Pasadena: All the Pastas and More at Union Restaurant
Union restaurant in Pasadena sits on Union, a quiet street behind the all the going ons of Old Town Pasadena. Chef Bruce Kalman is a partner in the restaurant and his menu is a list of small plates, pastas and “big enough to share” entrees. Chef Bruce tries to make as much as possible in house including some of the cheeses. Union is also open for lunch. Pick up sandwiches, salads, sides, sweets and beverages to make your own picnic.
Long time readers of The Minty might have gleaned I have a meatball obsession. The pork meatballs were perfect. I took some leftovers home and the meatballs were still my favorite.
How to make people happy- put a beautiful egg on a dish. Boom, you got this asparagus and artichoke salad that was already tasty with Meyer lemon and peccorino made even more awesome with the egg addition.
Mussels? So good. Mussels with guanciale (cured pork jowl) is even better. Make sure you save some of your bread from the must-order bread and giardiniera to dip into the broth. Chef Bruce’s giardiniera was really wonderful but I expect no less from the master pickler.
The lamb lasagne with baby artichokes was a crowd favorite. It’s definitely for those who enjoy a lot of filling with their lasagne.
I thought the ricotta crostini was very much like breakfast with braised bacon and a duck egg. And your “toast” was the crostini served with house-made ricotta.
Many at the table loved the spelt cavatelli. I found the pasta just a bit too hearty for me. Normally I love brown rice and other grains for their nutty flavors but spelt can be challenging for those who are used to smooth pastas and white rice. Still, it’s worth trying as the arugula pesto was fantastic.
The tagliatelle with a ragu made from pork head and shoulder meats was extremely comforting.
The farroto with spring onions aka ramps, was killer.
One of the best presented pastas was the spaghetti alla chitarra. The sauce was exactly how I like tomato sauces; simple and tasting of fresh garlic. It’s another dish that tastes even better the next day.
A sumptious pasta was the duck agnolotti. I love fiddlehead ferns and this was a great pasta. I could see getting this and perhaps a salad to start as a simple meal.
A great vegetarian option was the orecchiette primavera with more of the wonderful house-made ricotta and fresh vegetables. I loved the combination of pea tendrils and fava beans.
My favorite of all the pastas was the squid ink garganelli with lobster. The slippery texture was wonderful and was like silk whispers in your mouth.
If parents had cooked Brussels sprouts with bacon like Chef Bruce does, there would be more people who love Brussels sprouts. I also enjoyed the crunch of pistachio and the PX vinegar.
One of my favorite fish is black cod. Chef Bruce told us his secret to grilling great fish. Cook it skin side down and just leave it alone. Served with purple barley, it was a healthy and complete dish.
A more indulgent dish was the spring lamb served with the most buttery, creamy polenta ever.
I loved this polenta so much!
While we enjoyed the porchetta, I was intrigued by Chef Bruce’s description of a special they run occasionally. Union occasionally gets suckling pig. If you see it, grab an order. I can imagine it being as good as the porchetta with the crispy skin.
A beautiful vegetable was the cauliflower agro dulce with capers, golden raisins, candied garlic and thyme. The cauliflower almost seemed pickled with a slight tartness.
Could we leave without dessert? Of course not. We got all four available that night including the olive oil cake with a cara cara orange reduction, almonds and honeycomb crema. I loved the fact pastry chef Crystal Espinoza had foraged the mandarinquats that were thinly sliced used to garnish the cake. It was a great cake that wasn’t too sweet. It was my favorite dessert.
On the other hand, the chocolate budino was indulgent that was also not too sweet.
I learned about the Italian habit of dipping biscotti into vin santo, a dessert wine. This might be better than coffee!
We also had the delicate Meyer lemon panna cotta with pickled strawberries.