The room facing Old Town’s Union Street is lovely — unfussy and nicely turned out with black woodwork, tables, chairs and simple glassware and cutlery with a bit of heft. I was early for lunch, and my dining companion was a tad bit late, so what the heck — I ordered a Bloody Mary. Spicy, not crazy salty and served with two big green olives. A dinner cocktail would not have been a failure with a teensy bit more vodka, but this one was just my speed for lunch.
My friend arrived, and our server gave us plenty of time to gab. She was French, charming and justifiably proud of chef Job Carder’s menu, which emphasizes Sonoma County organic, wild, sustainable and free-range ingredients. The lunch menu offers Bites, Salads, Small Plates and Larger Plates, and we started with salads. I had the baby lettuces, delicate and perfectly dressed (as opposed to drenched — a pet peeve) with a light vinaigrette. My friend had the romaine wedge and was happy.
So much for the the greens — we were into our indulgence lickety split: my asparagus “fries” and my co-conspirator’s house-made truffle fries. His curled tenderly around one another like they were each other’s comfort food, and they came with a horseradish-chili sauce and garlic aioli. Yum! These are not the fried to a crispy fair-thee-well kind that we all adore, (including Julia Child, known to have loved a McDonalds fry as much as the next guy) — this was another sort of fabulous fry experience. My asparagus was not quite what I’d anticipated, being lightly coated with breadcrumbs instead of the naked, crisp fried stalks I’d made up in my head. Which is not to say they weren’t good, but they did not stand up to the lovely truffle fries.
We ended with a shared bowl of what the chef calls a Mini Boo Ya, but what I’d describe as a spectacular Marseilles-style bouillabaisse. OMG! Maybe it was the lobster broth, or the very fresh fish and shellfish, or the thin slice of (roasted?) fennel, but it was memorable. I’ll have to order it again, even as the rest of the tempting menu beckons. The damages? About $60 for a near-perfect special-occasion lunch with a pal. Maybe a little pricey for lunch every week, but every other week? I’m in. And dinner prices are pretty reasonable, at $9 to $14 for small plates and $18 to $21 for large plates (except for the New York strip steak, which is $30).
Dish Bistro & Bar, 53 E. Union St., Old Pasadena, 626.795.5546, dishbistroandbar.com. California/Mediterranean. L & D Tues.-Sat., brunch Sun.; limited dinner menu served in the afternoons and until midnight on weeknights, 1 a.m. Fri.-Sat. Full bar. AE, MC, V. $$$