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Monday, February 25, 2008

Vertical Wine Bistro: Calamari Time

I'm not much of a bar hopper, but when I do drink, I look for a place where food is as good as the wine choices. Also important are comfortable chairs, good lounge music, laid-back vibe and most importantly, not having to fight with 20 other people decked out in black elbowing their way to a drink at the bar (Edison, anyone?).

I should also say I don't like the bars much in LA compared to ones in NY, only because they seem to lack a certain edge, quaintness as well as indescribable coolness factor. I'm not talking velvet rope. I detest that. But I think I found at least one wine bar I like in Pasadena, Vertical Wine Bistro.

Sure, it's overpriced ($15 for unremarkable braised garlic chicken!). You pay for the ambiance and decent food. The star of the night was hands-down the fried calamari with apple aioli and lemon. I don't think I've had calamari in LA that's crispier and fluffier on the outside. It was also just chewy enough on the inside without being gummy. Because the batter was so ethereal, it almost felt like guilt-free fried food. I could hardly taste the apple in the aioli but the garlic in the mayo dip was good enough for me.

Another nice feature is the bar's 17 wine and champagne samplers. They are called "flights" and range from 3 Sauvignon Blanc sampler for $16 to 3 Northern Italy sampler for $26. There is an extensive by-the-glass wine list and other cocktails or drinks available. The sparkling wine sampler was fun. I'd like to try the fortified wine sampler sometime as I love port, although not so much with savory food.

The delicious arugula and pear salad with goat cheese (the hard kind) and toasted hazelnuts tempered the heavier fried calamari very well. It was simultaneously crunchy and refreshing. Less impressive were the grilled cheese sandwiches, which came in all-too-sweet raisin walnut toast bread that took away from any hint of the gooey cheese. Big distraction. The braised garlic chicken was nothing special. The grilled wild salmon with lentils and bacon was a tad fishy, but the flavorful lentils were cooked just right, as was the bacon. Then again, anything tastes better with bacon.

As the name suggests, the entrance takes you up to the second floor where a cozy lounge area, bar and separate restaurant side await. The service is even and crowd very casual. Let's just say you won't run into young hollywood in this joint. One thing management could train staff better on is to avoid pressuring patrons by asking multiple times whether staff could clear the table when we weren't finished with the dishes. I felt unnecessarily rushed.

Vertical Wine Bistro
70 N. Raymond Ave
Pasadena, CA 91103


omurice said...

another good thing about vwb: relatively mixed crowd of younger and older folks, professionals, students, normal people, etc.

maybe there are fewer "cool" drinking places in la la land, because we're less stressed and into more healthy alternatives like super torta!

phasmatidae said...

Dude, New York bars totally suck. In a way it's funny to look at all of these hipster peacocks trying to cram themselves all into the same place. But if someone doesn't derive a lot of pleasure in the feeling that they are select members of "the scene" -- personally driving culture forward simply with their dress, then NY bars are simply way too crowded with the same drinks and food as everywhere else. Nothing beats the popcorn and pizza-from-across-the-street of Albatross in Berkeley...

ironchef442 said...

what bars have you been hanging out at? clearly you've been going to the wrong NY watering holes. i dislike those crammed places as much as you do. the beauty of *some* NY bars is that you can easily find bars that don't have attitude and aren't crammed at all. like APT in meatpacking district that i used to go to a few years ago.