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Bistro 541

Griller141 | May 26, 200411:31 PM

Questions on this board got me interested in this place. Tried it tonight.
Located on the croner of Green and Madison (541 E Green) in Pasadena. Parking is on your own - there are lots nearby. It's the practice venue for the Pasadena School of Culinary Arts.
Decor is pleasant - an older building with an open kitchen. You can watch about a dozen students, many seemingly in their late teens, but others well into middle age - alternately stand around and gossip and then spring into simultaneous action when an order is received. The eminence gris - the head chef/instructor - is also young, and physically imposing - reminiscent of an NFL offensive lineman.
Menu is extremely innovative - self consciously so. Every dish has at least four ingredients, and also includes pastas/risottos/purees/sauces. Everything seems topped with baby celery - nice, but it wears thin after a while.
Delightful amuse bouche of a single chanterelle mushroom in a balsamic infusion.
Appetizers of heavily (and deliciously) charred shrimp also in a balsamic reduction; scallops on porcini risotto (perfectly crunchy) with a savory brown sauce.
Butter baked lobster was delectable, but not very warm; lots of unusual decorations. Ahi tuna, perfectly seared, but also not warm, with a melange of flavors in the sauce - too many for me to remember. Surprisingly, most of the main courses were the same size or smaller than the appetizers - at twice the price.
Very nice banana/chocolate/bourbon/creme anglais souffle.
Wines are much better than usual, with extensive by the glass selections - and variable pours. The reds get you nearly three times the amounts of the whites. Unusual viogniers, pinot grises, lots of pinot noirs, and some unique combination whites.
Service is endearingly self conscious: shy students anxiously presenting their creations, but also professional waiters offering free wine samples.
All in all, no bargain, but one of the most fun venues in the area. Go for the food adventure and the thrill of watching the students. Just like great music, it is easier to appreciate the nuances when you see inexperienced performers. Don't expect refined elegance or finely honed preparations.
$80 per person with wines, tip, taxes.

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