Two restaurants, no matter how very popular, open at about the same moment, do not necessarily constitute a culinary trend. But it definitely comes close!
One of them is Morono Bar (3705 W. Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake; 323-546-0505, www.barmoruno-la.com), which is dinner only, and it’s almost impossible to get in, even if you want to sit at the bar, which is full all the time. This is a lively Spanish restaurant, created by a chef and bartenders from Campanile. And they have the best destination to get to Silver Lake in years! It’s a place for a lot of tapas…but no paella.
By contrast, equally trendy Dos Besos (a brick-and-mortar subsidiary of Villa Paella Catering Company), which is on the less restaurant-intensive east side of Union Street (the west side is uber alles hotspots), is built around a quadrant of insanely good paella – seafood, squid ink Noodles, seafood and vegetables.
But you really can’t do a Spanish restaurant without a selection of tapas, and the tapas at Dos Besos impress with their creative focus. When it comes to a small plate of gambas al ajillo with a glass of Albarino, this is a destination full of pure fun. And a stylish outdoor patio to boot. It’s not Madrid, but it’s not Pasadena either. Dos Pesos takes us to another world.
This is a small restaurant – about the same size on the inside as it is on the outside – oddly open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday, then for lunch only on Sundays. It’s easier to score a reservation here than at Bar Moruno – which is good, because Dos Besos doesn’t offer a bar as an option.
However, I visited for lunch on a Sunday. And while it was packed inside, there was plenty of seating outside – as long as you don’t mind the outdoor temperatures as the portions of the paella, which seat two (or more), warm you. And anyway, there are two sangrias to cool you down – one built around red wine and the other around sparkling wine. Both are hard to resist.
But then this is the first innovation among the small plates – a sumptuous bowl of Andalusian vegetable soup (gazpacho andaluz), which is served cold and cools well for the rest of the dishes on a menu full of small temptations. and wide.
I like Spanish tortillas, but they are not Mexican-style tortillas. On the Iberian Peninsula, a tortilla is an omelette of potatoes and onions, somewhere between a pancake and a scrambled egg. It’s a wonderful dish, a very happy dish that gives the sense to those of us obsessed with eggs that the Sunday meal at Dos Besos is brunch.
In fact, for a lighter snack, add patatas bravas with garlic aioli. Paan con tomate (a delicious crunchy bread topped with tomatoes, olive oil and salt – very simple and very good), maybe Spanish marinated olives too. This is a modern Spanish food, but it has its roots in every bite. The fettuccine with black truffles is very much ours…the cazuela de mariscos (bouillabaisse-esque seafood stew) is pretty much theirs.
If you stay with only the appetizers, there is plenty of food on the menu, which pairs well with the Spanish wine list of around 20 drinks – sparkling, white, pink and red. (Two Spanish beers too!) I love tapas – not wisely, and certainly very good.
On my many trips to Spain, I lived on tapas. In this case, there are Albondigas Spanish meatballs, Spanish cheese platter (for me, manchego bases!), Iberian bacon, Galician empanadas, mushrooms in truffle cream sauce, Galician octopus with potatoes, garlic shrimp – and two choices of jamón Ibérico, one of whom is four years old or older.
Manchego cheese reappears in a salad of mixed greens – which is on the menu on the edge of the four paella.
On a trip to Madrid and Barcelona several years ago, my daughter became obsessed with paella. I’ve eaten paella at every restaurant we went to that served paella – which was plenty. There were seafood platters, chicken, pork sausage, vegetable paella, and paella served in flat, wide paella pans (which give the dish its name!) – and paella from oversized kettles set on the stove. I ate a lot of paella, and never touched it again for years after that.
I… I have no problem at all. And I don’t have a problem with this. Four paellas, like I said, are enough for two – or more. But you need your patience for it to be cooked to order, which takes half an hour or more.
Or, if you’re not in the mood for paella, appetizers kick off a rack of New Zealand lamb in rosemary sauce, filet mignon with chili sauce, sea bass baked in rock salt, and salmon in lemon-caper sauce. There is a piquillo pepper with Spanish anchovies as a side dish.
And while there’s the Spanish almond cake with vanilla ice cream for dessert, I’m leaning toward the creamy vanilla ice cream with a shot of espresso. After a meal of many tasting dishes, it is good to have vanilla ice cream for dessert. In my experiences, I’ve come to rediscover the joys of vanilla, so simple, so understated – and like the bread served here, so good.
Meryl Schindler is a freelance critic for Los Angeles dining. Send an email to [email protected]
- evaluation: 3 stars
- Tabuk: 99 Union Street, Old Pasadena
- Information: 626-696-3741; www.restaurantji.com/ca/pasadena/dos-besos-/
- dishes: Ultra modern Spanish
- Drinks: Sangria, beer and wine
- When: Dinner, Tuesday through Saturday, lunch Sunday only
- atmosphere: East of Raymond Street, a block from Restaurant Street Row on Union Street, this small indoor/outdoor Spanish café produces elegant dishes unparalleled in Socal, with its many tapas, and four greats.
- the prices: About $70 per person
- On the list: 13 tapas ($10-$52), 3 salads ($16-$25), 4 paellas ($44-$58), 7 entrees ($27-$49), 4 desserts ($7-12)
- credit cards: MC, p
- What do the stars mean: 4 (World class! Worth a trip from anywhere!), 3 (Excellent, even exceptional. Worth a trip from anywhere in Southern California.), 2 (Good place to go for a meal. Worth a trip from anywhere in the neighborhood.) 1 ( If you’re hungry, which is nearby, but don’t get stuck in traffic.) 0 (Honestly, not worth writing about.)