The monthly fix
Claud & Co. Eatery's periodic menu changes guarantee repeat visits
By Erica Wayne 07/10/2013
I've been a Claud Beltran groupie since his tenure at Dickenson West on Glenarm late last century, his stint at Cayo on El Molino at the turn of this one, his repeated turns as executive chef at Restaurant Halie and Madeleines, two restaurants sequentially occupying the same site on Green, and his most recent venture till now, Noir on Mentor.
But as (very, very) good as all of these have been, Claud & Co Eatery has created something which is, to me, even better. He has opened a Òtest kitchenÓ restaurant on North Allen Avenue which is open only three evenings a week (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday) and has menus that change each month. The themes since the Eatery opened have been: April, Hail to the Pig; May, Asian Fusion; June, Southern Cooking; and July, Farmer's Market.
If you miss a month, you may never get to try starters like pork/mushroom Wellington or bruleed fig salad, entrees such as fried chicken with chive waffle and spicy maple butter sauce or orange-glazed chicken with fried sticky rice and carrot-apple-cilantro salad, and desserts like fried banana spring roll with chocolate cinnamon sauce and sweet chili ice cream or maple bacon doughnut bread pudding with coffee caramel. Come to think of it, if you donÕt bring at least three others, you may not get to try some of these delights even if you religiously make a monthly pilgrimage.
We and another couple equally enamored of ClaudÕs cooking stopped by the first Tuesday of this month to check out the Farmer's Market menu. The EateryÕs site is on an unprepossessing corner of Villa Street and Allen Avenue, just north of the freeway, which was occupied by Little Britain for the past couple of years and before that the Armenian Palace, a misnomer in many ways.
Claud's remodel has turned the space, the exterior of which is still boxy, sallow and nondescript, into a sleek and sophisticated dining venue. With dark wood flooring, dark ceiling tile, soothing teal wainscoting and a strikingly handsome open kitchen in which Claud (& Co) do their magic, diners can concentrate on the plates that come to the table, after all, the primary purpose for being there.
The only drolleries in the decor are the huge sculptural crossed fork and spoon above the door, the wine-crate wallpaper and the chandelier fashioned from real wine bottles. Interestingly enough, given the wallpaper and lighting fixture, Claud as yet has no alcohol license. But the BYOB policy is liberal with no corkage fee. Should you forget, thereÕs a liquor store just north of the restaurant.
While we were focusing on decision making, our server presented us with small cups of creamy asparagus vichyssoise, the surface dotted with charred green onion sauce as amuse-bouches. Both our bouches and yeux were amply entertained by the pale, rich chartreuse puree with the vibrant flavor.
Our appetizers were smoked melon salad with lomo (similar to prosciutto), homemade croutons and sambal vinaigrette ($9). Also included were homemade gnocchi with fava beans, roasted tomatoes and pesto ($10) and arugula and bing cherry salad with crispy chicken skin, goat cheese and balsamic dressing ($8). We also tried an evening special of fried green tomatoes on a bed of creamy blue cheese fondue with tomato jam and a garnish of crispy bacon ($7).
My favorites were the melon, with its subtle smoke and the fried tomatoes. But the gnocchi were excellent, other ingredients judiciously limited so as not to overpower the dumplings. Our cherry salad was, alas, missing the advertised chicken skin, which might have lifted the dish beyond very good to excellent and was the only disappointment in an otherwise stellar meal.
We chose entrees of rib-eye steak with grilled peaches, sauteed pea tendrils and sriracha butter ($25), lamb porterhouse with smoked tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and roasted tomato ($23), grilled Niman Ranch country pork chop with roasted nectarine and haricot vert ($19), and pan-roasted halibut with fava beans, mint, chili and sofrito ($19). I confess some doubts about the lamb, which sounded as if it might be overwhelmed by melting cheese and thick sauce, but I neednÕt have worried. Every dish was masterfully spiced and glazed.
The portions of meat were huge. Pork, lamb and beef each rose to a majestic height of about three inches. All were deliciously charred but still juicy and rare to medium rare.
The pork sat on a bed of emerald French beans and was topped with a nectarine hash. The lamb was barely sauced, with small ovals of mozzarella and roasted tomato placed to the chopÕs side. The beef was paired with a tangle of greens and a half of a perfumy white peach.
The halibut seemed, at first glance, a bit less impressive. The slab was rather pale, with a small pile of beans and a couple of teaspoonfuls of finely chopped salsa adjoining. But appearances can be deceiving. The sharp tang of fresh mint blended with the chili and the onion, pepper and herbs in the veggie mix to flavor the moist fish perfectly.
For dessert, we chose to divvy up an orange tart with orange zest, thyme crust and thyme cream ($8), forgo the rest of the sweets and share a Texas cheese plate ($17) with chevre selections from the Haute Goat Creamery in Longview, Texas, and cow's milk varietals from the Brazos Valley Creamery in Waco. The six arrived with a bowl of buttery crisps, a handful of walnuts and a dollop of lovely cranberry-fennel compote. After polishing off every morsel we attacked the tart, delicate rather than acid (like the very best lemon bars), with the herb an unexpected but perfect grace note.
Our July meal at The Eatery was so satisfying that the four of us made a solemn pact then and there to return at least once every month as long as the restaurant is in existence. Our faith in Claud (& Co) is steadfast and we remain among his biggest fans. Pasadena has been and continues to be fortunate in his fondness for our city. Go Claud!
Claud & Co.
488 N. Allen Ave., Pasadena