My friend Steve and I wanted to try a new place in our old hood for dinner. Old Town is an easy drive from both our homes, but it's also filled with lots of mediocre restaurants. My personal favorites are Parkway Grill which is consistently all gracious service and good food, Saldang (not Song) for good Thai in a nice atmosphere; and Akbar for smokin' Indian food (hellllllo Tandoori Chilean Sea Bass!). Other than those + a couple more, Old Town has a lot of good looking places that just don't have much substance. Kind of like Kelso on That 70's Show.....but not as funny.
I was perusing Citysearch under Pasadena and saw an ad for La Maschera. "Where on earth did that pop up from?" I wondered. I spend a lot of time in Pasadena and had never once heard of this place. Intrigued, I called and made a 7:30 pm reservation for Saturday night. It isn't on the main drag, but just north of it on Fair Oaks. I was eager with anticipation.
We arrived promptly at 7:30 pm and were seated immediately. The place was about 1/2 full- not bad for a new place, I thought. The tables and chairs are dark, rustic wood and the walls had various wrought iron designs on them. The lounge next door has a much cooler vibe, but the dining room is nice and cozy.
We were given water and a bread basket containing flat breads and regular French bread. The accompaniments were a tomato/basil/garlic bruschetta topping which was very good, and a thin, pink creamy-mayonnaisy looking thing. I tasted it with my flatbread and it just, well, didn't taste of anything in particular. When I asked the waiter what it was, he said it was pureed cannelloni beans, "no dairy at all." Apparently no seasoning at all, either. But I digress. After all, I didn't order it so who am I to complain?
After having a bottle of zinfandel opened, we decided to split three dishes to really get a taste of what they had going on at La Maschera. We started with the Gambaretti- a plate of sauteed Black Tiger Shrimp topped with a salsa of avacado and honey melon. We were presented with six large shrimp- quite a bargain considering that it was less than $9.00 and off the bar menu. The shrimp were good but something was strange- they were still slightly translucent. Steve and I ate them and they tasted good, but agreed afterward that we'd prefer the shrimp a bit more done. The chef probably tried a little too hard not to overcook shrimp- which no one likes! Overall, good flavors.
We got the next two dishes at the same time- Insalata Di Cesare, an "eggless" Ceasar salad w/ Croutons. We got the added grilled chicken. My friend doesn't like anchovies so in addition to the dressing being eggless, my little sea friends were missing as well. It was surprisingly good, but I missed the strong tang that anchovies bring to a Ceasar salad. It was served wedge style with slices of very tender chicken and a few croutons.
The last dish we got was the Pizza Al Prosciutto, a white pizza with mozzarella and sliced parma prosciutto. The crust was very, very thin, just the way I like it. It was topped with a conservative amount of cheese and thin slices of prosciutto. I loved this - it was almost like eating a snack. No gooey heavy pizza here. You could probably eat slices of this while walking on a treadmill or mopping the floor with one hand. Make sense? My only wish was that it could have been hotter. But again, overall flavor was good.
After dinner, we moved into the lounge area and had a couple of drinks. My friend ordered a cosmotini made with shoju since they have no hard liqour license. It was very tasty. The lounge is really the great space here- beautiful sconces line the walls and old black & white movies are projected onto a screen. Dim lighting and an enormous wine wall complete the mood. Would be great for a private party.
The verdict? With the prices being as reasonable as they are (bottle of wine, 3 plates = $60) I would go back for the pizza or to have a drink but it wouldn't be my destination restaurant for Italian food. I'd like to see how their pastas are next time.
(click on link below for photos)
La Maschera Ristorante & Enoteca
82 N Fair Oaks Ave
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