Chef Bruce Kalman’s Union Pasadena in Old Town is good — not just good for Pasadena, but good for anywhere. That’s good news for Pasadena, but not so good for those of us who live nowhere near there.
No matter. You’ll want to try Union Pasadena’s food in any case. The menu by Kalman (The Misfit, Urbano Pizza Bar, The Churchill) is described as a “seasonally Californian interpretation of Northern Italian cuisine,” but all you need to know is you want all the pasta. Yes, the other dishes are tasty, too — pork meatballs with San Marzano tomatoes, lardo and caper berries, and wild mushrooms over Grist & Toll polenta topped with Pedro Ximenez sherry vinegar — but Kalman’s house-made pasta is where it’s at.
The spaghetti alla chitarra (pictured above), with San Marzano tomato, garlic and fresno chili pepper, is a classic kicked up a notch with a Californian ingredient. It’s simple and satisfying.
But when Kalman starts getting creative, that’s when he really shines. The squid ink garganelli served with lobster, fennel, meyer lemon and truffle butter is holy-moly good. The toothsome pasta sucks up all the flavors, including the richness of the lobster.
In keeping with the seasonal theme, some dishes in the pasta section change periodically. One of these seasonal dishes is a duck agnolotti with pickled fiddlehead ferns, another rich dish featuring expertly crafted pasta and two of my favorite ingredients.
When it comes to mains, don’t overlook the pork chops. It’s not a sexy cut of meat, but boy are Kalman’s juicy (that sounded really dirty, didn’t it?). The version I had with mushrooms, root vegetables, Marsala sauce and sage was the best I’ve had in recent memory.
I really wish Union Pasadena were closer to where I live, but that would just be selfish. I guess now I have a reason to make the “trek” to Pasadena.
Note: This meal was hosted.