To the average person, dining out is something to do for that once in a while special occasion or to fill up one’s time. For the serious eater or food-obsessed, dining out is like F-ing HEAVEN. In fact, dining out for a serious
Foodie eater is like:
- Going to a rock concert to obsess over the very essence of a band or artist.
- Playing a favorite video game over and over and over again.
- Being immersed into the writings of Edgar Allan Poe despite the fact that he has been dead for hundreds of years.
My current restaurant obsession is Union in Pasadena. This place is not the neighborhood gem restaurant or a hipster one. It’s not even close to being a casual eatery to take your kids or a fast food one. Union is a restaurant for the serious eaters only. In other words, Union in Pasadena is for those who appreciate the complexities of fine cooking; and I mean no-nonsense, contemplative, unadulterated Italian cooking.
I remember running into Chef Bruce Kalman for the first time last year at a Tastemade event. Union was not really known among the established food websites and food blogs yet there was Chef Kalman feeding us. It seems strange to say that a sliver of handmade pasta convinced me that this chef is someone to “watch” in the LA food scene, but it’s true.
Flash forward almost six months later, I had found Chef Kalman’s personal Instagram page and started to follow him. He tortured his followers with food photos of homemade pastas, his juicing, and the creation of mouth-watering dishes that he chronicled feverishly on Instagram.
Within a few weeks, I joined Union’s Instagram page to see what I’m missing.
When the California Foie Gras ban was appealed earlier this year, I remember looking at an Instagram photo that Chef Kalman posted. While other restaurants were posting on Instagram that they are scrambling to get their hands on an inventory of Foie Gras, Chef Kalman posted an announcement that his stash of Foie Gras was already at the restaurant waiting for us to eat (that being the Foie Gras Toast). Then there was that one, like THE one, Porchetta photo that finally convinced me to place a dinner reservation on Open Table.
The Foie Gras Toast at Union turned out to be my first legalized foie in California after the appeal. There are many ways to cook the stuff, but I’m a huge fan of the pan seared method. Some pickled blueberries and a tad of toasted hazelnuts blanket a piece of pan seared foie gras that caps a piece of toasted baguette. Its delightfully tangy and sweet notes mellows out the slightly gamey existence of the former contraband.
I don’t recall ever trying pickled blueberries, but it’s a wonderful thing and I recommend that you try it. Chef Kalman is a master at pickling produce as I found out when our Server delivered a jar of an assortment of pickled veggies as our amuse-bouche.
Then our next course was the Squid Ink Garganelli pasta with lobster that is to die for. This handmade pasta has a nice meaty, chewy texture. The lobster was delicately tender with a simple sauce that seemingly transcends all the other squid ink pasta combinations that I have eaten in the past at other restaurants. I thought the one at Bestia was my all-time favorite squid ink pasta dish until I tried this one at Union. A slam dunk winner!
And finally…The Porchetta. Oh how I love this dish too! The one at Union has just the right amount of meat-to-fat content and it’s just technique to get it nice and juicy. The plating is gorgeous especially with the nice ring of amber-colored pork skin crackling that makes the Porchetta look regal. The sauce is extremely rich and I mean super rich, like a gravy. Yet, for some reason, a little bit of roasted pork, a part of the fingerling potato, the pork sauce, and a dab of the herby sauce all forked together into one bite seems to mesh and meld quite nicely on one’s palate. Aside from being, THE dish that sells out first, it is also the heartiest menu item to eat. Like all dishes at Union, this one is definitely meant to be shared family-style.
With the many restaurants and gastropubs that call Old Town Pasadena its home, I think Union and its Head Chef Bruce Kalman are the brightest stars that places the city of Pasadena back on the map of food destinations worth visiting in the Los Angeles area. The sheer talent of Chef Kalman with his style of Italian food of this caliber is simply courageous.
37 E. Union Street
Italian food, farm-to-table, seasonal menu, dinner only, reservations required, credit cards accepted, wine list, no valet parking, paid parking structure across the street, walking distance from the Metro.