Despite all the obvious clues, including fantastic reviews by any number of restaurant critics, my discovery of Crossings, the now not so new South Pasadena dining treasure, likely named because of its proximity to the Mission/Meridian intersection bisected by the Gold Line tracks, is quite recent. My only excuses, a full appointment book of restaurants to review and a penchant for ethnic dives over emporia of haute cuisine.
I usually prefer beer to wine, pasta to steak, whole fish to filets and exotic, intriguing, hard to place spice blends to good ol’ fines herbes with butter and cream. Furthermore I have a real disinclination to fork up the equivalent of a week’s paycheck for a single meal, no matter how good or highly touted. Yup, the lady is a tramp.
But still … Occasionally we get the urge to go first class, especially when the trip’s available at economy fares. And for trying high-end eateries, dineLA’s winter and summer Restaurant Weeks come in handy. Noting that Crossings was participating last January, we booked a table, willing to pony up a mere $45 apiece for a chance to see the restaurant and sample the cuisine.
And sample we did. We perused the wine list ($10-$20 a glass, bottles from $30 to $400) and the catalogue of pedigreed spirits and $13 house cocktails, some barrel aged and some spiked with housemade fruit and charred cedar bitters. The Gold Rush (bourbon, lemon and honey syrup) and Freestone Peach (rum, orgeat, lime and Mathilde peach liqueur) especially piqued my interest. But we settled on Stone IPAs ($6 apiece) noting that prices for such concoctions are halved during Happy Hour (5-7 p.m. Sunday through Friday) at the upstairs bar.
The prix fixe menu for dineLA participants consisted of three courses, the first a choice of butternut squash soup with pomegranate seeds, nutmeg, crème fraîche and toasted bread or Caesar salad with parmesan and croutons or mixed green salad with poached pear, candied pecans, bleu cheese and raspberry vinaigrette. Both salads appear on the regular menu ($12 and $14 respectively). We had one of each, generous in size with plenty of garnishings.
Two of the entrées also came from the restaurant’s dinner menu. Mary’s organic Gold Line chicken with citrus mashed potato, roasted garlic and beurre blanc (à la carte – $28) and filet mignon with thyme reduction, loaded mashed potato and haricot vert ($39). The third, blackened albacore filet with citrus parmesan risotto, more haricot vert and a lemon-thyme beurre blanc was similar to other fish dishes on the menu costing $35.
I have to interject a comment penned by Josh Scherer in an extremely funny article titled “The 10 Most Annoying Words and Phrases on Menus, Ranked” that just appeared in the May issue of Los Angeles Magazine. On the use of unnecessary French words: “Many don’t realize this, but the literal translation of haricots verts is ‘green beans that you can charge at least 20% more for because people grossly overvalue Western European food.’” To me, using the singular haricot vert is even more annoying.
Another bee in Scherer’s bonnet (and mine) is the dropping of names of farms where produce or livestock come from. I’ve seen Mary’s moniker so often I’m beginning to feel almost as if we’ve met. You may have seen a “Portlandia” skit in which Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen ask their waitress about the organic chicken they’re thinking of ordering. Not only are they told his breed, diet, roaming area and the name of the farm where he was raised, but they’re also given his name (Colin) and shown his picture.
All that being said (and definitely not aimed at the Crossings proprietors alone, who are quite low on my list of abusers of French or farm names), I’m more than willing to spot Crossings their few menu pretensions since the restaurant is so lovely, the food is so good and the French is correctly spelled right down to the circumflex over the “i” in fraîche. FYI, the haricot(s) — closer to five than one — was just fine.
Both meat and fish were superb, cooked between rare and medium rare — filets nearing three inches in height. The perfectly charred beef perched atop a rough-textured hillock of potato mashed with sour cream and chives, surrounded by a pool of dark intense gravy. The equally impressive albacore was also charred, set upon a creamy mound of butter, lemon and cheese infused rice which made even more decadent by the buttery sauce in which it and the fish had been bathed.
Our desserts consisted of a large and dreamy butterscotch crème brulée (listed at $8), its sugar-top burnt to crackling perfection and its interior meltingly sinful and a far less common coca cola cake with drizzles of chocolate sauce and a huge scoop of vanilla ice cream ($9). This moist square of gooey, chocolaty, sugar and spicy brownie-variant deliciousness is a throwback not just to my childhood but perhaps that of my mother — the first published recipe supposedly found in a 1952 Charleston Gazette article. Crossings version is as addictive as the original Coca Cola which contained a hefty amount of coca leaf.
We consumed our meal in the smallish upstairs rear dining room across from the lavish bar and its adjacent dining area, in turn directly above the main downstairs dining room to the front of the partly open kitchen. There’s also a courtyard shaded by a huge tree that appears quite charming for summer dining. But even in our overheated climate, we were happy to be indoors on a late January evening.
Architecturally, the 1913 brick and mortar building that houses Crossings is fascinating and far too complex in floor-plan and décor to take in during a single visit. Our room has a montage of mailboxes on one wall and a series of whiskbrooms on another. Lighted cabinets along the stairway contain vintage binoculars, typewriter and violin among other antiques. And a female Elizabethan effigy aloofly watches the goings-on from one of the downstairs walls.
Crossings owners Patrick and Stephanie Kirchen operate under the corporate title of Vintage Restaurant Concepts, an entity formed in 2011. The plural “concepts” indicates that Crossings (which opened at the end of 2013) is the first of what they hope will be a series of interesting dining venues. Patrick’s bio includes stints with the Smith Brothers’ and Patina Restaurant Groups which certainly provide models for such future expansion. (Crossings’ executive chef, Lalo Sanchez, headed the Smiths’ Parkway Grill kitchen staff for many years.)
There’s no doubt this toddler will be growing up to be a permanent fixture on the list of South Pasadena’s (and Southern California’s) finest dining spots. So, although we left after our first visit congratulating ourselves on our budget coup ($45 for what would have set us back about $62 on a non dineLA visit), the evening left us wanting to experience more of Crossings’ ambiance and cuisine. I’ve no doubt our paths will be crossing often.