Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Central Park Restaurant

In a city with restaurants as transient as Pasadena's, it's often hard to remember what used to be where. But with certain restaurants the reverse is true: no matter what the new establishment, I can't get over the fact that the previous one disappeared. Every time I have a drink on the patio of NeoMeze I fondly remember fish tacos and habanero salsa on summer days back when it was Sol y Azul. No matter what Asian incarnation appears at 58 E. Colorado (Ari-ya, Tani, and now BlueFish), I remember it as the place I frequently dined on smoked turkey sandwiches and spicy fries when it was The Rack Shack. This trend can be taken to the extreme: my favorite restaurant in Pasadena at the moment is Green Street Tavern and I could happily eat there every day, but I can't enter the location without thinking of the magnificent Kuala Lumpur that used to be there.

Central Park Restaurant is a nice place - friendly, reasonably-priced and very attractive inside. But I can't sit inside without remembering the days when it was Soda Jerks. I've never been a big fan of breakfast, but I always loved eating it at Soda Jerks. Years ago, in an autumn following the hottest summer of my adult life, my friend and I decided to go hiking every weekend up in the Angeles National Forest. Every Sunday morning we started with a breakfast at Soda Jerks. I cannot think of a single thing I own that I would not gladly give up to be able to go back and repeat just one of those breakfasts.

Soda Jerks closed four years ago, a familiar story. (They said they would open again soon in a new location but have not - an equally familiar story.) Luckily, though, we did not get a chain restaurant shoehorned into the location, we got Central Park, a restaurant owned by the same people who own longtime local favorites Shakers, Beckham's, Wild Thyme, and Diner on Main. I have been to Central Park a few times for dinner, and it's a surprisingly elegant location, with brick walls and photographs of old Hollywood celebrities.

A couple days ago Elizabeth and I stopped in for lunch. We sat off in a side room, almost like a sun porch, where they seemed to have placed all of the customers at that time. They have a brunch menu that goes until 2 on weekends, but we both felt like having lunch. I ordered the same thing I usually do at Central Park: the barbecue chicken pizza. Elizabeth pointed out that we were having a couple friends over that night for dinner and making pizza, but I didn't care. I could eat pizza for every meal. She ordered the ahi tuna sandwich.

When I've eaten there for dinner, I usually start with an appetizer of their salmon and rock shrimp cakes, which are very good. Also, they have a wine list with several nicely priced wines. (The first time I ever ate here, with my friend Tracie, we shared a 2004 BV Cabernet that cost only slightly more than it would have at BevMo.)

Elizabeth loved her sandwich. I tried a small bite and thought it was good, not great, but I am not the expert on ahi, she is. My pizza was good but not as good as I remember it being. It could have used a couple more minutes in the oven. (Or, perhaps, since this was my first lunch here, maybe I just usually find it better at night after a couple glasses of wine.) It was better than California Pizza Kitchen, but definitely not as good as Avanti Cafe or Crocodile Cafe.

I will certainly return to Central Park again, but I have to say I like it more for dinner. It's more intimate in the evening and better suited to a relaxing dinner than an afternoon lunch.


Melissa Good Taste said...

Cutting is kind of hard - you have to have an understanding with your horse. You have to trust he/she is going to keep that one cow from the herb without cueing it in anyway. And then the judge has to like you! So many variables!

Cafe Pasadena said...

I feel de same way about Pizza.

That's the restaurant bizness for you: one year they love you, the next it's changed it's name to, "For Lease". This is one of the last business I wood ever wanna own.

JustinM said...

I completely agree with you. Whenever I make something delicious in a large gathering, someone will say "You should open a restaurant!" I understand that's a compliment, but I enjoy making food for my family and friends; the idea of doing it for a living just doesn't appeal to me.

Not to mention, the business model of "have unique idea, offer competetive price, work hard" just seems like an anachronism for a Pasadena restaurant. I honestly don't think I would have a clue what to do. Places like Kuala Lumpur, Breadcrumbs, Naya, Ari-ya, and Cafe Atlantic all disappear, and yet Buca di Beppo and Cheesecake Factory still have two hour waits on the weekend.

The Thirsty Pig said...

I've been wanting to try central park. The ahi tuna sandwich is something i have i wanted to try. Nice blogs. I am also fan of good bbq.