Do you have any recommendations for a restaurant in the San Gabriel Valley where six people can have dinner and actually, really hear each other talk?? We need a variety of suggestions to meet varying dietary needs (gluten-free options, nothing too out there) and food preferences. We'd cook at home, but sometimes we enjoy the luxury of being waited upon.
--C. Garner-Reagan, via Facebook
Dear Ms. Garner-Reagan:
You're apologizing for the occasional restaurant visit? To me? I like cooking as much as the next food-obsessive, but the pull of the white tablecloth can be as compelling as the thrill of the red velvet curtain. You never quite know what's going to happen, even if you're eating an eggplant timbale -- or watching Hamlet -- for the 43rd time. When Carême called architecture a branch of pastry, his priorities were not far wrong.
Anyway, my boring but inevitable answer is probably the Pasadena businessman's favorite, Smitty's on Lake. The cooking leans toward well-executed American standards, you can get a drink if you want one, and unlike specialists in sizzling Hunan fish head, it tries very, very hard not to offend. (I'm assuming that if you were looking for giant catfish or htawbit htamin, you would have mentioned it.) The Mexican-Creole-French wine bar cooking at the genteel favorite Noir seems to please almost everybody, and the selection of California Pinot noir is immense.
Or you might try Vertical, a wine-oriented, only slightly trendy Pasadena restaurant that has secretly become pretty good in the last couple of months -- quietly enough that it's still possible to get a seat on a weekend. Laurent Quenioux, whose oddball French dishes shine at Bistro LQ in Hollywood, is the consulting chef on this somewhat tamer menu -- no ant eggs, no duck hearts -- and the cassoulet on Sundays is wonderful.