Old Pasadena is inching its way toward critical mass when it comes to culinary viability, and not just with craft beer and specialty coffee, which are more than plentiful. Thanks to restaurants like Osawa, Picnik, and perhaps the most ambitious restaurant of all, Union, Pasadenans aren’t so quick to flee for food, and the city is seeing an influx of new diners. At Union, chef Bruce Kalman preaches pasta, pickles, pork, and seasonal, market-driven ingredients. At my most recent dinner at the grass roots spot, which has no real sign, but plenty of chalkboard messaging, a summery Risotto ($28) was particularly good.
The striking dish featured bright yellow Santa Barbara sea urchin as the star ingredient, and the shell, coated with beautiful purple spines, served as nature’s vessel. Chef Kalman wasn’t in the kitchen, but his team prepared the risotto well, so it wasn’t gummy or too firm, folding the grains with sweet smoked summer corn and topping the deceptively substantial mound with firm pickled chanterelles that delivered a mild punch. Of course Kalman included pickles. After all, he also runs Bruce’s Prime Pickle Co. Heirloom tomatoes and micro-herbs completed the colorful picture.