November 06, 2012

Haven Gastropub Might Only Be Good Enough for Newbies

I always had a problem with Pasadena. For some reason it's always the part of town that think that they're just incredibly urban when it's really a suburb to L.A.  The people who live or work near there have a skewed sense of what's actually good to eat, because most of the restaurants are much more ambitious than they seam. The end result is often a bit more shallow. I experienced this recently at Trattoria Neapolis and also at Haven Gastropub, an Orange County transplant that took over a cursed spot on Delancy Street in the heart of Old Town Pasadena.

On the whole, they're very good restaurants. If they were in a suburb in Denver or St. Louis, they'd be very respectable. But at both restaurants I found a lot to be lacking as well in the overall polish and finesse of the food. Since this review is about Haven, I'll talk about what I liked first. The vibe and ambiance was impressive for Pasadena standards, the large cave-like space preserved the brick walls and high ceiling. It also mitigated the sports bar feel by relegated the TVs to the bar area, which is in the middle of the restaurant. We were seated and promptly given the rundown by our server, who was fantastic. She was able to ride that middle ground of being helpful but not overwhelming. With these new concept gastropubs and small plates restaurants, I tend to get way too many servers who "explain" everything. Our server understood that my sister and I were well versed in the rhythms of ordering, only directing us toward some of her favorite dishes.

First up were the charcuterie plates and french onion soup, which our server actually warned wasn't quite salted to her taste. I actually loved the soup this way, which had more of the sweetness from the onions and a hearty beef stock flavor, as well as a heavy puck of melty gruyere cheese on top. The charcuterie was by no means bad, but it also didn't blow me away. It goes to my general feeling about charcuterie plates these days - they tend to be just decent. They sourced the charcuterie from a place in Portland, but it was a little unimpressive. A few ounces of sliced salumi, cold pate, cornichons and grilled bread. Nothing standout, but nothing offensive either. I'd like to see places push the envelope a little bit, make better in-house charcuterie (especially pate), make some compelling rilettes. Don't dial this one in like most places. I'm sure the food costs dictate finding a middle ground but I think a great charcuterie board brings people back - I know it brought me back to Freddy Smalls, a Westside gastropub, many times before.

We were recommended the lamb burger and it came superbly cooked, medium rare as suggested by the server, with a side of mesclun salad. The first few bites seemed good enough but as I progressed, it all started to taste startlingly like a McDonald's Filet-o-Fish. No joke - there was just something off about the way it was seared - maybe it was seared on the steel flattop after the Salmon entree. But I couldn't eat more than a quarter of it. My sister gobbled it up and loved it.  Everything else about it, the construction, the bun, the light smear of tzatziki, was great, but the flavor of the actual patty was completely off-putting. The special take-away burger menu is only available at lunch (Burger Haven), so we weren't able to try more. 

On the plus side, the beer selection was fantastic and service couldn't have been better. But I couldn't help thinking that it was somehow unsatisfying to pay $65 dollars for two beers and three dishes, two of which weren't very good. I want to go back and try the fine-dining-esque desserts, and more of the entrees, but that shouldn't be hard since I live nearby.

Haven Gastropub
42 S. Delancy St
Pasadena, CA
Note: One thing I really don't appreciate though, is that they don't list prices. Restaurants that don't list prices on their menu are putting people off.


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