Sunday, November 23, 2008

Pretty in Pink at Red White + Bluezz (Great Live Jazz Brunch and Dinner with Molly Ringwald)

My first encounter with Red White + Bluezz was during a shopping trip to Old Pasadena. We saw the signs go up and I thought to myself, "Hm. Interesting name." And thought nothing more of it. Then slowly, I saw more and more recommendations for this place appear by fellow Hounds, and finally, last week I was able to try their Live Jazz Sunday Brunch.

I love good food (^_~), and I love good music (especially live), so I have no idea why it took so long for me to give Red White + Bluezz a try. We arrived on a beautiful Sunday morning, and right near the entrance, a Jazz Guitarist and Double Bassist were set up and playing some mellow tunes.

One thing that struck me the moment I stepped inside was how disarmingly warm the atmosphere and decor were. There were multiple tables of families and friends gathered and eating, smiling and enjoying the mellow Live Jazz.

Executive Chef Bryan Hankins brings an inspired edge to classic American cuisine at Red White + Bluezz. A native of North Carolina, Chef Hankins started off working in the kitchens of Spago and Providence before moving on to Red White + Bluezz.

I started off with their cutely named Ella "Fizz"gerald Bellini (Peach Nectar, Fresh Peaches and Peach Champagne). This was a great way to start off a Sunday Brunch: Very light, and full of effervescent, fresh peachy goodness. (^_^)

My companion had their Tiny Bubbles Flight (Red White + Bluezz has a wonderful selection of Flights, showcasing a variety of wines, champagnes, etc.). This Flight showcased a selection of: Perrier Jouet Grand Brut Champagne, Il Prosecco, and Louis de Sacy Rose, Grand Cru, Champagne.

Their Signature Crab Cakes Benedict (with Butter-Seared Sourdough, Truffle-Shallot Hollandaise and Hashbrowns) arrived first.

The gorgeous, velvety Truffle-Shallot Hollandaise Sauce was the first thing that grabbed my attention as the plate arrived. The flavors exceeded the visuals: Taking the first bite, the beautiful poached egg yolk broke and mixed with the lightly-fragrant Hollandaise, and then gave way to a bit of the Crab Cake, which was very good. The fresh, sweet Crab Meat came through the Truffle-Shallot Hollandaise, and matched nicely with all the ingredients. The Butter-Seared Sourdough had a nice crunch and provided a nice texture contrast. :)

Their Hashbrowns were served in a nicely-formed circular patty, with a wonderful crispy exterior that gave way to a light, creamy, fluffy center. Very nice.

And the Fresh Fruit Cup had a good assortment of fresh Raspberries, Strawberries, Blueberries and Blackberries, with some Pear and Apricot Slices as well.

The next dish was their Grand Marnier Strawberry Gourmet Sweet Buttermilk Pancakes (with Two Strips of Cracked Pepper + Brown Sugar Bacon).

I love Strawberries, so I couldn't wait to see what this would be like. :) The dish arrives with 2 huge Pancakes (the bottom one is about the size of a 10" pizza(!)). The Buttermilk Pancake has a good homemade aspect to it, fluffy and fresh-tasting, but it's a little too thick and doughy at times.

The Grand Marnier Strawberries, however, are absolutely delicious! (^_^) The essence of Strawberry Fruit shines and is nicely accentuated by being cooked through with Grand Marnier liqueur; sweet, yet sophisticated, it really elevates the doughy Pancakes.

Finally, their freshly-made Bacon is just as good. Made in-house, Chef Hankins cooks it with a blend of fresh Cracked Black Pepper and Brown Sugar. The dish comes with two thick slices of this Bacon and each bite is meaty, yet still crisp and having a great interplay between the caramelized Brown Sugar and the savoriness of the Pork itself.

The quiet, relaxing Live Jazz tunes that were being played during our Brunch brought a continual smile to my face as we were enjoying our food. The overall experience was so wonderful that I couldn't wait to come back and try their dinner menu! :)

My second visit was on a Wednesday night, and it turned out Molly Ringwald was performing a Jazz Concert at Red White + Bluezz(!). I had vague memories of the star of Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink, but was too young to remember much from those movies (and I had no idea she was a singer as well). Red White + Bluezz endeavors to have a featured performer once a month, in addition to the Live Jazz performances they have 7 days a week (nice), and tonight it was Molly Ringwald.

We started off with a Sophisticated Ladies Flight, featuring Louis Latour, Marsannay, Burgundy; Kali Hart Pinot Noir, Monterey, California; and Ferraton Cotes du Rhone, Rhone Valley, France. The Louis Latour Burgundy was my favorite, beautifully light, tasting like fresh cherries with a smooth finish. The Kali Hart Pinot Noir was the most fruit forward, also really nice, and a bit stronger than the Latour, but still delicate and fruity. The Ferraton Cotes du Rhone was definitely the most complex and sophisticated of the three, with an almost tart, smoky edge that really contrasted with the other two.

Like the Sunday Brunch, Red White + Bluezz had some Live Jazz performers up front for Dinner, and just like before, I found the presence of the live musical performances to be a great "icebreaker" between the restaurant and customer. :)

Their Crispy Smoked Gouda Mac 'N Cheese appetizer arrived first.

Chef Hankins uses a Panko-Corn Flake to crust the outside of each wedge of the Elbow Pasta, which is combined on the inside with a Sharp Cheddar and sitting on a house-made Sun-Dried Tomato Bechamel. The Panko-Corn Flake exterior made for a really nice light, crunchy texture with each bite, and the interior Macaroni had a good mix of the Cheddar, but I prefer my Mac 'N Cheese to be creamier. Still, this is a nice, grown-up version of Mac 'N Cheese and a good variation on the classic comfort food.

They ran out of their Maine Lobster, but were able to make half of the Surf and Turf appetizer (at a reduced cost), which was nice: Rosemary Crusted Filet Mignon Carpaccio.

The Filet Mignon Carpaccio was delicious. Very tender, topped with a little Tuscan Bruschetta, the piney fragrance from the fresh Rosemary and the subtle sweetness from the Tuscan Bruschetta made this one of the better Carpaccios I've had around town.

The first entree to arrive was their Paprika Crusted Colorado Venison Tenderloin (with Roasted Red Bliss Potatoes, Sauteed Baby Spinach, Sun-Dried Cherry Caramel Glaze).

The Venison was very lean, but still so tender and juicy! In addition, there was only the slightest hint of gaminess in the Deer meat, so if you weren't paying attention, this might've passed for a cut of Filet Mignon. The Sun-Dried Cherry Caramel Glaze was a great complement to the Venison, adding a refreshing Cherry aroma without overpowering.

And the Roasted Red Bliss Potatoes had a nice crispy crust, while still being moist and tender on the inside.

Continuing on, the Kurobuta Pork Ribeye Chop (Savory Cambozola, Caramelized Onion and Blueberry Bread Pudding, Asparagus, Port Wine Demi-Glace) arrived in all of its gargantuan glory. :)

This was a *great* Pork Chop, truly redefining the term in some ways: Big, meaty, perfectly cooked through, with a great marinade and char. It was *so* clean in its Berkshire Porky goodness, a juicy leanness without excessive marbling and really tasting "meaty" without being "chunky" or hard-to-chew. This was excellent!

The Blueberry Bread Pudding sounded more interesting than it actually was: There was nothing wrong with it - creamy, soft, with subtle notes of Blueberry - but it was pretty straightforward, and ultimately served as a good side to the Kurobuta.

At this point, we were informed that Molly Ringwald's 2nd performance of the evening was about to start. We were moved to the back portion of the restaurant (they call the back dining area "The Jazz Club"), and found it to be completely packed, standing room-only(!). I was going to order dessert, but with the lack of tables and seating, we just enjoyed the show. Molly Ringwald performed with the Peter Smith Trio (Peter Smith on Piano, Ryan Cross on Bass, and Clayton Cameron on Drums), and while she wasn't Diana Krall or Norah Jones, Molly had a surprisingly good voice and they belted out some classic Jazz melodies and new songs as well. After the concert, Molly mentioned to me that she had a good time at Red White + Bluezz and would love to return in the coming new year (after the holidays) for more shows.

This marked yet another great dining experience, and I was so happy I had to drag along someone else to try it as well. (^_~) So for my third visit to Red White + Bluezz, I tried their Heirloom Tomato Caprese Salad (with Buffalo Mozzarella, Balsamic Reduction, Extra Virgin Pinenut Pesto).

Caprese Salads are becoming a common sighting at many restaurants these days. But this one came highly recommended from our server, and it turned out that Chef Hankins' version was indeed excellent! The coarse-chopped Pesto, fresh Basil and 12 year-old Balsamic really complemented the sweet Heirloom Tomatoes. The Buffalo Mozzarella was fresh and clean, but after enjoying so many interesting variations on this classic (e.g., Valentino's mouth-watering Burrata version :), it made this version seem a bit typical (but very good nonetheless).

The Panko Crusted Australian Barramundi Seabass (with Mashed Potatoes and Spanish Style Tortilla Soup) was a nice twist on the usual Seabass preparations.

Chef Hankins takes Barramundi Seabass and deep fries it with a Panko Crust, giving it a light, clean taste. Its pairing with Mashed Potatoes and the Spanish Style Tortilla Soup was unique and worked for the most part, but sometimes the mushiness of the Mashed Potatoes and the Tortilla Soup with the soft Seabass just became overwhelming at times. The Barramundi Seabass also had a slight brininess and lacked the butteriness of a good Chilean Seabass, which might've worked better in this dish, but with the sustainability issues it's understandable why it might not have been used.

Next up is the Pan Roasted Maple Leaf Farms Breast of Duck (with Creamy Grilled Brioche Casserole, Wilted Greens, Black Mission Fig Gastrique).

Chef Hankins pan sears the Duck Breast skin side down to generate a nice crispiness before finishing it off by roasting. The two end pieces of the Breast ended up being Medium-Well to Well-Done, with a deep, flavorful Duck essence, but a bit dry. Thankfully the majority of the Duck was Medium-Rare to Medium, juicy and very tender. There was a little bit of gristle and chewiness in a few bites, but most of it was gristle-free.

The Black Mission Fig Gastrique was another excellent pairing by Chef Hankins, really matching well with the Duck itself. It was something flavorful enough and bold enough to stand next to the Duck without taking away the spotlight.

We finished off dinner with the Chef's Sampler Platter Dessert, made up of three of the best items from the Dessert Menu.

First up was their Southern Brandy & Nutmeg Carrot Cake (Triple Creme Center, Carrot Brittle, Ginger-Carrot Puree). This was one of the more visually stunning desserts I've had in a while. The beautiful Orange swath from the Ginger-Carrot Puree provided the exclamation point to the plating.

And while normally, I'm so-so on Carrot Cake, Chef Hankins' version is simply outstanding! The fluffy, moist Carrot Cake - with heavenly notes of Nutmeg and Cinnamon - combine with a delicious, ultra-creamy Triple Creme Center on such a perfect level, and it's all smartly brought back together with the Carrot Brittle on top. This has to be one of the best Carrot Cakes I've had around town. :)

Their Signature Housemade Truffles (Dark Raspberry Dipped, 1842 White Chocolate, Dusted Valhrona Blueberry) were next. The best was the Dark Raspberry Truffle, with the Dark Chocolate being a great contrast to the Raspberry flavors. The notes of a deep, slightly bitter Dark Chocolate were the highlight.

The White Chocolate Truffle was a disappointment: I love White Chocolate, but this version tasted really flat and slightly "chemical" in a way. Finally, their Dusted Valhrona Blueberry had the nice powder texture contrast, but I found the essence of the Raspberry to shine more with the Dark Raspberry Truffle when compared to the Blueberry essence here (which was overmatched by the Valhrona).

Finally, I was looking forward to the Grand Marnier Flan (Fresh Berries, Micro Mint). After having Chef Hankins' delicious Grand Marnier Strawberry Pancakes, I was hoping their Grand Marnier Flan would be just as delicious.

Unfortunately, it was just ~OK. The Flan was really creamy and smooth, but it was surprisingly bitter. The Spanish Flan I just had at The Bazaar was much better (but without the Goat Cheese Cream (^_~)). But its presentation should be noted, with a stunning array of Fresh Berries forming an eye-catching foundation around the Flan itself.

Service for all three visits was very, very good! The servers were all attentive and dishes were removed quickly after eating. New silverware was replenished quickly as well, and in general, everyone was really friendly and upbeat. :) The Brunch Menu main entrees range from $11 - $29. Dinner Menu starters range from $7 - $14, entrees from $18 - $39. Desserts range from $7 - $17 (for the Sampler). We averaged about ~$39 per person for Brunch (including tax and tip), and ~$60 per person for Dinner (including tax and tip).

Red White + Bluezz is a really enjoyable restaurant featuring some great modern interpretations of great American classics (and more). With standouts like their Paprika Crusted Colorado Venison Tenderloin, and the Kurobuta Pork Ribeye Chop, to their wonderful, relaxing Live Jazz Sunday Brunch, this is a delightful highlight of a restaurant in Pasadena. But beyond the great food, the fact that this restaurant celebrates one of America's great art forms - Live Jazz - 7 days a week, makes it even more compelling.

There's just something to be said about walking into a restaurant, and hearing live music by devoted musicians, which just lets you relax. It subtly engenders a good vibe during the meal, and can bring a smile to your face. (^_^) Red White + Bluezz is a great gem of a restaurant, so festive and fun, and one that'll be at the top of my list whenever I'm anywhere near the Pasadena area.

Rating: 8.0 (out of 10.0)

Red White + Bluezz
70 South Raymond Avenue
Old Pasadena, CA 91105
Tel: (626) 792-4441

* Live Jazz, 7 Days A Week *

Hours: [Brunch] Sunday, 10:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.
[Dinner] Sun - Thurs, 5:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.
Fri - Sat, 5:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.
"Bluezz Menu" (Appetizers, some Entrees, Desserts)
Thurs - Sat, 7:00 p.m. - 12:00 a.m. Midnight


H. C. said...

glad to hear RW+B is still going strong, even though it's been years since I went, maybe because it's so close I always have this place on the backburner thinking I can go just anytime.

Have you been to Vertical Wine Bar too (also in Pasadena)? Would love to see your comparison.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi H.C.,

Thanks. I haven't tried Vertical Wine Bar (but have heard many good things about that one also :). I'll give it a try and give you a comparison.

Nice review H.C.: It seems Red White + Bluezz has a new Head Chef since you went, with some new menu items. I found the execution very good on many of the items, but agree that the cost vs. value is just on the borderline (it's good food, delicious, but the cost is approaching some entrees at the best in L.A.).

Still, a great vibe and eatery overall. :)

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