Best Of :: Pasadena and vicinity
Best Modern Indonesian: Bone Kettle
Upon its opening in February, Pasadena's Bone Kettle was touted as "a bone-broth concept." This description buried the lede significantly: The far more interesting thing about Bone Kettle is its chef, Erwin Tjahyadi, and his use of Indonesian flavors on this menu. Bone Kettle is not a purely Indonesian restaurant by any stretch of the imagination, nor does Tjahyadi claim it is one. It's inspired, he says, by his travels throughout Southeast Asia, and particularly by the many bone broths he tasted along the way. And the soup is great! Local company Sun Noodles provides the round, slightly bouncy, ramen-style noodles, and the broth, made from boiling beef and spices for 36 hours, is milky and rich and comforting. But what's far more interesting about Bone Kettle are the small plates, and the evolution they represent in terms of bringing Indonesian flavors into the New American canon. Gado gado, an intense peanut sauce that's usually served as a dressing over vegetable salad, is used by Tjahyadi as the binder for a small pile of chewy rice cakes. Mie goreng pedas — literally fried spicy noodles — is chock-full of shrimp paste–fueled, fermented fish funk. A sous vide egg comes nestled in the middle of the bowl, adding to the dish's slick richness. Bone Kettle is a major advancement of our city's best food trend — the one that involves chefs with immigrant backgrounds and fine-dining training taking the two parts of their culinary identities and merging them into something new and delicious.
Opened in 1971 in Old Town Pasadena, back when the neighborhood had more hippies and fewer Cheesecake Factories, Poo-Bah Record Shop became famous not just for its vinyl but as the regular meeting spot for the Los Angeles Free Music Society, an avant-garde collective of jazzbos and noise-mongers and analog synth nerds who were hugely influential on later generations of experimental musicians and composers. Today, owner Ron Stivers honors that history by keeping his shop, now in East Pasadena, well-stocked with the latest releases from Brainfeeder, Leaving and other vanguard beat scene labels. He also, ironically, has the biggest easy-listening section in town, so you can walk out with the latest Nosaj Thing and a $1.99 used copy of Engelbert Humperdinck's greatest hits. Beyond that, a cozy listening loft, extensive new-releases section and friendly, unsnobby staff make Poo-Bah well worth the short commute for vinyl junkies weary of the picked-over selections at its better-known Silver Lake and Highland Park competitors.
What do you do when you've collected thousands of pieces of bunny memorabilia, made your collection into a museum, and then outgrown the museum? You open a bigger location. Candace Frazee and Steve Lubanski have served the Pasadena area for many years as the owner-operators of the biggest (only?) bunny museum in the world, but the Bunny Museum's new Altadena location is hopping huge. (Sorry.) Prepare to be overwhelmed by and immersed in all things rabbit. At this point, Frazee and Lubanski have amassed more than 35,000 bunny-themed collectibles, which is more than enough inventory to hold onto their Guinness Book of World Records title. If you go, please remember to bring some little treats for their rabbits — hay if you have it, but lettuce is good too. Some people actually bring their own live bunnies to see the collection but must keep the bunny in hand at all times — there are cats in the Bunny Museum.
When you picture a flour mill, you probably picture a red barn and some shiny grain silos perched on a hill overlooking rolling fields of wheat — not an anonymous industrial tract at the end of the 110 freeway in Pasadena. Opened in 2012 by Nan Kohler and Marti Noxon, Grist & Toll's tiny storefront hides a massive stone flour mill on which are ground various grains from local growers — everything from wheat, rye and corn to more exotic products such as purple barley and Ethiopian teff. Much of Grist & Toll's product is sold wholesale to restaurants and professional bakers, but it's open to the public and more than happy to help newbie bakers struggling with their first sourdough starter or whole-grain quick bread recipe. It also sells proofing cloths and baskets, rolling pins, aprons and everything else you'll need to get baking. The one thing it doesn't sell is the finished product — that part's up to you.
As it turns out, Netflix, Amazon and iTunes don't have every movie under the sun. If you're looking for foreign or classic films, or TV shows that'll never hit streaming, Vidéothèque of South Pasadena is one of the best-curated and most convenient spots to rent your favorite flicks. Free parking abounds in this walkable neighborhood, so a last-minute, Saturday night trip to the video store is incredibly easy. But like every good record or video store, what makes Vidéothèque special is the people who run it. Yes, streaming services can give you "recommendations," but if you're a person with diverse tastes that elude the algorithms, good luck with that. Talk to any of the clerks at Vidéothèque, though, and five minutes later, you'll have a to-watch list that'll keep you busy for weeks. It also sells movie-themed gifts, music- and film-related books, and a curated selection of records. Follow Vidéothèque on Facebook and you'll get info about outdoor movie screenings behind the eyeglass shop next door as well as its roving French pop DJ nights.
Millard Campground, aka Millard Trail Camp, is an intimate, six-site campground that's just a few hundred yards from city streets but feels worlds away, tucked into a cool, leafy canyon. This first-come, first-served location offers access to the scenic Sunset Ridge Trail, with views of Punchbowl and Saucer Falls en route to the Dawn Mine, Mount Lowe and points in between. The main destination here is the half-mile trail to Millard Falls, a pleasant trickle in the summer and a satisfying cataract in other seasons. Weekends can be crowded, so plan your overnight stay during the week, and remember to bring your National Forest Service Adventure Pass to use any of the facilities: parking, picnic tables, fire rings, campsites. Note that parking is a quarter-mile or so from the tent sites, so Millard is considered a "hike-in" campground (you have to lug your stuff a ways). Make sure to call ahead in case of forest closures. Finally, there's a vault toilet but no potable water, so bring your own drinking water.