Naming a neighborhood restaurant after its own neighborhood, or what's perceived to be its neighborhood, can be dicey business in greater Los Angeles. Take AltaEats, located on North Allen Avenue near New York, for example.
Chef and co-owner Paul Ragan notes that the restaurant he recently opened with his co-owner and wife Angela Visca falls within unincorporated Los Angeles County, and "I have a Pasadena address. However, we feel it's Altadena." Since the couple lives up the street from their business, and Altadena has historically resisted annexation by its neighbor to the south, AltaEats' name sounds legit enough to us.
What isn't really up for debate is this team's dedication to raising the bar when it comes to food options in this small commercial cluster near the base of the San Gabriels. Points mostly south and east are longtime restaurant destinations, but not necessarily this precise locale. Yet points of architectural interest are all over this area. (Meanwhile, chef Claud Beltran's new Eatery project, which serves dinner only on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights, is about a mile and a half south on Allen.)
Ragan was trained at the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan, worked around New York City, and together with Visca, ran a restaurant in Madrid for five years. The couple has spent past summers in Portugal, where he's cooked through that strip of the Iberian peninsula. Ragan's past local experience includes a stint at the now shuttered Derek's Bistro in Pasadena, and he was part of the team that launched Revolution Foods, a healthy school lunch program. He has a fairly straight forward culinary strategy with AltaEats, which came together after plans for a food truck fell through.
"It's food I like to eat," Ragan says. Which translates to dishes such as Brussels sprouts studded with cubes of bacon plus smoky shards of piquillos, and hangar steak frites served over a bed of his bourbon-based interpretation of sauce au poivre. Everything is intended to be shared. (The owners did live in tapas country, after all.)
"We have a lot of classical techniques; we're making confit, we're making pate," the chef explains. "But we're also using a thermal circulator." There's also a reinterpreted Caesar in the form of a Little Gem salad with white anchovies, a regionally appropriate jidori chicken with beets and sweet potatoes, and a grass-fed burger offered as a blackboard special. Yet when an American chef who worked professionally in Spain is steering the ship of a lifelong passion project, it can't hurt to try the paella.
In a welcome break from the relentless presence of reclaimed wood in L.A. dining rooms, the walls at AltaEats are slathered with tasteful shades of taupe and seafoam that live in the dreams of us mere mortals who can only stare at fans of Benjamin Moore paint chips with fear and dread. L.A. based firm Schism Design was responsible for the overall architectural and interior plans, which thanks to the typical maddening delays of opening any business, took over a year to be completed.
The interior isn't without nods to current tastes. An unself-conscious trio of Edison bulb-filled fixtures hangs over the central table, as does an exposed duct (thankfully it's painted matte black). Yet a flatscreen placed next to the kitchen window and across from the comfortable counter/bar shows a series of photos documenting the room's build-out process instead of being tuned to ESPN.
As for dessert, Ragan is also turning to the classics, offering a changing menu that includes a crème brûlée trio and a bread pudding. Sounds like reason to linger a little longer in this corner of Altadena instead of heading to Bulgarini, that community's other marquee food destination a couple miles west.
AltaEats serves dinner six nights per week, and is closed on Tuesdays. With the beer and wine license pending, AltaEats is currently BYOB, which means a stop at Mission Wine and Spirits, or Everson Royce in Pasadena. If you want to make sure you're almost probably definitely buying wine or beer in Altadena proper, however, then pop into Altadena Beverage a couple doors down from AltaEats.
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