Pintxos reemerge in Pasadena

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With the new and trending small-plate marketing platform, tapas and pintxos—small savory Spanish dishes—are appearing all over the Los Angeles culinary scene. Though tapas and pintxos can often be reasonably-priced bar snacks, the distinctly American small-plate marketing platform is usually seen as a method of overcharging for small amounts of food. The idea of ordering many small plates for the entire table as opposed to one entrée for each diner may be foreign to many; however, the small-plate dining experience is customary in almost all cultures aside from Anglican and Anglo-American.

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manchego and picon cheeses with marcona almond mousse
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coffee semifrio: frozen coffee mousse, caramel and pomegranate

The use of shared, small dishes—as opposed to gargantuan portions consumed by one person—allows diners to sample various items on the menu, making the dining experience more pleasurable for all. I must also contend the idea of having one’s own plate is somewhat related to the egocentricity of most Western cultures, where the individual is valued over the family and community unit. Socio-cultural implications aside, I am thrilled that small-plate, tapas-style dining is now becoming more popular in L.A.

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This week I went to Ración, a Basque eatery in Old Town Pasadena that opened two years ago. Though the restaurant lacked ambiance as well as patrons—there were approximately four people there—the menu offered a robust selection of Basque specialties including queso idiazabal and poached langoustines.

To begin, I ordered the manchego and picón cheeses with marcona almond mousse. While mixing soft and hard cheeses is generally a culinary taboo, the picón bleu and manchego were paired impeccably; one cannot go wrong with Cantabrian cheeses, especially when they are garnished with violet petals. Chefs Teresa Montaño and Loretta Peng are also keenly aware of their trove of Basque wines, and the importance of pairing them with equally palatable cheeses.

Other inventive items on the menu included the milk-poached asparagus with wild mushroom butter and black garlic, which coated the usually virescent vegetable in a black licorice-like lacquer. Though every item on the menu is unique, there is a level of simplicity in each dish that is somehow refreshing, with no more than four ingredients to a plate. According to Chef Peng, Spanish chefs are “turning fine dining on its head, and laughing at its process…which might be the answer for L.A. as well.”

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squid ink pasta, mussels, piquillo peppers, saffron