Two kinds of Los Angeles restaurants seem to serve as critic-bait. A new restaurant from an established chef usually falls into that camp. For example: Suzanne Goin’s A.O.C., Nancy Silverton’s Osteria Mozza or Michael Mina’s XIV. Other restaurants attract notice for their innovation. Consider The Bazaar, a new Beverly Hills restaurant from Jose Andres, who conquered D.C. with molecular gastronomy. Then there are restaurants that don’t fit either paradigm that just serve reliably good food made from high-quality ingredients. They attract a steady stream of loyal followers, but don’t offer glitz. A leading example is Pasadena’s La Grande Orange Café.
Bob Lynn and his LGO Hospitality team have tweaked the concept over the first eight months, both in the kitchen and out. The former Santa Fe railway depot has evolved since the March opening. Spacecraft designer Kristofer Keith’s original restoration is still recognizable, but LGO has added flourishes, including plant life, sound dampening panels artwork and a big hand-painted pronouncement over the ticket window that “Food is Love.” The rooms remain warm and inviting, and the shielded outdoor patio that borders Raymond Avenue is now in full effect.
Scott Malin was the original Executive Chef. Now it’s Vincent Valenzona, who’d apprenticed with Joachim Splichal and Wolfgang Puck before signing on with LGO. As always, everything is made to order and no ingredients are frozen or come from a can.
Every day, LGO usually offers a couple seasonal specials. This day, it was soup and salad. The bowl of earthy tomato soup contained oversized baguette croutons and a single fried basil leaf. On the side: a premium grilled cheese sandwich with Tillamook cheddar and smoky slices of Nueske, showered with fresh-shaved Parmigiano.
A new addition to the menu: New York strip steak flavored rosemary and garlic butter, char-grilled over oak. In general, LGO’s accompaniments are thoughtful. The steak came with spicy broccolini sautéed with caramelized onions and red chile flakes, and high-caliber French fries dusted with barbecue seasoning.
To drink, the deluxe Arnold Palmer utilized simple syrup, lemon juice and a single mint leaf. The stainless-steel French press contained Mr. Espresso coffee, an Oakland-based roastery. Originally, LGO served Intelligentsia. It’s unclear why the switch was made. Whatever the reason, I’m partial to Intelligentsia.
At this point, I’ve eaten almost everything on the La Grande Orange Café menu and there’s never been a down dish. In less than a year, LGO has established itself as one of L.A.’s most reliable restaurants.