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Derek's in Pasadena and LAs best restaurants

Griller141 | Feb 25, 2004 11:20 PM

Trying to wash the sour taste of a recent Patina visit out of my mouth, I consulted the Zagat guide for equivalent food-rated restaurants. Two restaurants rated 28 - Matusisha and Katsu-ya. I have been to both and have to say they are acquired tastes [though I reserve a soft place for Matsuhisa for having had the Rochioli Chardonnay until I bought up their whole stock over several visits - food in the Omakase room must require a better palate than mine]).
Nineteen rated 27. I appreciate the accuracy of Zagat's correspondents with regard to Melisse, Sona, Josie, Saddle Peak, Bistro 45, Joe's, and Chinois on Main. Disagreements re Water Grill, Campanille, Valentino, and Bastide may be more a reflection of me than the restaurants. With regard to the execrable Patina, all I want to know about the review in this month's LA Magazine is how much the reviewer got paid for the puff piece by the Patina Group (though, as the Patina reply to my recent review indicated, this is probably my fault for having an uneducated palate). Have never been to Sushi Sasabune or Nozawa, Mori, or Gina Lee's.
Two of the 19 restaurants with a 27 rating are in Pasadena - Bistro 45 and Derek's. No qualms with Bistro 45, though I don't think I would give more than a 25 or 26.
Derek's is an interesting place, rated above Spago (vehemently disagree), L'Orangerie, and Diaghilev, among others.
Arrived on a stormy night, with "Stormy Weather" playing on the sound system. Very much at leisure waiter was having a great time chatting up the customers and tasting offered wines. This place is a balm to the spirit for those of us who follow the food temples of LA. Relaxed, knowlegable, and very comfortable. Tasting menu focuses on lighter preparations (Giant shrimp, poached fish, game hen, cheese platter, "any dessert").
Opted for the beet salad and Wild Mushroom and Smoked Bacon Bouchee (not sure what a bouchee is, but a wild mushroom tart would be a fair description). Essence of red and golden beet with some goat cheese on the side; interferes with good wine because of prominent vinegar presence. Bouchee was classic deep essence of beef stock with smokey, pungent mushrooms on a crispy puff pastry.
Unique Beef Wellington was bland to my taste, but partner thought it was silky and complex with competent duxelles and pastry. The duck had an exquisite wild cherry cabernet sauce and was robust in meaty flavor. Both were well complemented by the Chase Zinfandel suggested by the waiter. This is made from one of the Turley Vineyards and has a more elegant finish but is 1/2 the price of the low end Turleys (about $55). The bottle we got was a little corky,but I was willing to go with it. Upon tasting it, the waiter declared it "corked", though the wine was 2001 and the cork looked fine, and insisted on bringing another bottle. Much to my surprise the replacement was much better - clean, complex, very accessible, and with no "cork" (our tip reflected my gratitude).
Dessert was good though I can't recall it in detail - apple - bread pudding with raspberry glaze. Spanish brandy at $6 per glass was no XO Cognac, but was most pleasant - cognac presence with a sherry-like character. Waiter seemed to know his dessert beverages.
Ambience was ultra comfortable (I suppose the pouring rain outside didn't hurt), service unrushed and plesant. After a fleecing at Patina, this place restored my faith in the City's restaurant possibilities. Maybe not a 27, but certainly worth a special trip.

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