The critically acclaimed Ración in Pasadena, which closed in January, has moved from Spain to California in concept and reopened as Dérive, with an American menu focused on small local farms and wineries.
Under the same ownership of chefs Loretta Peng and Shane Alvord, Dérive’s new menu is partly inspired by Peng’s travels and exploration of local ingredients around the world, a spontaneous journey guided by landscape and nature.
“I had the opportunity to eat at these amazing places that were so isolated and dependent on what they had around them — a little hilltop restaurant in Skiathos arrived at by ATV, a locals-only restaurant in Bidarray where the guests all broke out in a Basque folk song halfway through the meal, the Saltry in Halibut Cove, Alaska,” Peng told L.A. Weekly this week in the cozy neighborhood spot.
“These were all places that didn't have the luxury of being able to order from distributors stocked with everything a chef could desire,” she added. “They had to see what the farmers and the fishermen had that day, and come up with something delicious that night.”
During Peng's travels, Alvord took the helm at Ración and developed a style of his own, discovering new techniques and ingredients, making bread from his own natural yeasts, and butter and crème fraiche in-house. He didn’t rely on animal — or any other fats — to make his food taste good.
“Then we started to ask ourselves — why were we trying to fit our food, cuisine, menu, restaurant into a Spanish box when there was so much else to explore and represent?” Peng said. “I wanted to see if L.A. could move away from a food culture of gastropubs and (dare I say it) heavy-handed Italian food, and appreciate thoughtfully sourced food prepared simply. So simply that you had to think about the potato you were eating to realize that it was the creamiest, most potato-like potato you've ever had.”
Which brings me to the kelp steamed potatoes with Meyer lemon cream and seaweed salt on the new menu ($12). Two Yukon gold potatoes are nestled in a warm kelp bed for a very filling dish. I realized long after the spuds were gone that I had cleaned up every last grain of the seaweed salt with my fingers.
The pig’s head toast with mustard and pickled jalapeño combines crunchy toast and slow-roasted pork that melts in your mouth ($10). The green beans with avocado, kiwi, pistachio and citrus is a great starter at $12.
One of the most popular items on the new menu is the bowl of toasted grains, kale, anchovy aioli, cabbage and black rice chips. When I hear “kale” I usually say “pass,” but it’s a background player in this combination of crunchy and chewy that comes with a salty kiss of anchovy ($14).
On the edge of the current trend of serving pasta in broth instead of heavy sauces, Dérive’s cavatelli pasta with early spring vegetables in roasted onion broth with goat gouda is clearly a star on the menu ($21). The rich broth cooks for 48 hours and is combined with dashi to create a flavor that is onion soup on steroids. For the carnivore, there’s a hefty pork shoulder with celery root, Basque cider and apple ($21).
The breads — sourdough, fig and seeded — are all still made in-house, as is the cultured butter. In addition to California wines, there are still plenty of Spanish, Italian and French selections as well.
As for the interior, there were some simple changes made to create a lighter, cheerful and more casual vibe. The dark surfaces and black light fixtures were replaced with a brown saddle booth and seafoam bar.
“We wanted to make the space feel more approachable,” Peng said. “It represents where we are trying to take the restaurant — a space that is comfortable, modern and clean and allows the food and ingredients to shine.”
Dérive, 119 W. Green St., Pasadena; (626) 460-8110.