Food writer Merrill Shindler recently tackled the phonetically-challenging iX tapa Cantina, a newcomer to the Colorado Boulevard dining scene. He, first, found that the eatery’s name brought out his inner grammar curmudgeon:
Food writer Merrill Shindler recently tackled the phonetically-challenging iX tapa Cantina, a newcomer to the Colorado Boulevard dining scene.
He, first, found that the eatery’s name brought out his inner grammar curmudgeon:
Look: You’ll forgive me if I spell it “Ixtapa.” Apparently, the spelling chosen by the Jack and Karen Huang, the restaurateurs who opened this Urban Chic Cantina, is the somewhat keyboard-unfriendly “iX tapa,” which will drive me to madness. And it’s apparently caused those who note restaurant openings on the Web to sprain all ten fingers. Take a look, and you’ll find “Ix Tapa,” “ix tapa,” “IX Tapa,” “Ixtapa” — the variations go on and on.
THE PLACE: An Eagle Rock standard, The Chalet, was closed down in the summer to undergo a metamorphosis. The result was The Black Boar, a British-style pub with lots of cheap, craft beers on draft. The shift was met with shock and some tantrum-like resistance by The Chalet’s hardcore fans, who apparently couldn’t bear — boar? — to say goodbye. But is the bar at 1630 Colorado really so different?
THE PRICE: You can’t really argue with a drink list that’s plastered with $5 signs.
And, to think, the price gets even lower during happy hour. That runs from 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, when all drafts and well drinks drop to just $3.
Even during peak hours, those five bucks will get you rolling through an impressive draft menu that’s extensive enough to cover all the bases while still offering some unexpected thrills. Mine was Old Speckled Hen, an English pale ale that felt befitting an establishment with a mounted boar’s head as the bar’s focal point.
THE SOUNDS: The original Chalet jukebox survives another day. The machine itself seems to have a following, so let that be the olive branch.
THE FOOD: There’s no food served, but patrons can reportedly bring in the noms from surrounding establishments. Closest of all is Casa Bianca, the famed pizza joint with infamous long lines (the wait’s worth it) and it’s just paces from The Black Boar.
THE VIBE: There’s a barely palpable difference in feeling between the former establishment and the latter. To me, that’s a good thing; The Chalet isn’t dead — it just has new life. But did it need reincarnation? I guess the owners thought so.
Maybe it’s the brighter lighting — The Chalet was always dark as midnight — and the pristine wood that would be better off for some wear. There is something slightly colder about The Black Boar, but isn’t that the stalwart English way? (The stone walls, aside from being literally cold, smack of the not-so-far-away Griffin’s dungeon-esque quality.)
The total effect is hardly bad at all. On the contrary, compared to its former life, The Black Boar still feels easy but also slick, upscale — less den and more iniquity. It’s compelling enough that my Hollywood-based companion opined, “I wish there was one near me.”
AGE GROUP: Oxy kids reign supreme in Eagle Rock, as they do in this pub. Also, for your people-watching pleasure: Local artists and alterna-hippies on the prowl in their Free People dresses and tees.
BEWARE: Beer is the emphasis here, and there’s no custom cocktail menu, despite the so-called “new cocktailian” revolution that’s creeping like kudzu through downtown L.A. and Westside. Still, with an extensive and stately bar, you’re only limited by your imagination.
GO: The Black Boar, 1630 Colorado Blvd. in Eagle Rock. Daily, 7 p.m.-2 a.m. (323) 258-8800.
MY RATING: 3 — Take advantage of the fireplace and warm up to The Black Boar. You might find things haven’t changed so very much after all.
RATINGS: 5 is really, really hot; 4 is hot; 3 is fun, loose, low pressure; 2 is cool, relaxing; 1 is just OK, sorta cool.
An informant e-mail this weekend confirms the long-time-coming Wine Detective is now open in Pasadena.
“After two years of blood, sweat and tears, 400 wines tasted and starting to suspect that it might never happen, Wine Detective has quietly opened its doors to the wine-loving public.”
The tasting room offers 50 wines for sampling through Enomatic wine dispensers that allow you to sniff out your own
Individual wines are self-sampled, one ounce at a time, by using a special debit card preloaded to fit your budget. Make your selections by button, and the card is charged for the price of each ounce. Repeat the ones you love, ditch the ones you don’t — and reload the card if necessary.
A small menu of cold-cut plates and Basque-style sandwiches is available.
146 S. Lake Ave., Suite 109 (across from the Green Street Cafe)
Wine Detective’s Yulia Meltser comments below with the phone number: (626) 792-9936.
No phone number listed yet, but we’re on the case.
THE PLACE: Noir Food and Wine Bar opened not so long ago on North Mentor Avenue, a top-drawer addition to the developing wine scene in Pasadena. Noir is owned by Michael Farwell (also of Vertical Wine Bistro) and serves up small plates for noshing — the yin to the yang of its prodigious (and I mean, to be clear, mammoth) wine list.
It’s the kind of place you thank your lucky stars, as I did, to find open late on a Monday night.
THE PRICE: It varies widely, but it’s not hard to find a glass or bottle to meet your demands. You might imagine it should be so, considering the 14-page wine list.
Urged on by a sense of noncommittal adventure, my companion and I decided to choose two wine flights — a sauvignon blanc series and a ros series, $13 and $11 respectively. With the sauvs, we ventured through California, New Zealand and France, all for a price fitting a single, quality glass at most watering holes.
A highlight was the discovery of an exquisite ros — Pink Girl, Syrah Ros (Napa) — a crisp, juicy bouquet of fruit billed appealingly by the vintners to envelop, among many tastes, the hint of watermelon Jolly Rancher. Such sweet talk.
THE SOUNDS: There’s nothing quite like ordering two flights of wine, followed quickly by quiet — but not imagined — rounds of cheering and applause.
That was my auditory experience sitting at one of Noir’s sidewalk tables and listening to the ambient noise drift over from the Ice House Comedy Club just next door. It felt felicitous, as though my selection had so pleased the carousing masses that I was given a hand.
Otherwise, it was a serenely quiet evening — a vacation of sorts — punctuated only by the conversations of people straggling out of the Ice House. If you were attentive, you could catch bits of their conversations, most reviewing the comedy acts they had just taken in.
On the opposite side of Noir is Boston Court Performing Arts Complex. If ever there were distinct crowds destined from both Boston Court and the Ice House mingling around Noir, it would be a most interesting cross-section of the city — and a quick way to overhear a handful of honest reviews on the latest performances at both.
THE FOOD: I quite despise sampler platters — unless they are of cheese, and so I found myself ordering yet another fromage board and devouring mostly the whole thing, with little help from my dining partner.
For $9, we sampled Explorateur, Humboldt Fog and Bucheron cheeses. I’ve already shouted my love of The Fog from rooftops here to NorCal (and in this column), but I was delighted by the other two, also powerful soft cheeses, which are now added to my dairy repertoire. Perhaps now I will sound less like a broken record. Elevating that platter to mouthwatering heights were the accoutrements du fromage, including tiny rectangles of date bread and an oozing honeycomb.
Seared scallops with corn and shitake ragout ($16) were also shared, a lightly sweet savory — each mollusk divided tenderly again and again to prolong the pleasure.
THE VIBE: A tasting note: While you scour the wine list for your Duckhorn, your Sea Smoke, your Caymus — the familiars you give away as tasteful gifts at parties and weddings — you may overlook a little-known or unexpected surprise.
At Noir, the accent lies on boutique and hard-to-find wines in a come-at-able setting where novice and master can toast together and explore.
AGE GROUP: The reach, like the wine list, is wide: mid-20s and up, with a sophisticated but adventurous palate.
BEWARE: Noir is quite small; intimately so, and not stifling in the least. Although the place was quite deserted on my late, Monday night visit, I could envision people spilling out the door on a busier evening while waiting to nab one of a handful of tables. If business takes off here, as I hope it will, you may find yourself coveting a reservation in addition to the wine list.
GO: Noir Food and Wine Bar is located at 40 N. Mentor Ave. in Pasadena. Hours are 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Monday through Saturday. (626) 795-7199, www.noirfoodandwine.com
MY RATING: 4 — I am normally loathe to distribute “hot” ratings for wine bars and lounges. To me, the express purpose of their existence is to be smooth, slow, easy — set at more of a “simmering” level. And while Noir is all of those desirable things, I found the service (ask for Shyla) to be beyond exceptional and couldn’t bear to hand down a mid-range numeral. My guest and I were even treated to service by back-of-house staffers, including a causal encounter with Chef Claud Beltran. I suggest you, too, accept the invitation.
RATINGS: 5: Really, really hot; 4: Hot; 3: Fun, loose, low pressure; 2: Cool; 1: Just OK.
Photos, from top: A Sauvignon blanc wine flight at Noir Food and Wine Bar. Noir has been open for about a month-and-a-half at its 40 N. Mentor Ave. location between Boston Court and the Ice House Comedy Club. A Ros wine flight accompanying a fromage board with Explorateur, Humboldt Fog and Bucheron cheeses. Seared scallops with corn and shitake ragout. (Staff photos)
THE PLACE: At the gateway to the San Gabriel Valley — the city of Alhambra — you’ll also find a gateway to Cuba. Cuban Bistro off Main Street offers a taste of Cuban culinary delights as well as live salsa music that brings the soul of Cuba alive. Helping guests to delve deeper to find their inner Ricky Ricardo, live salsa music is offered on Friday nights starting at 9 p.m. and jazz on Thursdays from 7 to 9 p.m.
THE PRICE: There is no cover charge to take in the live music. Drinks start at $6. I decided to try the tequila mojito while my partner tried the house mojito.
The simple syrup in my drink was much sweeter than I am used to; I almost couldn’t stand to finish it. But I had a sip of the house mojito and it wasn’t as sugary. I tried the house sangria as well. It came with a nice heap of fresh-cut apples and oranges on top. This is now my favorite sangria; it was not too sweet or overwhelming but still had plenty of flavors of fruit and wine, which is what a sangria is meant to be. Appetizers ranged from $5.50 to $17.50 for a house sampler.
THE SOUNDS: You couldn’t help but swing your hips to the lively music in the room next to the bar. In the bar area, it is possible to hold a light conversation, but next door, you can barely hear anything above the beat of the drums. But most people in there didn’t want to talk, anyway.
I love dancing and I am not usually shy about it, but the skills of many dancing couples on the floor did make me feel a bit intimidated.
THE FOOD: To my dismay, I was not able to try any of the dinner platters or even appetizers the Friday evening I visited the bistro. My partner and I sat in the bar area and were handed menus by our waitress at about 10:15 p.m. and when we were ready to order, she said the kitchen closed at 10:30 p.m. I looked at my cell phone for the time: it was 10:31 p.m. I think she could have mentioned that when she handed us the menus and took our first drink order.
AGE GROUP: The restaurant is open to all groups and ages, but they card you in the bar area after dinner. The age of the crowd on Friday night varied from mid-20s, all the way up to 60s and 70s.
BEWARE: The bar gets a little busy after 10:30 p.m., and it might be tough to find parking. There is free parking in the structure behind the restaurant with the entrance off Second Street. The bar also closes at midnight — even on the weekends.
THE VIBE: There was a fun, carefree feeling in the air. Groups of friends gathered at the bar and in the dance room together. Couples canoodled in the corner while others took to the floor. If you are not the shy type, don’t be surprised if you are asked to the dance floor by another patron — male or female.
GO: Cuban Bistro is located at 28 W. Main St. in Alhambra. It’s open from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tues.-Thurs.; 11:30 a.m. to 12 a.m. Fri.; noon to midnight Sat.; noon to 10 p.m. Sun. and closed Mon. Happy Hour is 3 to 7 p.m. Tues. through Fri. For more information, call (626) 308-3350 or visit www.cubanbistro.com
MY RATING: 4 With the music, this place gets pretty hot.
RATINGS: 5: Really, really hot; 4: Hot; 3: Fun, loose, low pressure; 2: Cool; 1: Just OK.
(Photos by William Hallstrom / Correspondent)
THE PLACE: It may feel nothing like the place you grew up in, nor where you currently hang your hat, but somehow the welcome mat at Home is one-size-fits-all. The Silver Lake location proclaims in neon letters its breakfast, lunch, dinner and cocktails — why ever leave? — on a giant birdhouse perched overhead. So even if you’re just migrating through, you’ll always have a place to nestle down.
THE PRICE: Everything at Home, from the drinks to the dining room fare, is affordable. Drinks run about $7 to $10, with beers coming in at $5 or less. I chose two polar opposites — a cucumber-mint muddled vodka cocktail and a mudslide. Both were delicious, but the first won by a landslide — or, technically, a mudslide. It’s a perfect summer cocktail.
THE SOUNDS: It was uber-quiet on my most recent Monday night visit. I wondered if all the residents of Home had already stumbled up some invisible stairs and and were tucked into bed. But I’ve also seen the place pop on a Friday night, including a fabulous chop-and-swap party I attended in a private area of the restaurant. Friends rented out the space to celebrate the successful giving (and receiving) of a kidney. Thanks to one friend’s life-saving organ donation, both the giver and receiver were able to attend the festivities. The staff handled the well-attended party with panache.
THE FOOD: Home has a massive menu stocked with comfort foods, and all items are available no matter where you sit, inside, outside, at the bar. The menu covers all the basics, from burgers and pizza to wraps and all-day breakfast. Just like your real home, mom always has a specialty dish. Here, it’s Mom’s Famous Chicken Almond Salad, with chicken breast, mayo, tarragon, sweet relish, toasted almonds, tomato, bell peppers, cucumber and carrots ($9.95). The Mexican Taco Salad is also a standout; At $8.95, it comes with corn, black beans, red onion, tomatoes, bell peppers and Monterey Jack, tossed in ranch dressing and garnished with tortilla chips and spicy taco seasoning.
THE VIBE: It’s so laid-back you might find yourself looking for pop’s beat-up La-Z-Boy to take a nap. My favorite spot to relax at Home is the outdoor seating area, a literal oasis — with running water fountains — amid the surrounding urban sprawl.
AGE GROUP: The restaurant attracts all ages, but in general, the masses trend toward Eastside hipster youth and working-class professionals.
BEWARE: There’s so many old-school, haven’t-drank-this-since-college cocktails on the menu. (Woo Woo? Check. Peach Fuzz? Check. Sex on the Beach? Check.) Don’t sample too many, or you might get Home-sick.
GO: Home is located at 2500 Riverside Drive in Silver Lake, (323) 665-0211. Plenty of free street parking is available along Riverside. A second location is at 1760 Hillhurst Ave. in Los Feliz, (323) 665-4663. Open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to close. Closing hours are seasonal; call ahead in colder months.
MY RATING: 3 Ever notice how nothing seems to change when you go home? It’s like that here — and that’s a good thing.
RATINGS: 5: Really, really hot; 4: Hot; 3: Fun, loose, low pressure; 2: Cool; 1: Just OK.
- FRIDAY, noon-9 p.m. (opening, on display through March 8)
You won’t want to rub these Buddha bellies. Opening at the Norton Simon Museum is “Divine Demons: Wrathful Deities of Buddhist Art,” a contrast to the smiling Buddhas and serene enlightened beings in the museum’s collection. These figures — many of them baring fangs, drinking blood, or wearing garlands of severed heads — represent the “demonic divine,” protectors of the Buddhist faith. There are 18 paintings, sculptures and ceremonial objects from the Norton Simon permanent collection in this intimate exhibition.
Museum is open every day except Tuesday, from noon to 6 p.m., and noon to 9 p.m. Fridays.
General admission, $8; Seniors, $4
411 W. Colorado Blvd.
- FRIDAY and SATURDAY, 8 p.m.
Serendipity (pictured) promises to be the least stuffy of garden parties, with live installations, aerial artists, dancers and stilt walkers. To boot, it’s a choose-your-own-adventure: Interact and write your night’s story with a collection of characters and creatures with whom to play. The open invitation comes with this curious caveat: “Once you purchase your tickets, you will receive information on location and dress code.” Oh, how we love a good mystery.
Admission: $30; two for $50. Cash bar.
Information and tickets: www.treetopproductions.org
- SATURDAY (opening, on display through Nov. 15)
Artist Daniel Buren returns to Pasadena with a large-scale site-specific art installation consisting of 2,268 colorful, striped flags suspended over the pedestrian square. The flags move with the breeze, casting thousands of moving shadows on the courtyard below. Best of all, viewing the display is free. Just show up.
Located between Fair Oaks, Colorado Boulevard, Union Street, and Delacey in Old Pasadena.
- SATURDAY, 3-4 p.m.
The museum hosts an artist talk with Benny Chan, who doesn’t photograph anything you’ve never seen in Southern California (got that?). He’s an architectural photographer who shoots airports, parking garages and, in his exhibit “Traffic,” aerial shots of rush-hour traffic. Chan designed a camera to capture gridlock especially for the series at the Pasadena Museum of California Art. His geometric compositions hint at the darker side of those constructions, like the loneliness of a laundromat or the chaos of our traffic system. Chan captures the beauty and monstrosity of curlicues in an interchange — in a way Google Earth never has.
490 E. Union Street
Free with admission.
(626) 568-3665, Ext. 17
(Photos courtesy Treetop Productions/Serendipity)