rare establishment that takes full advantage of SoCal’s most precious resource --- the great outdoors.
By Bradley Tuck 09/01/2011
Considering the benign nature of the climate, it often surprises me how limited the options for
alfresco dining and drinking seem to be in Southern California. Pasadena days might be hot and smoggy in the summer, but the nights usually cool down; and even when the midnight mercury is elevated, there’s a sultriness to the air that makes one feel like a rare orchid, coddled in atomized velvet.
One place with an embarrassment of options for soaking up the night air is The Raymond Restaurant. A year or so ago, they debuted their bar, 1886 (so-called because TK), and in the process, remodeled their outdoor areas. Off the cocktail bar is a beautiful, intimate patio shaded by an ancient wisteria vine, while ringing the property are two large patios, one of them featuring a gorgeous river-rock fireplace. I’d venture to say they are among the most charming patios in the L.A. area.
And I think it would also be churlish not to mention that their cocktail program, by Marcos Tello, is easily the best in Pasadena. The new summer menu is broken down into sections --- regional, seasonal and “shaken and stirred.” There’s a “parlor hour” Tuesday through Friday, from 5 to 7 p.m., which offers a specialty cocktail for $7, along with a “$2 off” food menu.
When I popped in at 6 on a recent Thursday evening, it was already packed. It’s a small space, and most of the seating was taken by groups of friends and couples on dates. I got a seat at the small communal table and asked Greg Germenian, the evening’s mixologist, to make me something interesting from the menu. I started with the Vintage Caprice --- Beefeater Gin, dry vermouth, Bénédictine and orange bitters, aged in a bourbon barrel for four months. It was a lovely, elegant drink, to be slipped slowly, with notes of orange peel and a long finish. The depth of flavor imparted by the time in barrel was highlighted when Greg made me a version that hadn’t gone through the aging process. The flavors now were bright and clear, kicked along with the garnish of lemon peel.
Chef Tim Guiltinan has put together a great, light bar menu --- snacky but sophisticated. I had twice-cooked squid with marinated olives, artichokes and orange. It‘s a lovely mixture of textures, with the artichoke’s firmness balancing the tender squid.
And the orange complemented my cocktail very nicely.
Next up, I picked a cocktail from the “shaken” section of the menu. Created by Julian Cox, who developed the drinks programs for L.A.’s Rivera, Picca and Sotto restaurants, the Barbacoa is a blend of mezcal, chipotle purée, agave nectar, ginger syrup and limes, garnished with beef jerky and red bell pepper. This is quite possibly one of the most intense cocktail experiences I’ve had. It was spicy, smoky, tart and sweet --- layer upon layer of flavors.
Certainly not for the faint of heart, it’s a cocktail that doesn’t emasculate the drinker in the way that a drink ending in “tini” might. To soak it up, I went for Tim’s crispy Szechuan fish. The crunch of the batter encasing the fish morsels was just what I needed, and the sweet-spicy sauce sang along with my cocktail. As I left for the Fillmore Gold Line station a short walk away, I noticed that the patios outside were starting to fill up. Their new furniture had arrived that day and was sitting there, box fresh, waiting for more diners. It was a hot evening, and the mountains in the distance were a pinkish haze. And as I tottered up Fair Oaks to catch my train home, so was I.