Search This Blog


Sunday, August 7, 2011

King's Row Gastropub - A Perfect Trifecta of Food, Atmosphere and Service


I'm pleased to announce that the Food Bitch has discovered yet another fabulous new place to eat, drink and be merry in Old Town Pasadena!  King's Row Gastropub is hidden down the same hallway where you find the entrance to the watch store on Colorado Blvd.  Locals will know what I'm talking about, but if you aren't familiar with the area, you'd probably walk by the entrance without a second glance.  Fortunately, King's Row seems to have invested in ample new signage which is easily visible from the other side of the street (should you happen to be having a cold Smithwick's outside at Barney's Beanery before dinner and maybe even getting shouted at from a car by an old friend!)

Once inside King's Row, you instantly feel like this is a place where you want to be - the kind of bar at which you could easily hold court for a few hours on a Sunday afternoon.  The ceilings are high and airy, and every wall is the most beautiful exposed brick.  The simplicity of the mix-n-match wood floors, tables and chairs combined with the chalkboard, but otherwise sparsely-decorated brick, give the whole place a charming, almost school-house feel.  But an awesome schoolhouse that serves beer.
Four Beer Sampler

We started with the four beer sampler, which changes nightly.  One was pale and crisp - a white ale.  Another was flowery and almost unpalatable without food (and then it made sense), and the darker two both tasted distinctly like coffee.  The sampler was $10, but the little glasses were actually pretty good sized, so we didn't need to order a second round of drinks.
Duck Fat Popcorn

Crack Mac!
Because we love appetizers in general, and because this is a pub after all, we went a little appetizer crazy, particularly when H and I discovered that two of our very favorite foods were on the appetizer menu.  Popcorn for H, and Macaroni and Cheese for the Food Bitch.  What I didn't mention there is that the popcorn is actually Duck Fat Popcorn with Shaved Black Truffle and Celtic Sea Salt, and the Mac N'Cheese is actually called "Crack Mac," and boasts Gouda and Parmesan cheeses and. . . wait for it. . . white chocolate.  Wait. . . What???

That's right, you heard me.  White chocolate mac.

Crack Mac.

Yes, it really, really is.

H, the world's self-appointed, foremost popcorn connoisseur said the duck fat truffle corn was, "a unique and delicious foray into popcorn decadence."  I didn't come up with anything quite so verbose as my mouth was unabashedly filled with the mac, which had a nut-brown top, creamy center and a sweet, but not too sweet finish.  Whoever spilled the white chocolate into the mac and cheese that day - genius.  Seriously, a kitchen accident at its finest.

Devil's Fork
There were three different "fries" on the menu: good old fashioned Garlic Parmesan Fries, Polenta, and Portobello mushroom fries.  Fortunately, someone at the King's Row knew that you wouldn't want to have to ever choose, particularly between the latter two, so they compiled all three into something called the Devil's Fork.  The regular fries were just that: regular.  They were perfectly executed, but absolutely nothing new happening in French fries.  And maybe that's a good thing.  Too much change in the world as it is.  The polenta "fries" were rectangular cubes of perfectly textured corn lovlieness.  Golden crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside, and impossible to put down.  The portobello fries were. . . well. . . they were really special.  As H put it, they were a, "welcome relief - dry and crispy, unlike the wet and gamey portobello fries of other establishments."  And he's right.  I had some recently that were amazing in their own right, but these were light, crunchy and addictive.

With little room left for entrees after our carbathon, we split the Pulled Pork Sandwich with Pomegranate BBQ sauce and Crispy Onions.  Served on an old fashioned sesame seed bun (alongside. . . sigh. . . more plain fries), its presentation, along with the other dishes we tried, was minimalistic - not even worthy of a photograph.  But holy pig - that first bite delivered so much flavor, I instantly could not have cared less what it looked like - I just wanted to devour it.  The sauce was sweet and tangy, and much lighter and brighter than the typical thoughts of Carolina BBQ sauces that the terms "sweet and tangy" seem to evoke.

Burned Whiskey Brain
Unfortunately, after all of the foregoing oral delights, we ended our meal on somewhat of a dissappointing note with a dessert called Whiskey Brain.  It's supposed to be a monkey bread style pull apart pastry topped with a whiskey sauce, or at least that's how I described it to our delightful waitress who confirmed that's what it was, but what arrived was shaped like a mini-bread loaf, had the "brain" appearance on top, but it was clearly quite burned.  Once you got past the exterior, the inside was dense and almost stale - perhaps dried out from the over-crisping it apparently got in the oven.  Our girl was super apologetic - at first bringing us more sauce on the side, but when that didn't help, she took it right off the check without being asked.  So that was really nice.  I get where they were going with it, but unfortunately it was poorly executed.

Because this blog is dedicated to bringing you the whole experience review, it is worth mentioning that the restrooms are located New York style in the basement, and I couldn't help but admiring the repurposed, heavy oak interior doors that were just gorgeous.  Also, to get to the restrooms, one must walk down another long hallway that was so edgy and awesomely lit, it made me either want to be a trampy model in fishnets and heels, or a pompous, amateur photographer who wears a beret.

What I can say with authority is that the King's Row Gastropub is a place where I definitely want to hang out again.  You can invite friends with the confidence that you will be getting amazing food in an even cooler location with friendly, attentive service.

So yes, I will be back, Crack Mac, I will be back.  And quite possibly in fishnets and/or a beret.

Happy Snacking,

The Food Bitch

Saturday, August 6, 2011

a|k|a {An American Bistro} - Perfectly Palatable in Every Way


Maybe it was the good company, maybe it was Rebel Without a Cause playing on the big screen outside in the warm summer air, or maybe it was the pre-Christmas shopping I accomplished (in July!) that evening at The Container Store down the street, but something about my whole dining experience at AKA, An American Bistro was pure magic.

I have to admit that I initially read about AKA in Westways magazine, the AAA rag that typically reviews a couple of California restaurants each month.  To avoid any redundancies, I made sure to throw the magazine away, but not without noting (and trying!) a few of the Westways' columnist's "must try" suggestions. . . all but one critically important one. . . the Grilled Double Cut Prairie Fresh Pork Chop.  But we'll come back to that (and for that!) later.

Because I am The Food Bitch, and because we're terrible at making decisions (and great at ordering way too much food), we decided we simply had to try three different appetizers: a Caprese salad with homemade mozzerella cheese, Hothouse tomatoes, and a sweet balsamic reduction, a tuna tartar special, and the Crispy Portobello Fries with Truffle Aioli.

Crispy Portobello Fries
Oh. Hell. Yes.  Let's start with the shroom fries.  As you all know, I am not a mushroom person.  I think it's a texture issue mostly, and I've learned to suck it up and eat them and be able to not absolutely despise them, but I don't feel like they really add anything to my life either.  With that being said, I would gladly order AKA's Crispy Portobello Fries as my last meal on Earth (with maybe a crisp, tasty lager on the side).  They were literally bursting with flavor.  The texture of the portobellos was velvety and rich, and the aioli was almost fluffy as though it had been whipped into submission.  By contrast, the tuna tartar was tasty and fresh, but a little predictable, and the Caprese was, for me, a little bit of a let down.  In the middle of summer, I want  a tomato that is bursting with the flavor of garden and sunshine.  This hothouse was a little tough and was missing that late summer zing a tomato should have, but the mozzarella was salty and fresh and worked well with the sweetness of the balsamic.
Caprese Salad with Mood-lighting!

Stuffed from our appetizers, we of course ordered entrees.  How could we not when faced with such a lovely menu that touted so many sustainable and organic ingredients?  When H quizzed our waiter (Hi, Matt!) about whether the Smoke River Kobe Flat Iron or the steak special of the evening, a filet, was the better choice, Matt immediately replied, "the pork chop!"

But. . . we didn't get the pork chop.  H had his heart set on a steak, and I didn't feel like adventures into the other white meat that particular evening.  H went with the filet special, and The Food Bitch went a little off the beaten path and ordered the Summer Sweet Pea Risotto with Meyer Lemon and Cippolini Onions.  Right??  Doesn't that sound amazing?  Because it was.  Combine the visual appeal of that beautiful pea green color with the floral notes of the Meyer lemon and top it all off with the Cippolini onions that quite literally burst with flavor in your mouth.  It was a truly delightful dish that I somehow found feminine and hearty at the same time.  (Oh, and H's steak was great, too!)

Finally, at Matt's urging, and despite the fact that we probably should have taken a caloric break for a week or two, we ordered the Butterscotch/Brown Sugar pot du Créme for dessert, and Oh My Stars I saw fireworks, explosions, midgets, flamingos, pink unicorns, and magic dust all at once when the first delightful spoonful of butterscotch goodness hit my tongue.  Topped with smoked sea salt and homemade Chantilly whipped cream, this was absolutely the best dessert I have ever, EVER ordered at a restaurant.  You get the sweet - rich and creamy.  Then BAM!  You get the salty finish.  It was miraculous.  A big thank you also to the server who suggested we try it with a small glass of port wine.  Not something we usually order, but it really finished the meal, the dessert, and the whole experience with a touch of class in a glass.

Butterscotch/Brown Sugar pot du Créme
The owner, Robert Simon, has clearly taken a great deal of pride in AKA - from the rich, burnt orange and charcoal hues on the walls, to the flawless table setting presentation.  The abundant staff was welcoming, friendly, and knowledgeable about the locally grown, organic menu.  The tables were cozy and the lighting flattering without being too dark to see your food.  (It was a little too dark to sneak pictures though, so I do apologize for that!)

The Food Bitch only has two small gripes about AKA overall.  One is that there are no restrooms located inside the actual restaurant.  You have to walk outside and around the corner, so that is a little annoying.  The other is that they have a TV in the bar that directly faces a mirror on the opposite wall of the dining room.  Ya'll know I think TVs in classy joints cheapen and distract from the experience a little bit, but I'm completely willing to forego this rule if I don't have to see it from the dining room.  AKA almost got this right, but the unfortunate placement of the mirror meant the baseball game was getting brightly beamed right into my field of vision all night.  Not a deal breaker, but definitely a design flaw.

I will definitely be returning to AKA - if not for the butterscotch dessert alone, then certainly to try the infamous pork chop.  Pasadena has been needing a place like this for awhile, and I'm really looking forward to the next time we go back.

Happy Snacking,

The Food Bitch