It was almost three years ago that I wrote about Claud Beltran’s new restaurant The Eatery, situated on an unprepossessing corner of Villa Street and North and Allen Avenue, a location which had been occupied by Little Britain for the past couple of years, and before that the Armenian Palace, a misnomer in oh so many ways. The Eatery’s mission was to serve as a “test kitchen” changing menus each month to sync with revolving themes such as Hail to the Pig, Asian Fusion, Southern Cooking and Farmer’s Market.
The Eatery was originally open only three nights a week and, as I wrote back then, if you missed a month you might never get to try starters like bruléed fig salad, entrées like fried chicken with chive waffle and spicy maple butter, or desserts like fried banana spring roll with chocolate cinnamon sauce and sweet chili ice cream. And, if you hadn’t brought along at least three others, you might not get to try some recipes even if you religiously adhered to a monthly pilgrimage.
Claud’s remodel 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) did their magic, diners were able to concentrate on the plates that came to the table, after all the primary purpose for being there. The only drolleries were a huge sculptural crossed fork and spoon above the door, wine-crate wallpaper and a chandelier fashioned from real wine bottles.
We enjoyed a number of excellent theme-based meals at The Eatery but always had a nagging feeling in the back of our heads that we weren’t getting the full benefit of Claud’s ever-changing menus if we missed even a month. So I have to admit some relief that after 2½ years, Beltran decided to transform The Eatery into Tap & Kitchen, whose menu is likely to change seasonally and feature some specials each evening but in which, if you fell in love with a dish in June, you’re likely to find it still available in August.
We were pleased to discover that aside from the stability of the menu, not much has been tampered with. The interior is still dark, rich and wood clad. The stainless-steel kitchen still gleams impressively, the blackboard above still chalked with menu items. The wine-crate wallpaper and the wine-bottle chandelier are still intact. I forgot to check if the fork and spoon sculpture was still in its place, but I’d be surprised if it were not.
Actually, my main surprise, given the new name, was the non-proliferation of taps. I somehow expected the restaurant to have morphed into a miniature of Slater’s 50/50, but despite the first word in the restaurant’s new name, there were only five beers on tap and a dozen or so in bottles and cans. Almost all were craft California brews, and we liked the selection. After trying two draft IPAs, my husband actually ordered a bottle of Sin Tax Imperial Peanut Butter Stout (Vista, 8.1 percent) which could only appeal to somebody who’s had pb (hold the j) sandwiches for lunch almost every day of his life. Wines were also limited (13 in all) but more wide ranging in origin.
Having satisfied ourselves with the “Tap” portion of the menu, we turned to the “Kitchen” list. Conferring with our dining partners while munching on crusty sliced ciabatta with three different composed butters and olive oil, we picked four (from nine) starters: cornmeal hushpuppies ($9), grilled beef-lamb sausage ($10), crispy grits “of wonder” ($10) and “rawviche” tostadas ($9), all winners.
The hushpuppies, four golden oblongs each big enough to quiet a full-grown hound, came to us wading in remoulade, paired with thick-cut, smoky bacon chips and sprinkled with chopped green onion. The sliced sausage was North African merguez, with a complex mix of spices including cinnamon, allspice, cumin and garlic, surrounded with (not enough) puddles of tahini and a cap of nicely dressed parsley salad.
The grits were indeed wonderful, a rectangle with crunchy charred exterior and meltingly creamy interior, a side of sweet and sour pickled yellow beets and a pond of emerald parsley purée. As for the tostadas, the advertised ingredients were cauliflower and coconut but the marinated veggies also included a dice of carrot, onion and cucumber, and the small crisp tortillas on which they sat were topped with wedges of avocado.
We dawdled over our appetizers a little too long. The two of us who wanted mains of moules frites ($24) were out of luck. The restaurant had run out. While we were scrambling to choose something else, my mate and the forth member of our party easily decided on the t&k burger ($16) with aged white cheddar, grilled red onion and guajilla chile sauce on grilled ciabatta with hand-cut fries. I decided on the (Saturday) nightly special of Memphis style smoked ribs ($28) and the other disappointed mussel fan chose the Cuban pork roast ($21) with black beans and tostones (fried green plantains).
While the burgers were good and the roast pork (prettily bedded down in saffron rice pilaf and flanked with plantain slices) was succulent, I’m pretty sure my rib platter was even better. The stack of eight ribs was impressive — meaty, smoky and spicy with an equally impressive barbecue sauce which our server confessed changes frequently. That night orange juice was the ingredient that put it over the top. The meat was plated with a piece of to-die-for cornbread and a fantastic avocado, tomato and onion salad on the side. After I’d surrendered a rib to each tablemate and eaten my fill, I still brought home three to augment the next night’s dinner.
Desserts are limited to pot de crème, mousse, a trio of gelato and sorbet and hazelnut cake — each $8. Despite the fact that we had all gorged ourselves into near stupor, I was sorely tempted to order at least one slice of cake, which our server told us was served with fruit and whipped cream. However, one of our friends loathes hazelnuts so we made do without sweets. But here’s the great thing about Tap & Kitchen: In all likelihood we can come back next month and still sample it then.
Tap & Kitchen
488 N. Allen Ave., Pasadena (818) 688-7256
Beer and Wine/Major Cards