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First Bite: Maximum Intelligentsia in Pasadena

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Wed, Aug 11, 2010 at 9:00 AM

click to enlarge Jonagold apple, minus first bite - CHRISTIE BISHOP
  • Christie Bishop
  • Jonagold apple, minus first bite
And you thought the coffee and the architecture and the hep baristas were enough, right? Is it possible to get a caffeine contact high? Because when you walk into the newest Intelligentsia, in a stripped, high-ceilinged storefront hard by the Foot Locker in Old Town Pasadena, you start to get jittery even before you step up to the recycled-wood counter, where the squadron of coffee jocks -- decked out in the cocktailian uniform of rolled-up sleeves, suspenders and old-man ties -- sprinkle water out of long-spouted Japanese pots, rehearse foam stunts and pull dense, oily, double ristrettos that seem as if they could ooze out of the cup on their own. The residual coffee in the air is worth an aerosolized shot, shot and a half, easy.

The other two Intelligentsias in town are mere temples of the bean and its attendant aggressive attitude, but the Pasadena outlet doubles as sort of a hypercaffeinated café, a place where you can accompany a slowly dripped Kenyan with cured-meat plates, including Fra' Mani salametti, as well as quite decent prosciutti cured in the restaurant's back room; bruschetta-style sandwiches made with Jidori chicken salad or halibut-confit salad; or planks of California cheeses. This Intelligentsia's great invention, perhaps ingenious enough to eclipse the barista awards the chain keeps winning, is the lasagne "cupcake'' -- sheets of pasta, pleated to maximize the oven-baked crunch, folded around a thick, gamy Colorado lamb ragu, a dish that violates every rule of Italian cooking but still manages to taste like something straight out of Ferrara.

Intelligentsia: 55 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena; (626) 578-1270.

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