Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Everyone Deserves a Third Chance: Mike and Anne's, South Pasadena

J and I get excited every time a new restaurant opens around our neighborhood. As avid dining-outers (isn't that what you call them?) we do have several favorites in regular rotation like Z Sushi, Briganti and Cafe Beaujloais, but it's nice when a new candidate moves in. Nothing wrong with adding a few more good restaurants into the mix.

Unfortunately, more often than not the new restaurant doesn't really impress and we're left to make repeat visits to our favorites that always please. I know- you should give each new dining establishment at least three of even four tries before giving up, but it's difficult to plunk down the dough when the crust just doesn't cut it. Er, wait- well you know what I mean. Why go back when you can be guaranteed a good meal at one of your regular joints? Because everyone deserves a second, third or even fourth chance, don't they? Especially a restaurant, which can go through several evolutions before finally hitting a stride that will put them in the running to become Someone's Favorite Restaurant.

About a year ago, J and I were in South Pasadena (only a stone's throw away from our 'hood) getting sandwiches at Buster's when we noticed a new restaurant opening a few doors down. The next week, we made our first visit to Mike and Anne's. As you can see by this post, it didn't impress and we left, disappointed. Of course we did take into consideration that it had just opened, but the space was so open and beautifully decorated that I suppose we expected more. About a month later we returned, only to be disappointed once again. There wasn't anything "wrong" with the food; it just didn't jump out at us in any way. The menu seemed incomplete and didn't offer many choices so we pretty much gave up on it.

Fast forward to last week. We wanted to go out to eat, stay close to home and I, in particular, wanted onion rings. That craving was put aside, however, since we didn't feel like going to a fast food joint and didn't want to make a second trip to The Coffee Table that weekend (we had been for brunch earlier). I suppose I always crave onion rings but don't eat them so I was used to being without. After vetoing Firefly (never had a good evening meal there- only brunch), Bistro De La Gare (wasn't in the mood) and Beaujolais (we go too often) we decided to give Mike and Anne's another shot........if just for the simple reason that we wanted to go somewhere different!

We were surprised (the first of several surprises, my friends) upon our arrival to see the place packed - on a Sunday evening no less. We managed to get a two-top inside (the patio was crowded as well) regardless and once again remarked at how lovely the space was. It's all wood and minimal touches- very clean. Our very friendly waitress informed us of the new Spring menu, took our wine order and left us to figure out what to order.

And what to my wandering eyes did appear......but a miniature sleigh and eight tiny.....wait, no......ONION RINGS! The second fabulous surprise of the night! I didn't need to review the list of tasty-sounding appetizers any longer as I knew I'd start with a side order of my favorite fried veggie! I know I may sound waaaay too excited - I mean after all, this is a common food- but in a fine dining establishment that had twice disappointed me? Hooray! I quickly forgot about the past and focused on my new future with Mike and Anne's. J decided to get the Asparagus Bisque w/ Brioche Croutons and Extra Virgin Olive Oil to start and the Jidori Organic Chicken Breast w/ Fingerling Potato, Mushrooms, Green Beans and Bacon, With Red Wine Sauce. Although I was ecstatic about my onion ring find, I was secretly hoping to try the soup so I was glad he ordered it. I opted for the Basil Risotto with Baby Spring Vegetables and Parmesan after spying the gorgeous green dish being devoured by someone at a nearby table.

Onion rings= fried rings of onion= true love

The appetizers came first, and they certainly didn't disappoint. Actually, they knocked our socks off. The onion rings were piping hot, and although I prefer my rings extra, EXTRA burnt/crispy, these certainly kicked the craving. The coating was substantial enough but not bready, and had a nice crunch to them. I wasn't too crazy about the accompanying Apricot Mustard but the Cranberry Ketchup was delicious. J's asparagus bisque was, well, Spring in a bowl and full of bright yet creamy flavor. The croutons and light drizzle of olive oil completed the perfect execution of this simple but refined soup.

Asparagus soup.....light yet creamy, and very green

The mains were just as delightful. J's chicken was perfectly tender and the mushrooms and potatoes were meaty and satisfying. Once again, the flavor and seasoning were spot on. If J's asparagus bisque was Spring in a bowl, then my basil risotto was Spring on a plate. Each al dente grain of rice was coated in the vibrant green of aromatic basil, and each baby carrot, turnip, summer squash zucchini and tomato were tender and succulent. J and I ate and just looked at each other like "Why didn't we return here sooner?!" The bread pudding we shared for dessert was a bit too dense for my taste but then again- it was warm, topped with cool vanilla gelato and drizzled with chocolate sauce, so who can really complain?

J's chicken= succulent= flavorful= he nuked the leftovers the next day in the plastic container which melted all over the chicken = darn!!!

Basil risotto= fresh= delicious= love the mini veggies

It's clear that the owners work extremely hard- it's obvious in the nature of their servers, the cleanliness and organization of the space and the quality of the food. We saw one of the owners (Mike?) meticulously wiping down wine glasses and checking for spots before hanging them from the rack. Watching him work in such a focused manner actually made me feel badly that I had once deemed the place unworthy of another visit, but made me happy that I did eventually find my way back. It was a good learning experience to try and try again when it comes to newer restaurants. Getting surprised by a restaurant is such a rare thing these days, but Mike and Anne's handed us many pleasant ones that night.

Bread pudding = sweet, but not too sweet, ending to our meal

I'll be returning!

Mike and Anne's
1040 mission street, suite 102
South Pasadena, CA


Erin S. said...

I left a note on chowhound, but will repeat here: glad to hear it was good. I've only been once (about 6-7 months ago) and had a similar experience to your first two times--nothing bad, but pretty boring. South Pas is a favorite neighborhood of mine--maybe i'll return to this spot after my haircut (ecco's the best) Sat AM.

BaddAss MisterJ said...

The other great thing about this place, and the reason why that outdoor patio is always packed, is the particular beer they have on tap. It's from a local private brewery in Pasadena, CA and I have a habit of only going to restaurants and establishments that serve this beer on tap. I even call there first to see what they have on tap, and if they don't have any, I don't go. On two occasions, I have sat down on the patio, and ask what they have on tap from Craftsman Brewing Co. and if they say they ran out, I say thank you and I leave. Thank GAWD they serve Craftsman Brew on tap at Mission Wine down the street! I plan my meals around their great beers! I also like to test the staff on thier knowledge of pairing THIS beer w/ their foods.