Apparently a new chef arrived a few months ago (and an ownership shake-up just before that). Wandered in last night after a few years, in the mood for a quiet, nice meal in Pasadena w/o a reservation at 7 on a Saturday night. Ergo, Derek's! As with previous visits, I really want to love this place - they've been trying hard for years, are in a crazy strip-mall location, but found it sort of maddeningly uneven.
First off, the menu seems pretty much the same, a few meat items, a chicken, a fish, similar/same salads/apps (incl. seared foie gras, which I didn't try). We ordered a couple drinks from the bar (old fashioned/vodka tonic) and started with the seared scallops. This was one of several seared dishes. Someone likes to sear.
Amuse came out, a salmon mini-croquette and a single tortilla chip with bell pepper salsa and fresh guac. Chomp, Mmm. Chomp, Mmm. So far so good. I don't remember seeing croquettes too often, so maybe they'll make a much-deserved comeback? Deep-fried mix of fish and batter, basically.
Scallops were excellent. Maybe seared in butter? Plated over mint-pea sprout risotto, all perfectly prepared, well-balanced.
Wife is a sucker for burgers so she got the $18 Waygu burger with house-made chips, the thinnest potato strings on the planet, sprinkled with fresh parsley. An 18-dollar burger offends my sensibilities, and had some sort of aoli on it, so I forgot to taste, but she declared it the best burger she could remember; super juicy, flawless bun.
Halibut was a special, so after ordering the duck (which I'd had in the past), I quickly changed it, and shouldn't have. This arrived, again, on risotto (billed as "eggplant risotto" but it was basically the stuff from the scallop app, I think, with some undercooked eggplant mixed in). The fish might have been waiting for the burger to cook, as it was dry around the entire surface (yeah, I flipped it over), and whatever salt had been sprinkled on it had soaked down into the fish. It had also been frozen as far as I could tell, but I didn't confirm this, so might have just been cooked too long. I have had fresh halibut though, and find it transcendent. This wasn't. Served with an orange-y sauce, which was ok, but geez, for a really expensive cut of fish, give me a slice of lemon and we're good. A few spears of asparagus seemed unnecessary, but were unoffensive.
Finished up with a couple decafs, which were freshly made - whew!
All came to $120 plus tip (i had two drinks). So I dunno. Yeah, I'll come back, Pasadena dining being what it is. The place was nearly deserted, and it shouldn't be. The service was flawless, the folks running it are just nice and hard-working (think, the opposite of Kitchen Nightmares), but next time, I guess I'll get that duck.