Saturday, April 29, 2023

Bar Chelou (Pasadena, CA)

Bar Chelou Restaurant
37 S El Molino Ave, Pasadena, CA 91101
Sat 04/29/2023, 07:45p-10:55p

Bar Chelou Exterior

I last caught up with Doug Rankin back in late 2019 over at Bar Restaurant in Silver Lake. I quite enjoyed my meal there, and from what I understand, the place was pretty popular, but it sadly became a delayed victim of the pandemic, shuttering at the end of June 2022. I was curious about the Chef's next steps, so I was heartened to hear that he'd teamed up with Whole Cluster Hospitality (the folks behind Dunsmoor) to launch Bar Chelou. Named after a French word for "weird," the restaurant debuted in January, and calls itself a "neo-bistro," which I suppose means that it combines Rankin's French-based cookery with some distinctly global influences.

Bar Chelou Interior
Bar Chelou resides in the Pasadena Playhouse complex, taking over the former home of Dominique Crisp's Saso. Inside, things are pretty different courtesy of a revamp by Lovers Unite, the firm that penned Dunsmoor.

Bar Chelou Menu Bar Chelou Wine List Bar Chelou Cocktail List
Rankin's menu at Bar Chelou is fairly compact, and certainly seems to have a Spanish bent, with occasional Asian dalliances. Meanwhile, to drink, you get cocktails and an Old World-leaning wine list from Taylor Parsons (of Whole Cluster). Corkage is $30 with no limit, which is refreshing to see. Click for larger versions.

Clam Toast
Clam Toast [$13.00] | leeks, escabeche
Our meal got off to a promising start thanks to this first dish. The crux here was really the back-and-forth between those sweet, zippy leeks and the brine of the clams. It was a great pairing, one nicely moderated by that shattery bread.

Start With This
Start With This [$14.00] | rosé, campari, grapefruit, tarragon, hops
Given the name of this cocktail, we felt compelled to oblige. Think lots of juicy grapefruit, offset by just a bit of herbiness, with the signature bittersweetness of the Campari making itself known on the finish.

Crispy Potatoes
Crispy Potatoes [$12.00] | aonori, aïoli
Taters were superb texturally, arriving crispy and delicate on the outside, but with creamy, fluffy interiors. I loved the robust umami flavors imparted by the seaweed, while that aioli helped bring it all together.

Jimmie Roosevelt
Jimmie Roosevelt [$14.00] | cognac, green chartreuse, sparkling wine
This next cocktail made for a fitting apéritif. I got a crisp, apple-y sweetness right up front, commixed with the herbal flavors of Chartreuse, while the refreshing nature of the sparkling wine came through toward the back end.

Morcilla Cigars
Morcilla Cigars [$12.00] | apple vinegar
Delicately spiced, subtly sweet blood sausage arrived encased in thin pastry wrappers, making for a fun eating experience, especially when dipped into that tart, acidic sauce.

Dunhill [$14.00] | gin, sherry, dry vermouth, cointreau, absinthe
This cocktail just might've been my favorite of the bunch. I was a fan of how well the absinthe coalesced with the sweeter ingredients in the drink, while the sherry peeked through just enough to keep things interesting.

Sprouting Cauliflower
Sprouting Cauliflower [$10.00] | almonds, sichuan au poivre
Here we have the best course of the night, and the best sprouting cauliflower I've ever had. The key was how deftly the mala notes from the Sichuan pepper were incorporated into a traditional peppercorn sauce. It was a masterful pairing that I'd like to see more often, and one that combined perfectly with the smoky, bitter, crunchy cauliflower.

Brandy Crusta
Brandy Crusta [$14.00] | cognac, maraschino, cointreau, lemon
I don't think I've had a cocktail with such an aggressively crusted rim before, but said rim did contribute a sugary-spicy sensation that made sense with the bittersweet, nutty, fruity amalgam of Maraschino and cognac.

Scallop Tartare
Scallop Tartare [$17.00] | green garlic, meyer lemon, serrano, chips
The tartar was another winner. I loved how the fresh, grassy taste of green garlic meshed with the scallops, while the salt and crunch from those chips served as the perfect complement.

New Orleans Sazerac
New Orleans Sazerac [$14.00] | rye, cognac, absinthe
The quintessential New Orleans cocktail smelled strongly of herbs and absinthe, unsurprisingly. Tasting it, I got sweet, juicy, orchard fruit-like flavors that transitioned to a marked bittersweetness and more herbaceousness.

White Asparagus
White Asparagus [$13.00] | meyer lemon, brown butter, sesame, green onion
The asparagus was another favorite, coming out well-textured and displaying the sweet, earthy flavors I was looking for. However, what made this dish special was how the veggie combined with the richness of brown butter, while the scallion and sesame worked as clever counterpoints. I've never had asparagus done quite like this before--very neat.

Olivette [$14.00] | gin, st. germain, dry vermouth, peychaud's bitters
I was a fan of this next cocktail too, which was essentially like a dirty martini with some great floral nuances courtesy of the elderflower.

Snap Peas
Snap Peas [$15.00] | chistorra, cured egg yolk, anchovy
I'm a sucker for snap peas, and these were some mighty fine snap peas. The pods themselves were wonderfully bright and crunchy, matching up perfectly with the salty-spicy sausage crumbles and shaved yolks, all while that sauce tied it all together.

Old Fashioned
Old Fashioned [$16.00]
We'd made our way through most of the cocktail list by this point, and wanted something more robust for our main courses, and thus requested a couple classic drinks. The old fashioned was pretty much by-the-book, showing off the expected whiskey notes, but contrasted by touches of sweetness and spice.

Ibérico Pork Chop
Ibérico Pork Chop [$36.00] | cabbage, fennel pollen furikake
The pork chop was superb, and one of the best I've had in a while. The cut came out as juicy and tender as I wanted, with a robust char to boot. The loin was delicious alone, but was definitely taken up a notch by that delightful furikake-spiked cabbage.

Manhattan [$15.00]
Last to drink was my go-to classic cocktail these days. The nose here was all about cherried bittersweetness, while the palate demonstrated some brown sugar-esque flavors, tempered by herbal notes and the punch of Angostura.

Merguez [$25.00] | english pea tabbouleh, toum, feta
I have a hard time turning down sausage, and tonight was no exception. The merguez itself was delectably spiced, and very tasty by itself, but really sang when paired with the overtly garlicky kick from the toum, all while the peas helped smooth things out. Yum.

Brûléed Cheesecake
Brûléed Cheesecake [$14.00] | toffee date cake, spiced coffee anglaise
Dessert (from Pastry Chef Raymond Morales) was this smart riff on a cheesecake, one that did a great job incorporating the darker-toned flavors of toffee and dates, with the fragrantly-spiced crème anglaise serving to lighten the mood.

I was bummed at the loss of Bar Restaurant, but Bar Chelou is a more-than-worthy replacement. Indeed, Rankin is cooking at an even higher level here. His food is personal, beguiling, often surprising, generally fun, and just simply delicious, an exploration of Parisian "bistronomic" fare infused with a Los Angeles sensibility. I came out of the meal thinking: might this be the best place to eat in Pasadena?


Blogger H.Peter said...

An order of Merguez with a side of those crispy taters. Perfect.

Saturday, May 13, 2023 10:14:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Indeed. Sausage and potato--two of my favorite things to order!

Thursday, May 18, 2023 9:52:00 AM  

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