Friday, November 21, 2014

Union, Pasadena

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East Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena, November 20, 2014—
WE DINED AT A TABLE under this mural, only the center part shown here — and other quotes from Alice Waters were to be found on the walls in other strategic locations. This restaurant is serious about the specificity of its provender, which confirms to the Good, Clean, Fair maxim of Slow Food. But you have the feeling that, ethical and correct as the operation is and intends to be, it is Deliciousness that drives it.

It drives it down an Italian country road, I would say, certainly on the basis of tonight's visit. (Not our first, by the way.) I was eager to sample this place again so soon after a couple of weeks in Italy, while the authentic tastes were still in my mouth, so to speak; and I was certainly not disappointed: this is one of the great Italian restaurants not in Italy.

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We began with this plate of bread, butter, and giardinera: good sound bread, delicious butter, pickled vegetables that were unusually piquant but crisp and tasty, setting us alert for what was to follow.

That was a plate of sautéed wild mushrooms served with the softest, subtlest polenta I've had outside Venice — "Grist and Toil" polenta the menu called it, and I'm sure a lot of work went into its production, both in the field and in the kitchen: but the result was anything but effortful or labored, merely soft, delicate, complex, utterly satisfying. The mushrooms gained from a sherry vinaigrette, surprising on this menu, but quite explicable: perhaps we were in Venice, where ships occasionally call from Jerez…

IMG 7058I went on to this porchetta, with potatoes roasted in the fat, and salsa verde on the side. Porchetta correctly done involves shreds and slices, fat and crackling, and plenty of dense lean meat as well. This was excellent. If we'd begun somewhere in Puglia, and gone on to Venice, I was now in Testaccio, and no mistake about it. The pork had that slight taste of tripe that roast suckling pig has to have; this pork was young, I'm sure of it, but complex, again, and long in the finish. The potatoes had a fine creamy texture, and the salsa verde was a Piemontese type, heavy on the parseley, very nice with the pork.

How could I resist the gianduia budino on the dessert menu, after my recent researches into bonet, the classic Piemontese chocolate-hazelnut dolce? This was not bonet, as it lacked any reference to amaretti; instead the little jar of silky pudding wore a chocolate cookie dusted with powdered sugar as its lid. But it recalled Piemonte, perhaps because I'd gone on to a marvelous red wine…

Soave classico, Balestri Valda (Garganega, Veneto), 2012 (truly suave, a little innocuous, very pleasant);
Nebbiolo, Francesco Borgogno (Langhe), 2013 (too young, but a beautiful wine quite willing to be dealt with now)
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•Union, 37 E Union St, Pasadena, California; (626) 795-5841

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