Old Town Pasadena California is a variegated combo platter when it comes to cuisine. You can have Mexican, next to French next to California fusion. Architecturally, the styles are just as different as the food you’ll find on your plate. The restaurant simply is known as Union, for example. Though minimalist in it’s exterior presentation, inside you’ll find a veritable foodie fantasy.
Quotes from the food guru Alice Waters dot the wall, complemented by small bundles of wheat across each table. The restaurant is intimate, seating only fifty, making a reservation a must. The family-style serving is a given, and most everything is served on slabs of wood, made ready for picture sharing on Instagram.
Opened in 2014 by James Beard nominated-executive chef Bruce Kalman and his partner Marie Petulla, Union’s menu brings a fresh, Pasadena Californian twist to Northern Italian cuisine. The wine list – like the exterior is minimalist and features mostly Italian wines from independently owned vineyards. Kalman, a New Jersey native, came to Los Angeles to open the Santa Monica-based Misfit which also focuses on the farm-to-table style of eating. Subsequently, he went on to open Bruce’s Prime Pickle Co. in 2013, continuing in his vine-to-jar approach to food. A union is his latest endeavor and has opened to critical acclaim and rave reviews, including a feature on Bravo’s “Best New Restaurants” and a feature on L.A Weekly’s “99 Essential Restaurants” list in 2016.
The menu is tightly curated but packed with a rich Italian flavor.
Our first course — the homemade Stracciatella with roasted garlic and crostini — is made with fresh cheese – a given – that breaks apart in your mouth with each bite.
Next, is the Braised Octopus served with chickpea conserve, Meyer lemon yogurt, and dukka. The crunchiness of the chickpeas sharply contrasts the tenderness of the octopus. Each bite is tinged with the perfect amount of spice at its end. The avocado crostone followed with its hard-hitting spiciness thanks to its Aleppo pepper topping. The smooth avocado is a welcome relief.
The duck fat fried Wieser farm potato, with mashed garlic and romesco, is a must-try. The savory, crispy, outer layer gave way to a soft, mashed potato core. The restaurant’s heavy Italian influence is evident on the next dish, a plate of wild mushrooms topped with grist and toll polenta, Pedro Ximenez sherry vinegar, and truffle butter. Rich from start to finish, the dish feels as if it has been served out of your grandmother’s kitchen.
Next is the bombolotti — died black from squid ink — topped with Maine lobster, fennel, Meyer lemon, and a surprising amount of rich truffle butter. The Meyer lemon expertly cuts through the richness of the lobster and the truffle, making each bite perfectly balanced across the palate.
Our meat course comes in the form of porcini crusted lamb chops topped with pesto, cannellini beans, heirloom tomato, and Saba. The lamb served medium rare, is seasoned to perfection
Our meal is completed with an olive oil cake topped honeycomb. The honeycomb adds a punchy richness to the otherwise simple, crumbly, cake that, when swirled with the accompanying gelato, creates a delectable, crisp, sweetness with each bite.
A union is a must-visit for Pasadena Californians longing for fresh, punchy flavor combined with a deep Italian soul.
Union, 37 E Union St, Pasadena, CA 91103
DLX guest contributor Julia Marzovilla is an LA-based writer, whose work has previously been featured in TeenVogue.com