Saturday, January 30, 2010
Last December, I was invited by PR Rep, Dan Cox, to attend the Grand Opening Party for Ixtapa Cantina in Old Town Pasadena. Owner Jack Huang seems to be building a Pasadena restaurant empire because he also owns Bar Celona and Villa Sorriso and they're all on Colorado Boulevard. This was my first time visiting this space since I've never been to either Fred's Cantina or Moose McGillicuddy's, which were previous tenants.
The restaurant is quite roomy and I could see it as a good event space, with a good size bar and plenty of stools and tables on either side of the bar. There's a main dining area across from the bar that extends towards the back. Towards the back, there's a raised floor that's sectioned off with additional seating. There's even an upstairs area with both a balcony and a second bar that allows you to check out what's happening on the ground floor.
Drinks and food were hosted by Ixtapa Cantina. At the beginning of the evening, the wait staff were serving appetizers, which included both beef and chicken taquitos, cheese quesadilla and ceviche on a tortilla chip.
Towards the back of the restaurant, a buffet was set up where you could sample some of the items on their menu, including their Birria (braised short rib) that were made into tacos, their Mole Chicken, Carnitas as well as a few other items.
Having eaten in Mexico more than once as well as some of LA's more "authentic" restaurants like La Casita Mexicana and Moles La Tia as well as street food like the stands at Breed Street (which are no longer there) and the Oaxacan Quesadilla Cart, I've definitely had my share of mind-blowing Mexican food. The food at Ixtapa Cantina is far from mind blowing, but based on what I tried that night, it was solid and well-prepared. As part of the evening, I was also invited along with some other guests to do a little mini crawl of Bar Celona and Villa Sorriso where we'd be able to sample more food and either cocktails or wines. I ended up just going to Bar Celona.
At Bar Celona, we were introduced to the concept of a Pop Up Bar by Michael Dozois, Co-Founder of Névé Luxury Ice Company. Basically, the idea is the same as a Pop Up Restaurant, where a bartender or bartenders would take over a bar for a night and make specialty cocktails. For Michael's purpose, these Pop Up Bars would be used to introduce specialty gourmet ice cubes made by his company that would be utilized for that evening's cocktails. You can actually read a little bit of literature below and check out the two different sizes they come in.
The thought behind these gourmet ice cubes is that they are designed so that they take up 50 percent of your glass. With it being a single cube in your glass as opposed to an ice scoop full of small ice cubes, the surface area is less. This means that there's less contact of the ice with the liquid, therefore allowing for less dilution (less melting/less water in your drink). A bonus is that since the cube is larger it will chill your cocktail for a longer period of time. You can read more details here and look below to see photos of Michael holding both ice cubes.
When it came to the cocktails, there were two to choose one. One was called the Mexican Firing Squad and some of the ingredients included lime, simple syrup and tequila. Unfortunately, I can't even decipher my own notes, so I couldn't read the name of the second drink, but it had muddled basil, lime and Tennesse Whiskey.
As for the food, Bar Celona served us two delicious tapas. On one plate, there were two different Bruschettas. One had sheep's milk cheese and the other had a mixture of three cheeses (cow, sheep and goat). Both topped with fig preserves.
The second tapas were granny smith apples wrapped with salt cured tuna, topped with marcona almonds, shallots, chives and also included sherry vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. I actually really enjoyed both dishes a lot.
Interestingly enough, I nursed my muddled basil drink for a little over an hour and it truly stayed pretty cold the whole time and the shrinkage of the ice was quite minimal.
Overall, it was a pleasant evening. I'm not often in Pasadena these days, so it was nice to check it out. It's actually been awhile and there a lot of new restaurants that I've never even seen before. Maybe, it's time to do some more culinary exploring of that part of town.
119 East Colorado Boulevard
Pasadena, CA 91105
Bar Celona Restaurant
46 E. Colorado Boulevard
Pasadena, CA 91105
Neve Luxury Ice Company