Sunday, March 07, 2010

An Old Pasadena foodgasm


I did something unusual today. My wife and I took a food tasting tour of Old Pasadena offered by Melting Pot Food Tours. I had visions of geriatric Midwesterners shuffling along while complaining about bunions. Boy was I wrong. I had a blast. The tour was fun, the food was high quality goodness, and the tour guide Mike knew his city history well enough to make our walk together fun. That’s Mike on the left explaining the history and virtues of Opera Cake prepared by Aux Delices.

DSC_5627 Foodgasms are rare. We enjoyed several today. The first was a surprisingly good torta from Tortas Pasadena at 90 N. Fair Oaks Ave.  The No. 1 asada ($5.95) was perfectly seasoned, juicy, and layered together with succulent jalapeno peppers, onions, avocado, and of course, beans. It may not look like much in the picture, but I was willing to fight for another taste. Heck, I even ate my wife’s jalapeno.

DSC_5639 Father Nature Lavash Wraps and More (Yelp) on 17 N. Delacey was an interesting stop. My initial impression was typical Middle Eastern food, but then Mike started talking about lunch time lines down the block and a long history of happy customers. I suspended my initial impression long enough to try the Falafel, I had another foodgasm… It’s on the menu as No. 35 Side of Falafel(3) for $3.oo. I could have ate a dozen. As I left I said to myself, “remember that taste.” I intend to use it as my benchmark.

DSC_5651 Melting Pot Food Tours is relatively new. They offer the Pasadena food tasting tour and a Farmers Market/3rd Street food tasting walking tour in Mid-city Los Angeles. Our tour guide mentioned plans for an additional tour in Long Beach. At $49 per person and a suggested $8 tip, it makes for a fun mini excursion. I’ll do it again. Heck, I'll do it as soon as I can. This was fun. I highly recommend it to locals and visitors alike. And don’t worry about needing to be in good shape. The walk is leisurely with frequent breaks… to eat. 

DSC_5649 My favorite stop on the tour was the Equator Restaurant and Bar at 25 Mills Place (Yelp). It serves Dim Sum on Saturday and Sunday. Based of the quality of the food I tasted today, I plan to return with my foodie friends as soon as possible. Plus, it’s pretty close to the highly addictive Burke Williams spa, so I am sure my wife and her posse will pay a visit. The Equator Basil Migon ($9 lunch) ranks as one of the best fusion dishes I’ve ever tried. The DSC_5647Chicken pot stickers ($6) hardly registered on my palate because of my Basil Migon foodgasm, yet when judged on their own merit they were delicious. Equator ranks as a double foodgasm. When you add in the beautiful interior, I’d say it made the whole tour worth while. Except I’d be lying – the next experience was even better.

DSC_5678 I scratched my head when our tour entered Beyond the Olive, an olive oil and balsamic vinegar shop. I did not see how we could taste olive oil besides dipping it with bread. Again, I was so wrong. We were offered small cups of olive oil to sip. Bread was available, but I abandoned all desire to dip after my first taste. When we moved on to balsamic vinegar, something I have never enjoyed, I was shocked at the pleasant taste of an 18 year old vintage. This place blew me away. Owners Chip & Crystal Reibel have a hit on their hands. I sampled a few more delicious samples in their bulk items area. My wife and I shared that look that says, we’ve got to come back here. It was a liquid foodgasm.

One of the things Beyond the Olive helped me with was a Food Channel problem I’ve had with balsamic vinegar. The TV hosts often talk about drizzling good balsamic vinegar over ice cream. Every time I’ve seen this I’ve recoiled at the idea. Now I crave it.

DSC_5726 The only place I did not enjoy was The Nepal House on 171 N. Raymond (Yelp). The food was too salty for my taste. As we nibbled their offering in the light rain, my wife noticed a sign that read, We Serve Yak Meat. I’ve never had yak. I plan to return to try it, just so I can cross it off my list.

Mike told us they serve an all you can eat buffet on the weekends. We stood outside to sample their cuisine while peering in to a seating area that was packed with people, but I must say, they were mostly older folks. I think we found Pasadena’s favorite geriatric eatery. The best way I can describe the food is that is similar to Indian food but less spicy.

DSC_5731 There were other visits, including some unbelievably good award wining gelato from Tutti Gelati (Yelp). Refreshing tea from Bird Pick Tea & Herb (Yelp), and lightly fragrant soap from The Soap Kitchen (sensory tasting). But we ended with the best, chocolate from Mignon Chocolate Boutique. I ordered the no sugar added almond dark chocolate and almost died of happiness. It was so unexpectedly good. Those of you who can’t eat sugar will understand. My wife liked her chocolate sample so much we came home with a box. It was that good.

DSC_5701 The tour was a great combination of learning about our local history in a city that is unknown to me, walking in warm sunshine and light rain, and having an opportunity to meet new people while trying new foods and enjoying the good things in life. But most importantly, to me at least, it was a chance to relax after a stressful week at work. I’ll do it again as soon as I’m able.  I owe my wife, who suggested this to her skeptical husband, I big thank you.