Well, fellow Pasadenans, the moon doesn’t appear to be in the seventh house and Jupiter hasn’t shown any sign of aligning with Mars. I don’t think peace is guiding the planets right now (although when I awoke this morning North and South Korea had just pledged to end the 68-year-old war this year). So it’s unlikely the Age of Aquarius has returned.
But if love isn’t steering the stars, love of food will definitely be steering patrons into restaurants participating in the latest Pasadena Restaurant Week starting Sunday, May 6, and extending through Friday, May 11, and into the Rose Bowl this Sunday from 3 to 7 p.m. for a culinary extravaganza, Masters of Taste, where, as the website says, “2,500 guests will stroll the 50-yard line as they feast on the finest fare from LA’s top chefs and restaurants, sip signature handcrafted cocktails from LA’s Master Mixologists, enjoy tastings from some of California’s most eclectic wineries and local craft breweries, listen to live entertainment and so much more.”
This isn’t just any eat till you’re replete event. All proceeds from Masters of Taste will be going to support Union Station Homeless Services, our venerable local provider of comprehensive services for the homeless, providing resources to help them achieve productive and stable lives. Their programs include meals, child care, career development, job search support and transitional and permanent housing.
If anything could insure that I would selflessly present myself for such culinary excess and put off my Restaurant Week indulgences by a day, attending an all-you-can-forage outdoor food and beverage festival in the middle of a football field on what is likely to be a hot Sunday afternoon, it’s the thought that the entrance fees ($105 for three hours/$165 for four) will be put to such excellent use.
Almost as likely to guarantee my attendance is the list of participants. There’s little overlap with the 43 to date Culinary Masters and the 33 Pasadena Restaurant Week eateries; only Celestino, Twohey’s Tavern, Bone Kettle and True Food Kitchen are on both rosters.
But several other locals will be there, including Alexander’s, Bacchus’ Kitchen, Bourbon Steak, Gus’s, Grill ’em All, Lunasia, Maestro, Maple, Mercado, Ramen Tatsunoya, and The Raymond/1886. Out of area attendees range from trendy food trucks dispensing burgers and pasta to some of the most elegant, critically acclaimed (and very expensive) brick-and-mortar downtown LA, Hollywood, Beverly Hills and West Los Angeles dining spots.
Some 40 Beverage Masters will be dispensing everything from boxed water, coconut water, juice, tea, coffee, almond milk and boba to artisan beer, ale, cider and wine, designer gin, vodka, whiskey, mescal and signature cocktails by some of the best mixologists around. But wait, there’s more! 11 Sweet Masters, including Porto’s Bakery, are going to be handing out their wares as well: chocolates, ice cream, churros, cupcakes, bundt cakes, cookies and donuts.
As I’ve said every time I’ve written up one of the multi-day dining opportunities, be they our local Pasadena Cheeseburger and Restaurant Weeks or the more widespread and longer semi-annual dineLA happenings, preparations must be made. I double treadmill time, peruse websites to check out participants’ offerings, compare “special” prices to make sure discounts are real, then fill my “dance card” with as many lunches and dinners as I can stomach.
So far, the 2018 website entries include lots of returning favorites: Bistro 45, Celestino, Kathleen’s, Green Street Restaurant, Sushi Roku, Green Street Tavern, Ruth’s Chris, POP, Vertical Wine Bistro, Plate 38, The Terrace at the Langham Huntington, Du-par’s, Edwin Mills, True Food, Fleming’s, Madeline Garden and Del Frisco’s.
Several that skipped last year’s event have rejoined the party. The three Smith Brothers’ restaurants Parkway Grill, Arroyo Chop House and Smitty’s are on board as are Paul Martin’s, Roy’s, Umami, Perry’s, Mi Piace, Santorini and Clearman’s. Plus five first-timers: Great Maple, Bone Kettle, Crackin’ Kitchen, Twohey’s Tavern and Trejo’s Cantina.
And herein lies the dilemma for this eager eater: old faves or newer shiny objects? I reviewed Bone Kettle when it first opened, and although it was excellent and, even better, unusual, it was also expensive. I’ve been meaning to go back and the $20 Restaurant Week lunch, featuring the chicken wings that still sing to me in my dreams and ginger seared chicken with bone broth and noodles, is a good opportunity.
Great Maple and Trejo’s Cantina were both reviewed by my former colleague Lisa Dupuy (whose daughter Simone, the author of our recent review of Crackin’ Kitchen, has now replaced her). I haven’t been to any of those three. The chance to try Great Maple’s maple glazed salmon and maple bacon doughnut (choices on their $40 three-course dinner) is tempting, but I’m probably going to resist in favor of sampling the fried chicken and doughnuts ($16) on their regular brunch menu.
Trejo’s $15 lunch is more of a draw. Street corn (charred with chipotle cream and popcorn), any two tacos (their blackened salmon with orange cream and Baja shrimp with pineapple salsa get my vote) with a Cool Haus ice cream sandwich is seductive. And Crackin’ Kitchen’s $15 lunch with starter lomi lomi salmon and ahi poke followed by Thai mussels and fries, a finale of Hawaiian malasada donut plus soft drink? I’m definitely there!
So far, neither my co-reviewers nor I have gotten around to reviewing Twohey’s Tavern, which opened last November. But, again, I think I’ll defer this week and head over for their happy hour when deviled eggs, onion rings, creton (French Canadian pork paté) “Fresno wings” and port wine cheese with sourdough are all available for cheap and a burger and beer costs a mere $15.
So, if I put Great Maple and Twohey’s on my must-try-later list, I make room for more revisiting. Plate 38’s $36 vegetarian dinner features 8-vegetable quinoa cakes, house-made porcini linguine and a dessert they call “banana banana banana” with three different preps. Green Street Tavern’s $15 lunch includes starter “Tomato-Strawberry” (with burrata, pomegranate molasses, radish, arugula, mint, pistachio, lime and olive oil) and a calamari po’ boy or honey-whiskey pork sandwich to follow.
I could drop into Celestino’s for their $25 three-course lunch and have burrata, tomato and roast peppers, squid ink risotto and Sicilian cannoli. Or Kathleen’s, where $15 will buy be their spinach fettuccine with grilled chicken and mushrooms in tarragon-cream sauce and chocolate velvet cream cheese cake. Or White Horse or The Terrace or Del Frisco’s or, or, or, or … As one of my T-shirts reads: “So many restaurants, so little time.”
The upshot is that, in addition to devouring as much as I can during this Sunday’s Masters of Taste event, I can be counted on to consume at least 10 restaurant meals during the following five days. And the best thing about my coming retirement, which I announced in last week’s column, is that no matter which restaurants I visit, for the first time in well over three decades I won’t be taking notes or pictures.
Note the advice in Ecclesiastes that I’ve lived my life by and repeated to readers over and over: Man (even if he or she isn’t reviewing) hath no better thing under the sun than to eat, and to drink and to be merry….”
Go for it! And for more details on both of these events see pasadenarestaurantweek.com and mastersoftastela.com.