This is mostly a rave, with a minor rant.
For the attention span challenged, here is the bottom line:
Don't let the "bistro" in the name fool you. Bistro K is putting out some of the best high end French food with experimental California touches (some asian, some southwestern and mexican) in all of greater LA. Right up there with what Bastide did before the chef change, what Melisse and Grace do now, and better than many other aspiring A-list foodie joints like Sona.
The service, however, can't compare to any of those places.
Bistro K is in South Pasadena, occcupying an unbelievably small space within the corner of the local playhouse at Fremont and El Centro. Approximately 400 sq. ft is my guess - max seating capacity around 20. Very cozy. While I didn't see it, I must guess that the kitchen is miniscule, perhaps large enought to hold a 60 inch. professional stove/grill with two ovens, and maybe 2 or 3 chefs. Maybe.
They have no license, so BYOB is a must, but they charge no corkage. On top of the very modest pricing, this renders the place a steal.
The menu is your first tip off that this is no classic bistro.
Approximately 12 appetizers/salads, all in the $9-$13 range. The frisee salad with a beautiful tart dressing and a warm corn tamale topped with Selles-sur-cher french goat cheese and pomegranate seeds was delightful, as was the rolled Caeser salad wrapped in a tortilla (so much better than you think it sounds, and maybe the best Caeser I have ever had). My timbale of Dungeoness crab surrounded by a pistachio "mouse" (with fresh ginger?)and topped with a chive oil and a homemade pink grapefruit jelly was a spectacular show of disparate textures and flavors unfolding progressively and explosively in the mouth. My sole criteque is that there was perhaps a touch too much of the pistachio mousse for the amount of crab.
The entree menue is no less ambitious. Four fish/shellfish entrees and at least 10-12 meat/fowl/game entrees with none over $25. The halibut cheeks with lentil puree and a bunch of other accompaniments that have escaped my memory were delicious. The Cote de Beouf was transcendent, beautiful meat, perfectely roasted, with a delicious bacon and herb rub/crust and flavorful jus. The sides were unusual and totally successful. A salsify au gratin was delicous with fresh nutmeg (I think) boosting the complexity of flavor and straddling that fine line between the sweet and savory. A raw cabbage and garlic slaw was not at all sweet, but was instead slightly bitter and intensly pungent. But when consumed with a bite of the beef, its effect was startlingly transformative - the beef suddenly seemed twice as rich and silky, with the sweetness of the meat and the savoryness of the crust somehow amplified by the cabbage/garlic. Amazing. Finally, my braised wild boar shank had massive caveman appeal, and the red wine reduction sauce beneath it begged me to lick the plate. My side dishes of chesnut puree with pomegranate seeds and roasted wild mushrooms took the shank in two different directions, the one rich/earthy/sweet and the other rich/earthy/savory-smoky, both fantastic.
The apple tart tatin was perfection too.
Now for the bad. We were seated at 7:40 and appetizers/salads arrived around 8:15-8:20. The entrees, alas, did not arrive until more than an hour after the first set of plates was cleared, around 9:30-9:40. What obviously happened was that the kitcen got "slammed" by the dessert orders of a large table ahead of us and the appetize orders of another large table seated after us. But despite the obvious cause, and understandable lack of capacity in such a small kitchen, the wait was excessive and detracted quite a bit from the experience. In an ideal world, they would schedule their seatings/reservations such that they could manage their capacity and output.
The lone waitress and busboy did a fine job, but obviously such modest staffing and tight seating can't compete with the likes of larger more established restaurants. In this aspect, it was "bistro."
Ultimately, I highly, highly recommend Bisto K, but with the caveat that unless the above described wait is fine with you, you might wish to visit on a weeknight or if dining on a weekend, try to be part of the first seating.
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