After the uniform pans on this board ("inedible", "watery drinks", "over sauced...", etc - see link below) I have put off a return visit to this place for the past two years. It had been a great place in the past but changed owners several years ago and, I was led to believe, deteriorated to worse than trash. Untrue, at least when everything is taken into account.
Pleasant oasis along the wild traffic of the 134 between Figueroa and Linda Vista. Welcoming entrance and a greeter who seemed genuinely glad to see us. Reservations honored despite a full house (on a Wednesday).
If you can avoid the three table banquette, the seats are comfortable and adequately spaced. Orders taken quickly and happily. In fact, happy seems to be the order of the day here: locals stopping in to a "Cheers" like ambience for drinks, families and salespeople alike sharing the small dining area with lots of between table conversations and comparisons.
The drinks are certainly not watered down; although not the triples seen in some places, they are also not triple priced. Bartender is right there in the middle of the place happily shaking away in his bow tie.
At 7pm an elderly man saunters in, but instead of going to the bar he sits down at the piano and immediately launches into one of the nicest medlies I have heard in years. He effortlessly reels off a stream of show tunes and old favorites. But unlike most of the honkey tonk players in restaurants, he has a sure grasp of the material and seems to be thrilled by the chance to interpret it. The left hand (bass) is extraordinary -ranging from the grumbling quality of Liszt and Chopin to the vertiginous street syncopation of Gershwin, to the abstract mechanics of George Winston. I rarely notice background music in restaurants, and often resent it, but this guy is different. The place became more animated and friendly and the atmosphere went from Pasadena to BH, and at times was reminiscent of a sophisticated Midtown Manhattan retreat. The Italian waiter was so cheerful and enthusiastic about whatever you ordered that it was hard not to catch the infectious merriment.
The food is competent - fresh swordfish with a nonintrusive lemon-caper sauce;veal with porcini (you have to ask). Salads and pastas are about what you could do at home - though lately this qualifies as not bad - and the desserts are probably store bought. Prices are no bargain - many entrees are $25 - probably $7 or $8 too much.
Wines are also competent - a servicable Barbera for $8 (generous pour) and other Italians are ok with the food but probably not anything you would drink by themselves.
Total for two with wine and drinks $104 before tip. For the evening we had I consider this a bargain - and without the hassles of a theater, etc.
This is a great neighborhood place to go for a good time. You won't get any food bargains or revelations, but none are promised, and neither will you be disappointed. If you live in the neighborhood and don't need a foodie experience, you could do much worse.
And I have recently frequently done a lot worse in this area.
I have avoided posting on the last three places I went in Pasadena because I had nothing good to say. This is different.
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