Yes, Erica, there is a Santa Claus

… and he dines at 38°, which has the right temperature for Christmas

By Erica Wayne 12/23/2010

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Here I was, only a month before Christmas and still bemoaning the economy, the midterms, the deficit, global warming, educational standards — well, you name it. Whichever of the world’s ills, it was on my bitch list. And what made it even worse was the day my friend and 
I tried to escape to Paseo Colorado for a matinee. 
I can’t stand the Paseo even when I’m in a good mood. Movies are expensive there; and when they redid the mall, they took perfectly good free parking and made that expensive too. Last time I looked, validations weren’t adequate to cover a meal and a movie (my friend has a handicap plaque, so we get by), and street parking’s impossible — congested, metered and limited.
As we got to the box office, we were in for an even more unpleasant shock. The theater was now an ArcLight extravaganza, with off-peak tickets that had gone up to $12.50 and required pre-assigned seats (in the same auditorium where we had happily selected our own, thank you very much). The viewers numbered fewer than 20, but we were still required to sit where they told us. Geez. Yet another reason that 2010 was turning out to be the worst year in the history of the universe.
So, the next time I wanted to go to a movie (Harry Potter, natch), I searched the Internet Movie Database for a less full-of-itself venue, and came up with Alhambra’s Edwards, with matinee prices of $9 (evening $11.50 vs. ArcLight’s $14.50) free parking, great seating and a Main Street location chock-full of the most wonderful restaurants to try. 
And try one we did. After the show, we strolled across the street to 38°, a VERY interesting ale house. The bar/restaurant is a huge L-shaped, high-ceilinged minimalist space, with one leg dedicated to drinkers and watchers of sports (the bar is studded with flat-screens) and the other to diners who might be marginally more interested in food than beverages, but who still want to partake of the bazillions of artisan brews on hand.
Let me give you a sample of the ever-changing, 40 or so on-tap selections: Russian River Blind Pig, Great Divide Claymore Scotch Ale, Russian River Pliny the Elder, North Coast Old Rasputin (a nitrogen gas blend), and on and on. In addition, there is a huge number of bottled craft brews, all listed with price, size and alcohol content. 
Small, medium, large and humongous glasses are available for the draught beverages, ranging from $2.50 up. My husband’s Mikkeller Beer Geek Bacon cost $8, and my holiday “flight” of four 4.5-ounce glasses of Unity Ale, Smashed Pumpkin, Yule Smith Holiday Ale and St. Bernardus Christmas Ale was $11. Our friends tried Stone Double Dry Hopped IPA, Eagle Rock Solidarity, Stone Chipotle Smoked Porter and Taps Imperial Russian Stout.
With the emphasis on drinkables, you’d be justified in presuming that food at 38° is of secondary concern. But, if it is, the results are still pretty amazing. Along with the stuff you’d expect as bar food (e.g., onion rings, Buffalo wings, burgers and fries), there’s a surprising emphasis on gourmet fare and, in general, preparations are way above average.
We started out with green-bean fries with ginger aioli and “Thai” calamari with plum dipping sauce (each $7). Both were lightly tempura-battered and delicious, if a bit oily. The arugula, beet and spiced walnut salads ($10) we sampled were superb, drizzled with a wonderful honey-sherry vinaigrette.
 
Our entrees demonstrate the range of the menu. I ordered mussels steamed in Belgian wheat beer, garlic, shallots and fresh herbs with shoestring fries ($15); the bowl came to the table overflowing with giant, plump, meaty green-lipped mollusks. My only complaint: there were so many of them I couldn’t get to the fragrant broth beneath.
 
My mate got a blue-cheese topped burger, with onion relish, garlic aioli and baby arugula, also with fries ($10). He couldn’t have asked for better — medium rare, juicy and on a bun that stayed firm as he polished it off. However, our fries (like the calamari) could have been crisper. Since the place was full, the fryer was probably on overload. 
 
One of our friends ordered spicy — and it was! — jambalaya ($16) with mussels, shrimp and smoked sausage, served over orzo pasta; his wife selected a generous filet of grilled Atlanta salmon ($18), with sautéed green beans, mashed potatoes and a lemon-caper sauce. All of us, with the exception of my burger king, took home plentiful leftovers.
 
38° offers house-made desserts ($7), but after rich ales, stouts and lagers, and even richer food, there was just no room, even for brioche bread pudding with caramel sauce and vanilla-bean ice cream. But there will be a next time — guaranteed.
 
Our movie at the Alhambra Edwards and dinner at 38° really restored my faith in Santa Claus. Gone was the grinch who had stolen the Paseo, who made Pasadena congested and pricy and who probably rigged November’s election. From now on, Alhambra’s at the top of our quality entertainment and dining destination list. And my holiday gift to you is a suggestion you stop by 38° for some holiday cheer before their Yuletide beers are a thing of the past.


38° Ale House & Grill
100 W. Main St., Alhambra
(626) 282-2038
Full bar/Major cards

 

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