Mi Piace has been a staple of Old Town Pasadena for about as long as restaurants have stood on Colorado Blvd. A combination of aesthetic experimentation and culinary genius are undoubtedly two of the biggest reasons that this Italian haute spot has been serving patrons for 30 years and counting, with no signs of slowing down. This is a rare scenario where modern design, contemporary ambiance and a timeless menu that embodies authentic Italian classics come together in perfect harmony. Dare I name Mi Piace as one of the top Italian restaurants in Los Angeles.
Mi Piace is made to feel like a home away from home for anyone who walks through its doors. On the surface, the chic pendant lighting, beautifully-lit bar and dark wooden tables sans white table cloths could be mistaken for just about any other trendy spot that doles out new-age fusion. But there’s more to this ambiance than good looks. It’s an intangible warmth typically reserved for coming home for the holidays or seeing a good friend for the first time in years. It’s the genuinely welcoming tone you get from everyone on staff. It’s the smile that comes not just from you upon first bite, but also from everyone on the team that brought that dish into the world just for you. That familial Italian hospitality is becoming harder and harder to find in LA, but has found sanctuary within these four walls.
And while classic Italian doesn’t seem to be enough in an era of global fusion, Mi Piace shines with its iconic menu, where traditional classics have aged like a fine wine. Reading more like a novel than a menu, the seemingly endless list of handmade pastas, wood-fired pizzas, and meat and seafood specials holds an identity far stronger and a level of flavor far more developed than the typically narrow and terse selection of trendy ingredient combinations you’ll find on a clipboard in some of your nearby counterparts. Let’s digress no further on the new kids on the block thought. Let’s talk about how Mi Piace has helped establish Old Town Pasadena as a culinary powerhouse for decades.
Unquestionably, the pasta is going to be memorable to say the least. Mi Piace features two entirely separate selections, one of pasta made from scratch in house, and another of pastas imported from the motherland. Among the many highlights here is the tagliatelle con gamberi, boasting handmade spinach tagliatelle that holds perfect texture and earthy character, soaking up a rich cognac cream sauce and pairing with perfectly-cooked prawns. Then there’s the spaghetti a la carbonara, another impeccably delightful creation that brings together rich pancetta and peas that snap open with even the softest bite.
For something on the meatier side, look no further than the pork ragu papperdalle Bolognese, with mile-long house-made pappardalle woven into a hearty Moroccan-spiced meat sauce with a touch of fleur de sel. Conversely, on the lighter side (but far from light, in traditional Italian fashion) is the ravioli al burro, or handmade butternut squash and ricotta-filled ravioli with roasted sage sitting in a brown butter sauce.
For those crazy enough to divert from pasta, pizza proves to be a lovely suitor, with fresh ingredients atop a perfectly blistered crust. The mixed mushroom pizza with ricotta and micro greens was something else, but with a long list of toppings and endless custom options, there should be a pizza for everyone here.
And while Mi Piace could easily stick to a traditional Italian wine list, they really go the extra mile in their cocktail program. The food menu may pay homage to purebred Italian history, but their futuristic drink menu can go head-to-head with just about any young gun in SoCal. Try the smoke in the water, a martini at heart but an Instagrammer’s dream in presentation, served over a fishbowl-looking base lined with dry ice to make the drink look like a medieval potion. There’s a gin and tonic that changes colors before your eyes, spritzers served in simply the coolest glasses, and so much more on this dazzling list that assures you this place may have been around for 30 years, but has unquestionably ‘gotten with the times.’
Then there’s dessert, where at Mi Piace, there’s always room for chocolate soup. Described as part souffle, part molten chocolate lava cake, it looks like the former and tastes like the latter. Every bite is like an entire chocolate bar just went and melted on your spoon, with vanilla gelato and fresh whipped cream pairing like a charm. But it doesn’t stop there. Creations like the almond rocha cake and the Mi Piace special—chocolate and raspberry mousse layered between white cake, wrapped in white chocolate and topped with French raspberry marmalade—are made to look beautiful and taste even better.
Mi Piace is located at 25 E Colorado Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91105. Open 11a – 11p Mon – Thu, 11a – midnight Fri, 8a – midnight Sat and 8a – 11p Sun. Avg. out-the-door price for appetizer, entrée, split dessert and 1 – 2 drinks is ~$90/person. For more information, call (626) 795-3131 or visit MiPiace.com.
The Blind Pig attained regional acclaim in Rancho Santa Margarita for its flavorful twists on classic dishes. Now, Executive Chef Karl Pfleider and Bar Manager Ryan Autry have expanded their knack for new American flavor and artful execution to Yorba Linda, where the restaurant’s second location has been received with overwhelming praise. The place was popping—popping!—on a Sunday night, traditionally among the slowest times for a restaurant, demonstrating that The Blind Pig is satisfying a long-time local thirst for culinary novelty and innovation.
The new dining room is a big step up from the RSM location in terms of capacity, but plays to the same loose speakeasy theme, putting the bar at center stage amidst a surrounding perimeter of chic tables and comfortable booths. Servers have just enough room to maneuver between bargoers captivated by whatever game is playing on TV and high-energy groups reaching for the next small plate on the table. A lovely patio adds further seating and perhaps a quieter environment than the comradery taking place inside.
While the bar is the physical focus of The Blind Pig, Autry and his team have crafted a cocktail, beer and wine program to walk the walk. Pages and pages of artful cocktails, separated by different categories and cleverly labeled with flavor profiles to ensure patrons get exactly what they’re looking for, make up the majority of the leather-bound drink book (yes, it’s more of a book than a menu…quite a good read!). The socialite, made with vodka, aperol, strawberry rose, prosecco and lemon, lives up to its claim of ‘fruity and effervescent’ while the real Vinnie holds distinct sweetness to mask an otherwise potent bite. If you feel like splurging, the high roller cocktails are a fun venture into the unknown, with creations like the billionaire and ‘a damn good margarita’ bringing nuanced flavors.
The food menu is every bit as creative, with items like chicken lollipops and pork back ribs coming out with sauces that play with heat, sweet and tang in a way that holds onto each dish’s flavor foundation while deviating from the norm enough to raise eyebrows and beg the question of ‘what’s in this that I haven’t had before?’ Same goes for the short rib tacos, where Chef Pfleider has perfected the ability to inject every bit of umami flavor into those short ribs and compile them with a mystical combination of creamy, crunchy and hearty additives, served atop a perfectly robust tortilla. Then there’s the hot chicken, a trend that’s sweeping Southern California but one that The Blind Pig can own long after the fad is gone with its just-spicy-enough sauce, excellent crunch and sizeable Texas toast that it’s served on. And whatever you may order, pair it with a side of fries with heavenly garlic aioli or some killer kimchi fried rice.
If you have room for dessert, those melt-in-your-mouth churros served over rich panna cotta are sure to please. Or maybe you’ll cap the night with another one of those intricate cocktails.
The Blind Pig Yorba Linda is located at 4975 Lakeview Ave, Yorba Linda, CA 92886. Open 3 – 11p Mon – Wed, 3p – 12 midnight Thu, 3p – 1a Fri – Sat and 3 – 10p Sunday. Avg. out-the-door price for appetizer, entrée and 2 drinks is ~$90/person. For more information call (714) 485 – 2593 or visit TheBlindPigOC.com/Yorba-Linda
Elixir G founder Bill Tocantins has traveled the world in search of ingredients to craft the perfect ‘liquid ginger.’ Since stumbling onto the idea for fresh ginger syrup nearly 10 years ago, Tocantins has become a thriving entrepreneur, expanding Elixir G’s outreach to save restaurants millions in ingredient costs and give consumers the opportunity to make their very own ginger beer at home.
Tocantins took the time to discuss Elixir G’s development, as well as the peaks and valleys that come with launching a new product in the F&B world.
How did you come up with the idea for Elixir G?
“Some people I knew had an Indian restaurant and moved to a location with a liquor license. When I took over the bar program, they had this ginger [syrup] and I decided to make a margarita out of it. It was a big success. I had people getting up out of their seats to ask me ‘how did you make this?’”
“I knew that people were flocking to this stuff. I asked [the restaurant owners] if they wanted to bottle it, and they said no. They responded that ‘we’re in the restaurant business, and that’s not what we do.’ I saw the opportunity and decided to pursue it.”
What went into the product development process?
“There was an enormous amount of trial and error. I explored gingers from across the world. After some time I found that far and away the best ginger source is Hawaii…It’s amazing, I looked at nine competitors and only three of them are using fresh ginger.”
“Originally, Elixir G was called Gingerita. I took on a partner who had a marketing background. We went to three designers and gave them the description of what we were doing. After 15 – 20 different ideas, one designer eventually came up with Elixir G and that’s what stuck.”
“We started our first version of Elixir G in 2007. My partner was on board until 2011. Since then I’ve been CEO as well as a Chief Bottle Washing Officer [laughs].”
Who drinks Elixir G?
“Women, age 21 – 39. Women are the change-makers. Men will find what they want to drink and stick with it for 20 years. Women are always looking to try something new and see what’s out there. Women have always responded positively to our product...based on the length of time they spend with us, either on the phone when they’re ordering or at one of our booths during a fundraiser or expo."
How are you building Elixir G's customer base, and what have been some of your biggest challenges so far?
"Our first target is to go to the restaurants rather the retail stores. It’s one step easier. When we educate the restaurant, they can use it right away. The stores are tougher. First you have to convince the store to buy, then you have to convince the public how to use it.”
"Our biggest success recently has been Longhorn Steakhouse. We started in Yard House, where they used it for their Moscow Mule and saw so much success that they expanded to three cocktails. Then [Yard House] got bought by Darden Restaurants. Once we were in Darden’s system, we jumped to Longhorn’s 450 restaurants. They started cooking with it, making a ginger-flavored steak. They’ve had so much success with it in their drink program that they’re also offering three variations of Moscow Mules."
"We started to look into Amazon to retail directly to consumers. With a new product it’s very expensive to get off the ground. With some retailers, they will require a free case for every store to offset the risk for their selling the product. We’re looking to target those regional stores who will make room for the smaller labels like ours."
"The hardest piece of the puzzle is the distributor. Distributors usually won’t take a new product until it has a demand of more than 200 cases a month. That said, since we're a nonalcoholic product we’re lucky that we have two choices: liquor and food distributors."
What are the next steps for Elixir G?
"We're pursuing restaurant chains right now as hard as we can. For a restaurant chain that has 1,000 locations, we can save them $1.2 million a year. Eventually…we’ll target various areas for retail and come out with a plan to saturate the media and inform the public. We're also open to a liquor brand partnership several years.
Benjamin Brown is a seasoned restaurant writer and hospitality consultant, serving up SoCal's hottest food news and reviews.