Monday, January 11, 2010

Pasadena Wine Bar Renaissance? Part 2: Wine Detective

I passed by Wine Detective while they were still undergoing construction on one of my walks around Pasadena months ago. I didn't know when they would open but then I recently received an invitation from one of the co-owners, Lev, to check the place out.

Since this wine bar is just a few blocks away from Caltech (and my apartment) and thus an easy walk, I was more than happy to try it out for myself. A wine bar opening up within a stone's throw from Caltech can only be a good thing!

Wine Detective employs the Enomatic wine dispenser system, where the customer inserts a smartcard into the machine, chooses the wine they want, presses a button and receives a 1 oz pour.
The 1 oz pours (usually priced between $2-4) let you try a lot more wines than you would normally have, but it is cheaper if you opt for a glass. You can also get a bottle here and pay retail price + corkage fee.

The white wines are of course chilled and each pour is precisely controlled.
The wines here are all chosen by the four owners - and the four of them have to agree on the wines, which is probably quite an ordeal given people's differing palate. But, hey, I won't complain if I have to taste wine for work :P

Here you can also find some wines that you can't get at retail stores or are harder to find including Turley Howell Mountain Zinfandel and a selection of Charles Smith's wines.

While Wine Detective is not a restaurant, they do serve cheese plates, charcuterie, and some pintxos.

We got a cheese plate to share. A selection of three cheeses run $11.00.
Each cheese was served with the appropriate condiments. we got the verdecapra (a blue cheese from Italy), Roccolo (Cow’s Cheese from Italy), and a goat cheese that I can't remember. The blue cheese was pretty amazing, do try it sometime.

Duck Trio (duck pate, duck prosciutto, duck salami) - $17

Photo courtesy of Mattatouille

A plate worth getting, we loved all three but I loved the pate most of all, it was smooth and rich in flavor. I probably ate more than my share that night. I should also note that the bread that came with this and the cheese plate was quite good and went well with the cheese and charcuterie.

To soak up all that wine, LA&OC Foodie and I also decided to get some pintxos to share. A selection of 3 pintxos is also $11 and we chose: Pate (Duck Pate, Cucumber, Piquillo Pepper), Mozzarella
(Buffalo Mozzarella, Oven Roasted Tomatoes, Basil), and Serrano (Serrano Ham, Manchego Cheese, Oven Roasted Tomatoes).
These are pretty basic bites that work well with wines. I thought the Serrano could've used something extra since it was a bit dry for my taste, but again, I loved the pate.

Not only could I walk home after drinking wine, they also offer a 10% discount for those with Caltech or JPL id!
Also, for happy hour (M-F, 4-7pm) they are offering $5 glass of house wine and 25% off all food items.

Wine Detective
146 South Lake Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91101
(626) 792-9936
Wine Detective on Urbanspoon

Other wine bars in Pasadena:
Noir Food and Wine
Vertical Wine Bistro

Friday, January 8, 2010

Pasadena Wine Bar Renaissance? Part 1: Vertical Wine Bistro

I admit, I never paid much attention to wine bars in Pasadena before because, well, what's in Pasadena? At least that was my thought.

With the exception of Noir that I checked out a couple of months ago, I haven't gone to the others, but a recent visit with Mattatouille to Vertical Wine Bistro in Old Town changed my perception of the Pasadena scene. We were there for their $5 champagne special that they for the 12 days of Christmas (and also to celebrate our birthdays a few days apart).

Vertical Wine Bistro recently recruited "wine dude" David Haskell (BIN 8945, 2006 Sommelier of the Year award from Angeleno Magazine) to revamp their wine program, and his touch is showing. Lucky me, Mattatouille knows the dude and knows just to take his recommendations on wine instead of ordering on our own.

Vertical's impressive wine list of more than 400 wines spans 10-some pages and ranges from bottles in the $20's to the $100's, including some unique and rare varietals. How are you supposed to pick? Well, we just ask. Otherwise, you can always choose one of the 7 flights they have available on the menu.

It's a bistro after all, so a review of the food is warranted. We decided to get some small plates to share at the bar, and I just went along with Matt's recommendations here.

First up: Corn Fritter (cured salmon, creme fraiche) - $12
Unlike what I expected, the crispy corn fritters were topped with a thick slice of smoked salmon. Lovely texture contrast, lots of flavors. These are some great bites.

Shoestring fries (truffle oil/ketchup) - $8
These thin fries were not overdone and had great texture. Not to mention the generous dousing of truffle oil made me unable to stop popping them into my mouth.

Chorizo Pizza (tomato, mozzarella, basil) - $10
Quite a well prepared rendition of flatbread and always a crowd pleaser, this pizza gets a flavor kick from the spicy chorizo.

So here's where David Haskell comes out and greets Mattatouille. He decided that we didn't have enough to eat though, so soon after he brought out the tour de force:
Roasted Jidori Chicken for 2, roasted tableside - $48
David himself prepared our chicken tableside for us.
I don't normally order chicken at restaurants since it tends to be dry and overcookedy. Of course, I went straight for the chicken leg myself, but I did try the white meat pieces to see how they were and found them to be moist and juicy as well.

David paired our chicken with a 1990 Chapoutier Hermitage.
Smooth tannins and full bodied, pretty rich and complex. This was a beautiful wine and it paired wonderfully with the roasted chicken. We wouldn't have made this pairing on our own, but that's why David Haskell is there.

We also tried a couple of cocktails made by Nikki the bartender.
Her new concoction made with blueberries is light, sweet, and refreshing. We liked it better with bitters and I promised her I'd bring some rhubarb bitters next time I come ( I still haven't yet, but I will, I promise!).

She also claims to make one of the best Margaritas in town, so of course we had to try that.
It was indeed one of the best margaritas I've ever had, a simple but balanced drink.

I've heard of Vertical Wine Bistro before, of course, but now it baffled me why I haven't thought about checking it out. With more than solid food, great wine list, and good (albeit still small) cocktail list, this place should be a go-to place for Old Town Pasadena.

Vertical Wine Bistro
70 N Raymond Ave (upstairs)
Pasadena, CA 91103
(626) 795-3999

Vertical Wine Bistro on Urbanspoon
Vertical Wine Bistro in Los Angeles

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

My New Fave Dim Sum: Lunasia

Happy New Year to all!
Hope everyone had a great winter break.

So, now that it's 2010 and all, I wanted to try to get my backlogged posts out! My favorite dim sum place as of late is Lunasia, which replaced Triumphal Palace a while back.

Why do I like Lunasia so much?
1. The wait is typically less than other places like NBC, Elite, etc.
2. The ambiance is nicer, the place cleaner, the dishware nicer, and the service better. They actually changed the plates regularly.
3. The prices are quite reasonable.

Even if they did bump up the price last year, "Medium" dishes are still only $3.28. The popular fares like shiu mai and har gow still fall under this category. (Small dishes are $2.28 and large $4.28)
Compared to Dim Sum Express' $0.75 shiu mai, the ones here taste that much better and for 4 of them you'd only end up paying $0.28 more.

The shrimp dumplings (har gow, M) are also great. The skin is not too thick as to taste doughy, the shrimp nicely flavored and fresh.

Chicken feet in black bean sauce.

I also always like getting their bean curd skin wrap ($4.28)
These are meat and veggies wrapped in thin bean curd skin in a delightful broth.

Buttery char siu bao ($2.28)

The egg custard tarts are rich with a nice, flakey crust ($3.28)

Earlier in 2009, they had these durian puff pastries that I loved. Alas, they didn't have it on my last 2 visits and so I can only reminisce about it.
The pastry was warm and flakey, and inside you could find creamy durian paste the way it should be - sweet, strong in flavor and aroma. If you don't like durian and thinks that it's not at all sweet, then I'm sorry to say you had a bad durian.

I have never had to wait more than 15 minutes at Lunasia, even on the weekends! Add the taste and price point to that, this is my go-to dim sum place.

500 W Main Street Suite A
Alhambra, CA 91801
(626) 308-3222
Lunasia Chinese Cuisine on Urbanspoon
Lunasia Chinese Cuisine in Los Angeles

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