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Straight Out of Sonoma: Dish, in Pasadena

Dish is a restaurant that would seem to have vanishingly small odds of success. It is on an isolated, parking structure–dominated block, for one thing, where promising entrepreneurs are dashed against the rocks of low foot traffic, and its generic name is the restaurant equivalent of the Smiths and Browns pressed on reluctant emigrants at Ellis Island. Its concept — the organic, sustainable cooking based on Sonoma ingredients — seems a bit forced in the age of the locavore. The vaguely Belle Epoque look of the restaurant, all lacquer, dark wood, ornate fixtures and antique booze posters, seems very 1999. If there weren’t grapefruit and pistachios in the kitchen, I suspect the chef, Job Carter, wouldn’t bother to get out of bed in the morning.
Yet, and I admit to being a bit grudging about this — Dish doesn’t suck. There are worse ingredients to be fixated on than pistachios and oro blanco grapefruit, and they aren’t half bad arranged over thin slices of grilled octopus “carpaccio” or in a tart at dessert, and as annoying as the idea of a dish called Mini Boo Ya might be, the tiny, mildly virtuosic bouillabaisse is a pleasant appetizer. There are ratatouille sandwiches or very good steamed mussels at lunch, Sonoma lambsicles at dinner, and platters of house-made charcuterie. The fries are wonderful; the tender, crisp Sonoma-raised Liberty Duck confit among the very best in town. The wine list, which isn’t nearly as Sonoma-focused as you might imagine, includes a decent selection of acceptable wines by the glass, including the crisp, Alsatian-styled pinot blanc from J. And Dish stays open until midnight, 1 a.m. on weekends, which is almost a miracle in early-to-bed Pasadena. 53 E. Union St., Pasadena. (626) 795-5546, dishbistroandbar.com.

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