If you’ve been following the third season of The Taste on ABC, you’re familiar with contestant Vanessa Lauren of Team Bourdain. Eliminated on last week’s semi-finale (ep. 6), Vanessa has somewhat since defected to Team Ludo – in the sense that since taping this season’s episodes, she’s been in Ludo Lefebvre’s kitchens at Trois Mec and now Petit Trois. I sat down with Vanessa Lauren and Chef Ludo the other day in anticipation of The Taste finale, which airs tonight.
If you live in Pasadena or the surrounding San Gabriel Valley, it will be worth your while to drop into Vertical Bistro tomorrow night between 7 – 10 PM. Chef Laurent Quenioux has some new dishes up his sleeve that he would very much like to share with you. And for $25, you can taste a few ofÂ them as well as wash them down with some new beers and/or cocktails.
Not a bad open house for the locals.
Make sure you RSVP to the appropriate email address below to reserve your spot. I expect there to be some real tasty French bitesÂ awaiting you tomorrow inside the newly renovated Vertical Bistro. There is even a new “library” for you to check out. Now there’sÂ bookshelves in this wine bar thanks toÂ the new addition, which is a 60-seat dining room. The space now overlooks historic Raymond Avenue. This open house sounds like a great opportunity to try the renovation on for size.
It’s about time there was an approachable French Brasserie on the block; thankfully, Le Saint Amour is just that restaurant. With Walter Manzke having consulted on the menu and Chef Bruno Herve-Commereuc in-house to see that vision through, the Culver restaurant is putting out traditional French dishes that delight.
DuringÂ our media dinner, I even caught MaÃ®tre Ã‰cailler (that is, shellfish expert) Christophe Happillon stopping by to visit old friends and enjoy dinner at the bar – proof that even an industry Frenchman will stop by Le Saint Amour to get his fix of back home.
All charcuterie, pates, sausages and terrine served at Le Saint Amour are made at the restaurant. Luckily, you can get your taste of them with little commitment, with a plate of pates and terrines starting at $11, or $12 including a serving of foie gras.
My favorite hors d’oeuvres of the night (besides the pates and terrine) was the Moroccan Merguez ($11), with refreshing couscous, arugula and baby carrot salad surrounding two tender, spicy and flavorful lamb sausages. This salad is a great way to start off a meal here, with pickled ribbons of carrot and radishes bringing bright flavors to the beginning of your meal.
Or, you can order a traditional Escargots de Bourgogne, in which you get 6 for $10, each encased in their little containers for you to peel the buttery tops off onto which you spoon the snails in all their garlic and parsley buttered glory.
As for entrees, the mussels in white wine-cream sauce are definitely a must. They come with fries frites, which you can use as sauce and sop up all that goodness thanks to the crispy potatoes. Each mussel was almost like candy – you can’t have just one.
The Boeuf Bouguignon was also an indulgent main and one that I wish I had more room for. The peasant staple at Le Saint Amour was as well an executed dish that I’ve had in memory – though admittedly, my memory hasn’t spanned across numerous Boeuf Bouguignons. I think I’ll let it stand as being a dish of flavorful, braised goodness.
And don’t forget dessert. Their chocolate profiteroles (Profiterolles au Chocolat – $8) were delicious and appropriately hot and saucy on the inside, garnished well with a small scoop of banana ice cream, but what I really loved was the off-menu Blood Orange Granite, atop tangerine ice cream and panna cotta. This was a tart treat, a dessert that never made it so fun to suck in your cheeks.
All in all, you’re in for a rendezvous in France when you visit Le Saint Amour. The best part is, it’s not an experience that will break your bank. It’s down-home, approachable and traditional French fare that’s serious yet doesn’t take itself too seriously.Â Â They’re also open for brunch, which will add a great weekend option to your calendar.Â
All food and wine were hosted.
I’ve found a couple more reasons to eat in Pasadena. With those reasons being a few favorite dishes at CHAM, I thought I’d share the news of the now one-year old Korean bistro that is actually an off-shoot of the spectacular, all-meals-prepared employee perks program of iT! jeans. The creators of the jeans line and the bistro are one and the same, and casual Pasadena diners are reaping the benefits of their kitchen.
This is definitely approachable Korean food – so all you hardcore types can save your money while those who have been previously scared away by these flavors can appreciate the foray into Korean cuisine. A great starter with a spin on the traditional was their pickle sampler, which showcases white asparagus, sweet onions, carrots and thinly sliced beets. I appreciated that the brines in which each of the vegetables were specialized with the beets and onions being sweet yet the carrots and white asparagus having a perfect amount of sour. The white asparagus was my favorite, if only because I’ve rarely seen it prepared pickled, before.
My favorite sugared chili dish was the Spicy Cold Bibim Noodles. Bibimbab, it’s not; cold noodles with just the right, spicy flavoring to go with its cool temperature and texture – it sure is. While the dish wasn’t traditional, the flavors seemed like it.
My other favorite dish was the Tofu Crouton Salad. The tofu were perfectly fried with an almost-tempura like texture on the outside. The butter lettuce was the perfect choice of greenery with barley to add a perfect weight. The black sesame vinaigrette was thankfully not too sweet and ultimately delicious.
The other favorite at this Korean Bistro is decidedly not Korean food – but let’s not fault Executive chef E.J. Jeong (former A.O.C.) for having an imagination, shall we? This other favorite featured very sweet, cubed watermelon at its center with refreshing mint notes in the salad and in the vinaigrette and generous helpings of earthy feta and figs sprinkled on top. This is the quintessential summer treat.
The kicker of this eatery is that their beer list is rather intriguing and offers great pairings with the vibrant flavors of your Korean-style food. Sure, there is Hite, but also the Maredsous 8, Oskar Blues (Mama’s Little Yella Pils), Houblon (Chouffe Dobbelen IPA Tripel) and Lost Abbey’s Devotion. The wine list is also modest but really, all you need. I especially enjoyed the Saddlerock Chardonnay straight from Malibu with my food.
The next time I’m in Pasadena (I am locatedÂ further east, after all) and need a bite – or three – to eat, I would certainly stop by Cham. While this isn’t the place to order your soon tofu on the scale of spiciness like an O.G. Korean eatery, Cham is a place that does justice to and serves its influences well.
P.S. – At the end of your meal, don’t forget the raspberry lambic beer float made with Framboise. Unlike other beer floats, this one is decidedly a dessert for your sweet tooth!
All food, beer and wine were hosted.
Mon – Sat: 11 AM – 9 PM
Cham Korean Bistro
851 Cordova St.
Pasadena, CA 91101