When Chef Bruce Kalman decamped from the kitchen at Union, Vetri alum Christopher Keyser stepped in without missing a beat. Following in the footsteps of a beloved chef is no easy task, but when the new person in charge has a clear culinary point of view along with the passion and skills to back it up, the results can be even better than before.
Although Chef Keyser has been in charge for the past year or so, I only recently got around to coming in for dinner with June and The Astronomer. The current menu feels familiar enough for regulars, smartly retaining crowd-pleasing favorites, but there’s new energy at every turn.
First up was the burrata served with pesto rosso, mixed herbs, and crostini ($16). While The Astronomer and I fought over the scratch-made cheese, June hogged the house-made bread.
Next up was the pitch-perfect peach panzanella ($15). Minimally fussed with just a bit of stracciatella and a honey-pepper vinegar, the ripened fruit shined the brightest.
Hitting a similar seasonal note was the Tamai strawberry salad with arugula pesto, pecorino, and pistachios ($15). It tasted of summer in the best way.
On the heartier end of the spectrum were the wild mushrooms atop Grist & Toll polenta ($22). Rich and earthy, it’s hard to imagine a more comforting dish.
And then there was the charred octopus ($20) served atop puddles of picada and lobster jus. The crispy salumi chips made for a killer garnish.
The three pastas that we shared this evening were nothing short of excellent. The squid ink lumache ($30), a remnant from the Kalman days, was as good as ever with plenty of Maine lobster, fennel, lemon, and truffle butter.
Brimming with sea urchin and mussels, the saffron linguine ($36) tasted like a love letter to Santa Barbara. I still can’t get its luscious sauce, fortified with sea urchin and sun-dried tomatoes, out of my head.
The torchetti ($26), a ridged and tubular canvas, came topped with a Calabrese pork ragu, a dollop of ricotta, crispy rosemary leaves, and best of all, an intense dried chili oil that the chef calls “pizza grease.” The spice hit The Astronomer and me like a ton of bricks and we couldn’t get enough of it.
We were pretty stuffed by the time the golden tilefish ($39) arrived, but we had to make room for the tender filet and bevy of fresh herbs, all complemented by a lemony light broth.
The final savory course of the night was the lamb al latte ($37), a soulful bowlful of tender shoulder braised in milk and seared ’til caramelized. Served alongside were roasted potatoes and arugula.
To finish, a trio of sweets including an olive oil cake, polenta pudding, and tart. The pudding had me at first bite, while The Astronomer and June loved the olive oil cake.
Our family dinner at Union was fantastic. From the impeccably sourced and hyper-local ingredients to the kitchen’s thoughtful execution, Union truly is a Pasadena gem.
37 Union Street
Pasadena, CA 91103
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Two years ago: Weekend Brunch at A-Frame – Los Angeles (Culver City)
Three years ago: Otium – Los Angeles (Downtown)
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Six years ago: Mumbai Ki Galliyon Se – Artesia
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Eleven years ago: Salcedo Community Market
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