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.
Alan Moore runs nearly 50 restaurants. Just a few years ago, this would mean millions of dollars invested in real estate, labor and other capital expenses, not to mention a complex operational strategy to keep things running smoothly. But in today’s day and age, this restaurant tycoon can oversee this myriad of brands with little more than a commercial kitchen, a strong marketing eye, and of course, a slew of delivery services that brings them to life.
“We created 4 brands 18 months ago and launched them. Burgers, tacos, pizza and the like. We came up with some cool names and launched them on Postmates and Doordash. That snowballed,” begins Moore, who not only runs these virtual restaurants but also commands a brick-and-mortar establishment, Cheebo in Hollywood. It was experimenting with the delivery platforms through Cheebo that led Moore to start these virtual brands and ultimately lead a consulting business for the space, Virtual Restaurant Consulting, with his brother, Paul.
“It’s a seismic shift and it’s consumer-led,” Moore said. The passion in his voice resonates through a thick English accent. “The delivery companies are taking over the whole world.”
He’s speaking to the rise of ‘virtual restaurants’ or restaurants that don’t actually sport dining rooms or even pick-up counters. Their physical presence is limited to a commercial kitchen space, and do 100% of their business through delivery platforms, such as Grubhub, Uber Eats, Postmates and DoorDash.
Moore sees virtual restaurants playing a pivotal role in the foodservice industry, and the delivery platforms completely changing the way that traditional brick-and-mortar restaurants structure their menus and operations.
“Running a virtual restaurant is no different than running a traditional restaurant, where you go to work everyday and nurture your business,” Moore said. “It’s not just creating a name and throwing it up on Postmates. You need to create the recipes, cost the menu, handle the photography, build it out of social media, and truly bring the virtual restaurant to life. You have to monitor sales, pull up product mix reports, look at your pricing. It’s not just fire and forget.”
But while complex, significantly lower up-front costs open the door to many aspiring restaurateurs looking to break into the field. And Moore has perfected the process of opening a virtual restaurant, to the point of creating a step-by-step guide for new and prospective owners.
“In 6 weeks, someone will come out with hands-on knowledge of exactly what needs to be done and will have 1 – 2 virtual restaurants ready for launch,” Moore said. He also noted that it was easier to manage multiple virtual restaurant brands rather than just one, claiming that a kitchen is better utilized when several concepts are online.
Virtual restaurants typically take an In-n-Out style approach, with hyper-focused menus that of revolve around a shortlist of core products. So instead of creating a single restaurant that serves burgers, fried chicken, sandwiches and mac ‘n’ cheese, you’d create four restaurants that specialize in each of those categories.
Of utmost importance, however, are several factors. Being transparent about the restaurant being a virtual restaurant, viewing delivery drivers as servers, and engineering your food for delivery are at the top of the list.
“You have to serve food that doesn’t just taste good out of the dining room, but also looks and tastes good after riding in the back of a Ford Fusion for 40 minutes,” Moore said. “Crispy fries will phase out. Crinkle-cut will become more popular because they stay good longer. We’re producing more spinach dishes than broccoli, because broccoli doesn’t last as long.”
This kind of engineering includes balancing beautiful photography and managing expectations.
“All the photography on the delivery platforms is on a plate, but course your food isn’t delivered on a plate…customers often feel like they’re getting less food than what they see in the picture, even though it’s the exact same amount. We’ve been playing around with how to package food so that customers are satisfied with portion sizes.”
Moore says the name of the game is high-margin items that deliver well. This formula helps mitigate the logistical challenges and costs of delivery.
“The old model of food costs of 30 – 35%, labor of 35 – 40%, etc. has gone out the window. A traditional restaurant is going to struggle working with the delivery apps,” Moore said. “Food cost and packaging together needs to be 22%.”
And it’s not just the cost structure that will change, in More’s view. He sees a future where in addition to virtual restaurants, brick-and-mortar restaurants will have entirely separate menus solely dedicated to delivery.
“Restaurant food wasn’t necessarily designed for delivery,” Moore said. “The restaurant will offer a menu for delivery that…will be designed differently and conceived differently.”
Find out more about Virtual Restaurant Consulting at VirtualRestaurantConsulting.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
Benjamin Brown is a seasoned restaurant writer and hospitality consultant, serving up SoCal's hottest food news and reviews.