Back in 2008, we were visiting with Fulton and Dink Mather of David Fulton Winery in Napa [producers of some of the best Petite Sirah on the planet!] when Karen mentioned she works in Pasadena. The Mathers mentioned that the owners of one of our favorite restaurants in Pasadena – Bistro 45, also owned a restaurant in Napa.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when Karen told me about this fantastic restaurant she went to for lunch – a|k|a An American Bistro, which was owned by the owner of…Bistro 45. Based on her raves, I knew I needed to check it out.
We went there for dinner the next day, and Karen was right on with her remarks. The service is great and the reasonably priced ambitious menu is very wine-friendly. Some of our favorites have been:
Foie Blond – an amazing pâté that I described as “criminal” is $16.
Braised House Cured Pork Belly & Beans — $12
Filet Beef Tartare — $14
Charcuterie – $17
Seared All Natural Breast of Duck — $24
Snake River Kobe Flat Iron — $25
The list goes on.
The wine list is well-priced and has some very innovative selections, which change frequently. And if you do choose to bring in your own special bottle, corkage is only $8[!].
As I mentioned, service is great at a|k|a Bistro, and all the servers are very knowledgeable and determined to do whatever they can to please the customer. But, I did notice one guy who seemed to be working harder than everybody else, rushing around, bussing tables, delivering food, opening wine, yet still managing to chat with the customers. Turns out, this was owner Robert Simon.
Of course, since his customers immediately become his friends, Karen had actually met him the previous day, so she introduced me. I asked him “What happened to that restaurant in Napa that the Mathers told me about?” His answer: “You’re sitting in it.”
Well, I knew I had to find out more, so soon thereafter Robert and I sat down for a chat.
I learned that before opening Bistro 45 in December of 1990, Robert owned Café Jacoulet, also in Pasadena, from 1983-1990, which is where he met his beautiful wife Deborah.
The Simons are very wine oriented, and Robert estimates they have hosted well over 300 wine dinners. So, opening a restaurant in Napa came pretty naturally. a|k|a opened in Calistoga in 2004 and moved to St. Helena two-and-a-half years later.
When the economy turned bad, Napa was hit hard. Tourism was down, money was tight, and it became increasingly difficult to run two restaurants at opposite ends of California. Robert could have closed or sold one of the restaurants, but instead chose a rather unique approach – he moved a|k|a from St. Helena to Pasadena in early 2011.
Robert is justifiably proud of his menu. Everything is made from scratch with a definite non-corporate approach. They even make their own mustard!
I asked Robert what one message he would like to get across to our readers, and he said…”How much we care about every plate and every person’s happiness who comes in the door.”
It definitely shows.
And now, even more of a reason to come to a|k|a Bistro…
As previously reported as an Eve Wine 101 press release, on August 29th at 3:30 PM, a|k|a Bistro will be hosting a wine tasting event featuring the following currently scheduled Santa Barbara wineries: Arthur Earl, Babcock, Bedford, Dragonette, Fess Parker, Hitching Post, Lafond, Melville, Mosby, Municipal Winemaking, Qupé, Riverbench, Sanford, Santa Barbara Winery, Tercero, Verdad, Kenneth Volk and Zaca Mesa. The cost is an incredibly low $16.
After the tasting, there will be winemaker dinners at a|k|a Bistro and at Bistro 45.
The cost of each dinner is $60.
41 Hugus Alley, Pasadena
45 South Mentor Avenue, Pasadena
Contact the restaurants for reservations. Enjoy!
Malvasia Bianca, Arthur Earl, Santa Barbara 2009
Watermelon and Fennel Gazpacho
Melon-anise ‘tartare,’ avocado lime sorbet, herb salad
Roussanne, Qupe Bien Nacido Hillside 2008
Aiguillettes of House-Cured Salmon
Orange blossom vinaigrette, lemon verbena panna cotta,
Mizuna & flowers
Chardonnay, Melville “Estate”, Santa Rita Hills 2009
Chardonnay, Melville “Clone 76 Inox”, Santa Rita Hills 2009
Atlantic Black Sea Bass
Haricots Vert and steamer onions,
crushed hazelnuts & sauce piperade
Pinot Noir, Kenneth Volk “Garey Ranch” Santa Maria 2007
Pinot Noir, Hitching Post “Highliner”, Santa Barbara 2007
Prairie Fresh Pork Flat Iron
Wilted Brussels sprouts and Bilbao chorizo salad…
charred blueberry mustard & shaved Pecorino
Syrah/Grenache, La Fond, Santa Rita Hills 2007
Syrah, Qupe, Bien Nacido Hillside 2006
Culotte de Boeuf
Roasted sirloin of beef, beef cheek agnolotti,
glazed carrots & mushrooms…cocoa/black pepper sauce
Late Harvest Gewurztraminer, Hitching Post, Santa Barbara 2009
‘Coconut Cream Pie’
Coconut custard tart, mango-coconut ice cream
& coconut tuile
Executive Chef Steven Lona
a|k|a Bistro menu
Gewurztraminer, Bedford, Los Alamos 2009
Sunchoke & Fennel Soup
With crispy Nicoise olives
Roussanne, Zaca Mesa, Santa Barbara 2007
Viognier, Zaca Mesa, Santa Barbara 2009
Viognier Poached Bosc Pear
With Haricots Vert and golden beets…truffle vinaigrette
Chardonnay, Babcock “Top Cream”, Santa Rita Hills 2010
Seared Dive Boat Scallop
With caramelized apple ratatouille and cucumber “gazpacho”
Lagrein, Mosby, Central Coast 2005
Sagrantino, Mosby, Central Coast 2006
Grilled Prairie Fresh Pork Tenderloin
Served with arugula and Marble potatoes, Rainier Cherry compote and Sagrantino Demi
Syrah, Dragonette Cellars, Santa Barbara2008
Syrah, Zaca Mesa, Santa Barbara 2008
Braised Colorado Lamb Sirloin
Dusted with cocoa and served over lemon/garlic risotto…honey yogurt
Late Harvest Riesling, Santa Barbara Winery, Santa Barbara 2009
Bruleed Mission Figs and White Peaches
Served with a Riesling custard
Executive Chef James Lambrinos
Michael Perlis provides outsourced controller services to businesses that do not need a full-time controller. He balances this with his interest in wine: reading and writing about it and, of course, drinking it. He is still trying to figure out how to combine these two pursuits. Feel free to contact him about either at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.