December 2, 2022

Dos Besos, a small Spanish cafe in Pasadena, is a culinary reference – Pasadena Star News

Two restaurants, no matter how hyper-popular, opening at almost exactly the same time, does not necessarily form a culinary trend. But it certainly comes close!

One of them is Bar Moruno (3705 W. Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake; 323-546-0505, www.barmoruno-la.com), which is only dinner, and almost impossible to get in, even if you want to sit at the bar, which is full all the time. It is an avant-garde Spanish restaurant, created by a chef and a sommelier from Campanile. And they have the hottest destination to hit Silver Lake in years! It’s a place for lots of tapas… but no paella.

On the other hand, the equally trendy Dos Beso (a brick-and-mortar spin-off of restaurant company Villa Paella), which sits on the less restaurant-heavy east side of Union Street (the west side is uber alles hotspots), is built around a a quartet of insanely good paellas – seafood, squid ink, seafood noodles and vegetables.

But you really can’t do a Spanish restaurant without a selection of tapas, and the tapas at Dos Besos dazzle with their creativity. When it comes to a pâté de prawns al ajillo with a glass of albarino, this is a destination full of fun. And a nice outdoor patio to boot. It’s not Madrid, but it’s not Pasadena either. Dos Besos takes us to another world.

It’s a small restaurant – about the same size inside as it is outside – which is oddly open for dinner from Tuesday to Saturday, then for lunch only on Sunday. It’s easier to score a reservation here than at Bar Moruno – which is good, since Dos Besos doesn’t offer a bar option.

Still, I did a walk-in for lunch on a Sunday. And even though it was full inside, there was seating outside – as long as you don’t mind the temperatures outside rising as the servings of paella, sized for two diners (or more ), warm you up. And anyway, there are two sangrias to cool you down, one built around red wine, the other around sparkling wine. Both are hard to resist.

  • Dos Besos, on Union Street in Pasadena, is built around a quartet of insanely good paellas – seafood, squid ink, seafood noodles and vegetables. And that’s where the great dining options begin, says food critic Merrill Shindler. (Photo by Merrill Shindler)

  • Prawns al ajillo at Dos Besos in Pasadena (Photo by...

    Gambas al ajillo at Dos Besos in Pasadena (Photo by Merrill Shindler)

  • Sea bass in rock salt at Dos Besos in Pasadena...

    Rock Salt Bar at Dos Besos in Pasadena (Photo by Merrill Shindler)

  • New Zealand rack of lamb at Dos Besos in Pasadena...

    New Zealand rack of lamb at Dos Besos in Pasadena (Photo by Merrill Shindler)

But then so is the first creation among the small dishes – a hearty bowl of Andalusian vegetable soup (gazpacho Andaluz), which is served cold and warms nicely chilled the rest of the dishes on a menu full of temptations both small and big.

I love tortilla Española, but it’s not a Mexican tortilla. In the Iberian Peninsula, a tortilla is a potato and onion omelette, somewhere between a pancake and scrambled eggs. It’s a wonderful dish, a very happy dish that makes those of us obsessed with eggs feel like Sunday meal at Dos Besos is brunch.

Indeed, for brunch, add the patatas bravas served with garlic aioli; the pan con tomate (crispy, tasty bread covered in tomato, olive oil and salt – so simple and so absurdly good), maybe also the pickled Spanish olives. It’s modern Spanish cuisine, but with roots in every bite. The fettuccine with black truffles is really us… the cazuela de mariscos (a seafood stew with bouillabaisse) is really them.

If you stick with just starters, there’s plenty of food on the menu, which goes well with a Spanish wine list of around 20 drinks — sparkling, white, rosé and red. (Two Spanish beers too!) I love tapas – not wisely, and certainly too good.

During my many trips to Spain, I lived on tapas. In this case, there are Spanish meatballs (albondigas), a plate of Spanish cheeses (for me, Manchego rules!), a plate of Iberian charcuterie, Galician empanadas, mushrooms with truffle cream, Galician octopus with potatoes, garlic prawns — and two choices of jamón Ibérico, one aged four or more.

Manchego cheese reappears in a mesclun salad – which sits on the menu alongside the four paellas.

During a trip to Madrid and Barcelona several years ago, my daughter became obsessed with paellas. She ate paella at every restaurant we went to that offered paella – which was plenty. There were seafood paellas, chicken paellas, pork sausage paellas, vegetable paellas, paellas served in large flat paella pans (which give the dish its name!) – and paellas pulled from oversized kettles. She ate so much paella that she didn’t touch it for years.

Me…I had no problem. And I have no problem with that. The four paellas are, as I said, enough for two – or more. But you need patience as they are made to order which takes half an hour or more.

Or, if you’re not in the mood for paella, entrees range from rack of New Zealand lamb with rosemary sauce, filet mignon with peppercorn sauce, sea bass cooked in rock salt, salmon in a lemony caper sauce. There are piquillo peppers with Spanish anchovies on the side.

And while there’s Spanish almond cake with vanilla ice cream for dessert, I’m leaning towards vanilla ice cream with espresso. After a meal with so many tasty dishes, it’s a treat to have vanilla ice cream for dessert. In my youth, I came to rediscover the joys of vanilla, so simple, so discreet – and like the bread served here, so good.

Merrill Shindler is a freelance food critic based in Los Angeles. Email [email protected]

Dos Beso

  • Evaluation: 3 stars
  • Address: 99 Union Street, Old Pasadena
  • Information: 626-696-3741; www.restaurantji.com/ca/pasadena/dos-besos-/
  • Kitchen: Ultra Modern Spanish
  • Beverages: Sangria, beer and wine
  • When: Dinner, Tuesday to Saturday, lunch on Sunday only
  • Atmosphere: East of Raymond Avenue, a block from Union Street’s Restaurant Row, this little indoor/outdoor Spanish cafe produces elegant food like no other in SoCal, with plenty of tapas and four exquisite paellas.
  • Prices: About $70 per person
  • On the menu: 13 Tapas ($10-$52), 3 Salads ($16-$25), 4 Paellas ($44-$58), 7 Appetizers ($27-$49), 4 Desserts ($7-$12)
  • Credit card: CM, V
  • What do the stars mean: 4 (World class! Worth the trip from anywhere!), 3 (Most excellent, if not outstanding. Worth the trip from anywhere in Southern California.), 2 (A great place to go for a meal. Worth the trip from anywhere in the neighborhood.) 1 (If you’re hungry and it’s nearby, but don’t get stuck in traffic.) 0 (Honestly not worth it write on it.)