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Restaurants & Bars 4

Naya - Review (quite long)

MRClark | Jan 17, 200508:54 PM

After reading Chowhound for quite some time, I finally have felt compelled to post. Thank you all for your great insight over the years.

My husband and I went to Naya last night. We did not make reservations, just hoped they would have room on a Sunday night, and they did. Restaurant was not quite half full at 8pm.

Let me get to the punch line - it was terrific! And, as Pasadena residents, we are grateful to have such a restaurant here. There is no other restaurant in the Pasadena area like it. Derek's has similarly good food but is CONSIDERABLY more expensive and without the hip look and vibe. We also like Bistro K quite a lot but it does not have the atmosphere or level of service either.

We went to chef Scooter Kanfer's The House probably a handful of times. Naya is much more sophisticated but still has an emphasis on comforting food at excellent prices with great wine finds.

Service was very lovely - solicitous but not obsequious if the waiter seemed still a bit tentative. We are slow decision makers and the maitre d/GM/sommelier came by to see if he could help with our wine selection (we hadn't even looked at the list yet) but we took advantage of his presence, told him our food choices (veal shank for me and bass for my husband - more below,) and he recommended a lovely Cotes du Rhone (Signac '99) that was just $30.

The amuse arrived - a torchon of foie gras on a yummy, eggy slice of brioche. It was topped with a (poached? marinated? sauteed?) slice of strawberry. At two bites' worth, just right.

Four choices of small breads and rolls - walnut, olive, rosemary and mini-baguette. I found the olive unexplicably hard but my husband loved the walnut.

The waiter then came by to apologize that the kitchen was running behind so he brought out a complimentary serving of the chef's signature mac n cheese which is available as an appetizer. We did not feel like we had been kept waiting but we were prepared for a leisurely evening. Neither of us could figure out what the fuss was about this dish. Kanfer uses a variety of white cheeses and tops it with (IMO) too many very fine, crispy breadcrumbs. Certainly not bad, but nothing special.

I started with the sweetbread salad ($12) - a take on a salade lyonnaise with frisee, a perfectly soft-cooked egg, crispy sauteed sweetbreads and a wonderful mustard vinaigrette that had the right amount of acidity without being vinegary. Nice complement to the creamy and rich sweetbreads and warm egg yolk.

My husband wanted to start with the pumpkin soup with duck and shisito pepper relleno but they were out of it. He quickly went to his second choice of lemon pepper risotto ($9). Timing for a risotto appetizer must be difficult (could this be why they were behind or perhaps it was several parties of 4 or so who were having the tasting menu). Risotto was perfectly al dente and really tasted of lemon and black pepper - not a combination I had had before. I really liked it (but I love lemon.) My husband felt the crispy fried onions on top were too plentiful.

It was hard to choose entrees as they all sounded good. I had the veal shank ($24) which came with spaetzle, dried plums and baby fennel in a vanilla-laced sauce. A small spoon was provided for the marrow. I loved it! It could have been cloying but wasn't. The veal and spaetzle melted in your mouth but the fennel gave some crispness and the plums some chewiness.

My husband had the wild striped bass ($26) served with merguez sausage, cockles in a romesco sauce. We couldn't identify all the flavors but it was also a hit.

The only downside was that the portions were so generous that we had no room to keep going (or could it have been the mac n cheese?). We wistfully watched a cheese cart go by - no one has a cheese course in Pasadena and what a price ($7 for three, selection of five also offered but I don't remember the price)! The table of four next to us had the tasting menu and they were served a selection of all of the desserts. They're fancifully presented with monkey cookies standing in some. Lots of favorable sounds came from them as they shared.

We were then presented with two dishes of candies and mignardises - mini cream puffs filled with lemon or chocolate and a variety of mini lollipops, chocolates and cookies.

We asked the waiter how long they had been open and he said about two weeks. He reported that they had a gala opening the night before. Anybody go?

I asked whether there were any plans to have the very affordable Sunday night dinners (set menu, sides served family style) like at The House. He said there were plans for a variety of special dinners including wine dinners.

It appears that a fair amount of money went into this restaurant. In the middle of Old Town, it's an odd location given the mediocrity found on Colorado. There was nice stemware, nice silver service (fish forks and knives for the bass), soft lighting and a bar with cruvinet (a la AOC) that seats maybe 8 or so. Waiter said there was a separate bar menu. We asked if the cheeses were available at the bar and he said, not generally, but it would depend on how busy they were. I did see someone with wine and a plate of cheese sitting there.

Please join us in patronizing this place. Looks like a great place for a glass of wine and some snacks (homemade potato chips and olives on the bar) as well as a delicious, imaginative and (given the quality of food, atmosphere and service) quite reasonable dinner.

Total tab was $109 + tip.

Link: http://www.nayadining.com

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