right track Photos by Christie Hemm. Top: Elements Kitchen; Bottom: Pop Champagne

The right track

Pasadena offers some of the best places to hook up, break up and make up

By Sara Cardine 07/21/2011

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Most of us have thought about what songs would go into the soundtracks of our lives — the triumphs, the tragedies and all the minutiae in between. But if we were to take our romantic relationships and put them instead to memorable meals and dining spots we’ve visited along the way, what would it look like?

Pasadena is a treasure trove of memory-making experiences just waiting to happen. You can dine blithely, to kill time or for rapid replenishment, but if you pay attention to the city’s dining landscape you might notice that particular points stand out among the rest as potentially perfect tracks for your heart’s next journey.
 
Track 1: The hookup
You’re looking for a warm body, someone you can talk to, connect with and then call — or not call. If you want to get out of your head, dance out the week’s frustrations or simply meet someone new and see what happens next, Pasadena’s got you covered.
If you’re charismatic enough to ask a stranger to dance, consider the aptly named night spot 72 North, located at 72 N. Fair Oaks Ave., (626) 578 9990. While it bills itself as “the No. 1 source for sports entertainment,” this club-like space has foregone the tacky jerseys and NASCAR wreckage in favor of a lower-lit, intimate and mysterious atmosphere that almost encourages blind fumblings.
You may want to eat first — 72 North isn’t exactly an up-and-coming foodie favorite, unless you consider domestic beer and buffalo wings an adequate pairing. When it comes to menus, what you’ll get promises to be a feast more for the eyes than anything else; this is as true for women as for men. 
 
For those who lack the aplomb required to grind with total strangers, there are more sensible ways to meet members of the opposite sex. Yard House in Paseo Colorado, 330 East Colorado Blvd., Pasadena (626) 577-9273, lets you hedge your bets. Any given weekend brings with it tremendous opportunities to people watch. This is because the layout of tables and booths around an inspiringly large bar located dead center lets diners spy on bar patrons (and vice versa) while remaining virtually unnoticed. 
 
The always crowded bar will let you pick out a choice seat near a person of interest, perhaps under the ruse of wanting to check out all the gazillion drafts on tap. If you get there and it’s too packed to sit down at first, Yard House etiquette allows hovering, another great way to strike up a casual conversation. Hopefully, you will have enough charm to take it from there. 
 
If talking to a group of strangers is intimidating for you, look for a place that brings in big crowds but also has fun events for patrons throughout the week. Barney’s Beanery, 99 East Colorado Blvd., (626) 405-9777, is the answer for people who want to hook up but would feel more comfortable doing so under the guise of engaging in a competition, activity or game. 
 
There’s nothing like trivia, a game of pool or karaoke to generate appropriate and non-creepy conversations with someone you may have your eye on.
 
Track 2: First date
So it worked — you found just the right person and macked well enough to score a dinner date. Maybe this is the first time you’ll be alone together, or the first face-to-face conversation. Whatever the case, a solid first impression is key, so you’ll want to consider what kind of first date you want to have by selecting just the right spot. Here are just a few suggestions. 
 
If you’re looking for a somewhat cozy but cool place where discussing the menu alone will get you through the first half hour of nerves, try Magnolia Lounge, 492 S. Lake Ave., Pasadena, (626) 584-1126. This interesting night spot opens for business each day at 4:30 p.m., but you may want to get there well before 10 p.m., when the lounge part really wakes up, if you’re looking for good dinner conversation. 
 
Appetizers, like fried green tomatoes with a basil cream cheese filling, come in somewhat small portions but are exceptional and great for sharing. Another favorite is Sugar’s Mac ’N Cheese, a delectable harmony of Gruyere, Romano and white cheddar with a sourdough crust that doffs a cap to recipes prepared in the Southern style.
 
Should you want to impress your date with your exquisite taste and fiduciary fearlessness, reserve a pair of tickets for an upcoming show at the renowned Pasadena Playhouse then walk next door afterward to Elements Kitchen, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena, (626) 440-0044.
 
The restaurant boasts a “bold and innovative” cuisine that pairs flank steak with kimchi tacos and offers two different ways to enjoy a half duck — you can have smoke cured breast meat or a crispy confit of leg and thigh. Add to that several fresh seafood and vegetarian options, and you’re sure to find something to fall in love with. Most dishes are in the $15 to $35 price range, with a couple outliers on both ends, but you’ll only have one first date if he or she ends up being a keeper. 
Even some of the biggest romantics will argue against showing all your cards on the first date. After all, if you broke out the Cristal on the first night, what’s up your sleeve for date No. 2? For a destination that will give you the glow and glitter, and some amazing food, without the attendant credit card debt, consider Panda Inn, 3488 E. Foothill Blvd., (626) 793-7300. 
 
Since 1973, Master Chef Ming-Tsai Cherng and his son, Andrew, have expanded the original Pasadena haunt to include several restaurants and names, including the iconic fast-food counterpart to the original, Panda Express. But don’t worry. Panda Inn is an original that will have your date thinking anything but food court. All the Chinese food favorites preferred by American palates are here and are decently priced. Plus, the ambience is nice at night, where oversized booths offer up window views. 
 
Track 3: First makeup
 You just heard your first door slam or phone hang up and it feels like a death blow. First of all, congratulations for getting through this important relationship milestone. There is no escaping it. 
 
Maybe you’ve had some time to think since the fight, and the guilt of what you said or did is starting to get to you. Skip the flowers, and say I love you with some food and drinks. Here are some great ways to let him or her know you’re sorry.
 
If you’re a man, a place that could really smooth things over with is POP Champagne and Dessert bar, 33 East Union St., Pasadena (626) 795-1295. This über-charming locale is perfectly suited for snuggling up and comforting one another back to a state of health — brick walls seem soft in the soft glow of chandelier lighting, and sofa seating lines the walls at the back of the restaurant. 
 
To drink … champagne, in a range of styles and provenances. To eat … wild mushroom and goat cheese bruschetta, prosciutto with fresh melons, figs and cheese or a trio of sliders. It’s irrelevant what you decide on — bank on the bubbles getting her back to giggles in no time.
 
If you’re a woman, tell him you don’t want to talk but would instead love to grab a bite. Then go to Gyu-Kaku Japanese BBQ, 70 W. Green St., Pasadena, (626) 405-4842. Its tiny exterior belies what you’ll find inside, which is a very earthy, elemental and somehow male décor with a universal appeal. 
 
In addition to a built-in fire pit in the table that lets you cook fresh meat yourself, this place is known for its Happy Hour specials (in fact, the bar and the tables have two different Happy Hour deals) where pitchers are as cheap as $5. So placate him with meat and cheap beer, and you will create an environment of forgiveness.
 
Track 4: The breakup
We didn’t want to disparage any Pasadena restaurants by calling them out as ideal spots for swinging the relationship axe (although, trust us, a few great ideas did come up), so instead we offer some general tips for finding a good location to let someone down gently. 
 
Go with something carb-heavy and hope they’ll be too sluggish to protest when you tell them, “It’s not you, it’s me.” Also, a 10-pound plate of pasta may prevent him or her from being able to run after you, should you need to flee the scene. 
 
Find places with great drink specials and time your visit to allow for optimum consumption. When the timing is right, stop being coy and lay low the real reason for the evening. Finally, look for pay-before-you-play options, like buffets, to avoid the awkward bill paying afterward. If it’s going really badly, you can split when your unintended goes up for seconds … or thirds.
 
If you’ve just parted ways in a relationship and feel like you’ve got to get out and stop feeling sorry for yourself, or for the notion of love lost, go back to Track 1 and repeat.  

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