New Restaurant Report: Union-izing
James Beard-nominated and two-time TV cooking show winner Bruce Kalman believes in letting the food speak. There was no formal media opening for his new Northern Italian-themed restaurant, Union; no velvet ropes, no special, invite-only foodie parties. He simply opened the front doors onto Union Avenue.
The food did the rest. From the opening overture of pork meatballsâ€”sweet, salty and spicy all at onceâ€”to the local basque bakery bread, to the gelato with real honeycomb, his dedication to the â€œfarm to tableâ€ concept shone through.
â€œIâ€™ve cooked everything,â€ Kalman told Pasadena Now, taking a break from his busy kitchen last night, â€œbut I always come back to Italian food. Itâ€™s very simple, very real, and the philosophy of Italian food runs parallel to the â€˜farm to table,â€™ idea of local vegetables and meats, local grains, and shopping for fresh food every day.â€ As an example, Kalman buys the flour for his fresh-made pastas from Pasadena flour shop Grist & Toll.
â€œItâ€™s important for me to serve fresh and local,â€ Kalman explained. â€œItâ€™s why we buy our bread from Extea, a Basque bakery in Hawthorne, every day. This is close to my heart, you canâ€™t make great food with sub-par ingredients.â€
There are also imported Italian items like his Parmesan-Reggiano.
The menu is a relatively strict Italian, but not necessarily what you would expect. There is no lasagna and there is no pizza. Itâ€™s the next level of authentic, but innovative Italian menu items for a smart and discerning audience.
The fresh quality of the menu rang through the aforementioned pork meatballs, as well as the Chicken Diavalo, two grilled pieces of chicken vacuum-sealed in the cooking process to hold in the juices and keep the chicken deliciously moist, and topped with a lemon slice. There are no salt and pepper shakers on the table for a reason. Kalmanâ€™s creations arrive perfectly seasoned, and lovingly presented.
The menu is wide-ranging (I was alone. I couldnâ€™t pick off your plate), but appetizers range from Ricotta Crostini with pickled onions and Pancetta; Pacific sardines with Ranco Gordo Beans, Citrus Salad and Saba to house-made Charcuterie. There are also a host of pickled items, Kalman being an official Pickle Master. (Yes, there is such a thing, and yes, itâ€™s an art.)
Dessert was an Olive Oil cake, somewhat similar to a pound cake, served with a drizzled strawberry sauce and a honey gelatoâ€”certainly not your standard spumoni. Coffee was French Press, served individually at your tableâ€”an especially delightful treat, as good as anything else on the menu.
Kalman is joined in his Union effort by partner Marie Petulla , the front of house manager, and George Pitsironis, a sommelier and wine consultant.
With this opening, Old Pasadenaâ€™s restaurant bar has just been significantly lifted, which can only bode well for the smart and aware foodie.
Union is at 37 E. Union St., Pasadena. (626) 795.5841. www.unionpasadena.com.