The Beatles didn’t provide a soundtrack but the inaugural Dishcrawl Pasadena in May was a magical mystery food tour just the same.
Nitar Lohaphaisan, the vivacious Dishcrawl Pasadena Ambassador, designed the “Old Town, New Flavors” tour to introduce the twenty-three participants to four of Old Town Pasadena’s off-the-beaten path restaurants. Foodies purchased the $45 Dishcrawl tickets in advance without knowing the exact culinary destinations.
Kal’s Mediterranean Bistro
48 hours before the event, Nitar sent an email telling participants to meet at Kal’s Mediterranean Bistro. Owned by Justina Maleh and co-managed by her husband Kal, the bistro took over the former Quadupel space on Union Street in early May. Vibrant modern art by Kal’s father Khaldoun Al Maleh, whom Kal describes as the “Steven Spielberg of Syria”, brighten the dark, wooden walls.
Chef Steven Lona, formerly the executive chef at Bistro 45, talked about the “modern Mediterranean” menu, which melds the tastes of the Middle East, Greece, France, and Spain. Dishcrawlers dined on a “small bites” plate that felt like sunshine on a plate: ground lamb lule kebab with saffron rice and tzatziki; an heirloom tomato salad with herbs and a balsamic reduction; and a coffee-roasted beet salad with sheep’s milk yoghurt, pistachio smoked hummus, pomegranate and arugula.
The arugula also showed up in a distinctive cocktail by noted mixologist Matt Biancaniello of the Roosevelt Hotel and the Library Bar. Kal treated the Dishcrawl group to a complimentary glass of champagne, though generally, drinks are not included in the Dishcrawl ticket.
The next stop on the Dishcrawl was Peruvian eatery Choza Mama on Colorado Boulevard. Inside the restaurant, which has cheery, ochre-yellow walls and live entertainment throughout the week, owner Ric Linares talked about the different cultures – Italian, French, African, and Japanese – that influence Peruvian food.
Dishcrawl participants sampled lechon adobado—a rich, complex-tasting, slow-cooked, pulled pork served with red wine sauce, and cassava root mashed potatoes; causa rellena, a chilled, mashed potato casserole that tasted like a molded, savory, potato salad, and a salad with avocado, cucumber, corn and fresh cheese with mixed greens.
The rum-based Pisco Sour is Peru’s best-known cocktail and Choza Mama serves three versions: regular, cucumber and jalapeno. The regular version has an unexpected sprinkle of cinnamon on top.
Inspired by the tasty fare at Choza Mama, Dishcrawl guests shared favorite Peruvian restaurants in other parts of Los Angeles with their fellow foodies.
Tibetan Nepal House
A quick jaunt brought the group to Tibetan Nepal House on Holly Street where Dishcrawlers expanded their culinary horizons with a taste of Himalayan food. Owner Rajan Adkhikari from Nepal explained that Tibet, India, and his own country all contributed flavors to Himalayan food.
The influence was clear in the dishes sampled. The chicken tikka masala was similar to the Indian version but was distinguished by the addition of Himalayan herbs. Momo (pot sticker-shaped dumplings) came in ground chicken and in a delicious vegetable version. Garlic naan bread recalled the Indian staple.
You wouldn’t mistake Tibet Nepal House for an Indian restaurant, however. Himalayan mountain scenes reminded diners of the food’s geographical origin, Tibetan Buddhist chants wafted through the restaurant, and paper cut-outs of “Yeti feet” decorated by previous patrons hung from the exposed rafters of the long, high-ceilinged room and swayed whenever the door opened.
Sugar Fix/The Blind Donkey
Nitar then lead the group to The Blind Donkey, a whiskey bar next door to Kal’s Mediterranean Bistro. The sweet finale to the Dishcrawl was strawberry lemonade cupcakes from “Sugar Fix” bakery. Nitar explained that the bakery closed too early for Dishcrawl to visit for dessert; luckily, the Blind Donkey was amenable to an invasion of Dishcrawlers who perused the whiskey-dominant list of libations as they munched their end-of-evening treats.
Nitar wanted to end the evening with Sugar Fix cupcakes because the owner, a Pasadena local, bakes the cupcakes daily. The Dishcrawl ambassador particularly likes Sugar Fix cupcakes because they’re not “overpoweringly sweet”. Nitar’s dessert instincts were right on target; although the total distance covered on the tour was only ten blocks or so, the cupcake calories felt like a reward instead of an indulgence.
Dishcrawl guests received good-bye goodie bags containing gifts such as discount cards for Sugar Fix and a tea infuser and organic loose tea samples from Pasadena-based Socha tea. As a capper to the evening, Kal came over to the group and invited everyone in for a champagne nightcap!
Nitar’s energy, enthusiasm, and (enviably) extensive culinary research created a fun and inclusive atmosphere that made Dishcrawl guests feel like they were at a particularly fun party with other interesting professionals.
And that’s the real magic of Dishcrawl Pasadena.
Tuesday, June 18th, 7-9:45 p.m.
Restaurant theme: local favorites (Pasadena)
4 restaurants, 1 night
Cost: $45 per person
Location of first restaurant revealed to ticketholders 48 hours prior to event
Drinks not included but available for purchase
For complete info, visit Dishcrawl.com or email Nitar at firstname.lastname@example.org
All photos courtesy of Dishcrawl. Find more pics here.