What's in a name?
Cordon Bleu moniker doesn’t make technique restaurant perfect, but it’s well worth the price
By Erica Wayne 02/03/2011
So let’s get one thing straight from the start. I was in love with The California School of Culinary Arts’ Bistro 561, named for its Green Street address. Seduced the moment I entered by the rich wood moldings, faux-Tiffany glass panels, white linen, rich blue glassware, a discreet open kitchen and obsequious staff, I not only wanted to stay for lunch, I wanted to move in forever.
I can still recall (especially with the help of old reviews) some of the outstanding items I tasted: a rich minestrone poured at table into a bowl with a dollop of pesto; a construction of grilled radicchio, thin slabs of aged goat cheese and a smattering of glazed walnuts; lamb roulade with figs, almonds and shallots with greens in a dressing spiked with kumquat; and warm apple tart, with a superb puff-pastry crust, candied walnuts and maple-cinnamon ice cream.
Every platter was artfully arranged and decorated. The servers were, perhaps, a little cowed by their mission, like acolytes at a religious service. From the presentation of fresh-baked breads with slabs of complimentary terrine to the carefully poured coffee, service was precise if tentative. But then, I presume that someone was watching in the wings with a grade book.
A second visit a few years later confirmed the quality. The dishes (as they should be in an institution dedicated to teaching the complexities of modern California cuisine) were as multifaceted as ever. I savored a house-pickled beet and mizuna salad with winter citrus, candied walnuts and goat cheese; pan-roasted duck breast with cherry-pecan/shallot compote, braised endive with crispy duck confit and foie gras on a gingersnap; and an Earl Grey tea-infused chocolate tart.
It was obvious again from the great service, beautiful presentation and perfect preparations, that CSCA’s students were capable of executing the restaurant’s ambitious program flawlessly. A liquor license allowed for even greater dining pleasure and more tutelage in beverage handling for the servers-in-training. There was only one teensy disadvantage: the price was every bit as high as other haute restaurants in town. But a splurge at 561 was every bit as satisfying.
I don’t know what caused the school to be subsumed within the multi-campus international Cordon Bleu network, nor do I have any quarrel with the transformation — except one. The administration chose to close the nearly perfect 561 (as well as the school cafeteria around the corner) and combine both within the same four perimeter walls of a both cavernous and crowded two-story space in the old Pasadena Star-News building at 525 E. Colorado Blvd. (My grade for this move: D-.)
The new conjoined pair, which opened last fall, is called Technique (subdivided into Restaurant and Café). The combination is neither seamless nor pretty, despite the light and airy interior, with high ceilings, hard surfaces, minimalist decor and closely spaced tables creating an incredibly noisy mealtime backdrop (C-). A glass or two of wine might subdue the din, but Technique hasn’t as yet obtained a license. (Grade: Incomplete, but will change to F if not completed by end of current semester.)
Nevertheless, there are some real pluses to Technique Restaurant. The first is the food. On the lunch menu (which overlaps dinner offerings by a fair bit), we found almost nothing short of excellent. There was one salad (duck comfit and lobster with endive, frisee and apple dressing) that could have benefited from more (or less) totally tasteless shreds of fowl (C+). But the spinach salad with yellow beets, shredded apples, candied pecans, poached egg, lardons and a warm pancetta dressing was as good as it sounds (A-).
We chose one entree of crispy sole-stuffed piquillo pepper, with glazed carrots and a spicy curry mussel sauce. Unannounced was a bonus of six plump mussels, which made up for the minimal wad of shredded seafood within the pepper (A-). Our other main course was a nice hunk of perfectly cooked salmon on a bed of apple sauerkraut, with fingerling potatoes, sliced carrots and mustard-thyme sauce (A). (Additional selections ranged from filet mignon to a club sandwich with hand-cut fries.)
Unfortunately, of the four desserts, our server announced that they were out of the two that appealed to us most: apple pie with ice cream and caramel sauce, and poached pear with butter pecan ice cream and cocoa sauce (F). So, a bit surprised and disappointed, we settled on a double order of pumpkin crème brulee with ginger snaps.
And here’s where Technique demonstrated (in ways that Bistro 561 didn’t) that it is indeed a school. Our server cleared away our plates to, as she said, get ready for dessert. But, instead of dessert, we were deserted for more than 20 minutes (F). Finally, we managed to catch her eye to remind her of the oversight; and the crèmes appeared (without utensils).
Almost immediately, another server showed up with a linen-draped tray with two forks and an apology that they were out of clean spoons (A- for presentation; F for clarity of thought). We suggested the long-handled spoons that accompanied iced tea might be preferable, and she brightened up immediately. With adequate implements, we enjoyed our sweet immensely, appreciating its richness and spicing, the intensely ginger-flavored cookies and the surprise spoonful of cranberry sauce (A).
The restaurant (unlike the café, which features much simpler salads, sandwiches and pastries) limits its service to three-course prix-fixe meals, and herein lies the second major benefit to dining at Technique. The prices are dirt cheap: lunch $10 and dinner $12. Two additional appetizers at dinnertime to create a five-course meal brings the total to $15. Frankly, this is a real (A++) steal. So, overall, even with noise and service glitches, it’s clear that Technique deserves a passing grade.
525 E. Colorado Blvd. | Pasadena
No alcohol / Major cards