While mostly mediocre chain restaurants line the main streets in Old Town Pasadena, tucked away on one of the back streets is the exceptional Union Restaurant. Named after the street on which it’s located, this tiny gem elevates Northern Italian cuisine with its attention to detail – using the best produce from local farmers’ markets, making their pasta in-house.
Union is a shared plates restaurant (though I guess one doesn’t need to share if they are not so inclined), which makes dining more fun. The staff will offer their suggestion on how many dishes to order and are very knowledgeable about the menu. For our group of three, our waiter recommended five dishes
At $10, the bread and giardiniere starter was tempting but seemed a little pricey. “You have to order it,” said the woman, sitting a couple of tables away, “It’s amazing.”
The bread & giardiniere was presented on a plank, the bread only about 4 slices in total. Made with creme fraiche and sprinkled with Hepp’s sea salt, the butter was a relevation. There was also a small jar of pickled vegetables, mostly carrots and cauliflower, which were quite spicy. I would have gladly exchanged the pickled vegetables for more bread so I could have eaten more of the butter. I did contemplate attempting to smuggle what butter was leftover home with me, but decided against it (a choice that I now regret).
Octopus is a dish that is very easily botched if not cooked properly, resulting in rubbery, chewy bites. Here, the braised octopus was perfectly cooked, each piece completely tender, accented with dukkah, served on top of a chickpea conserva, with a drizzle of Meyer lemon yogurt.
The wild mushrooms was a last-minute addition, as I started to feel guilty about not having any vegetable dishes. Am I ever glad I added this one as this dish had the most dreamy polenta I’ve ever encountered. Made with polenta from local small batch purveyors Grist & Toll, it was impossibly creamy, with the wild mushrooms offering a nice earthy contrast.
A smoky pork ragu accompanied the house-made tagliatelle noodles, which were nice and chewy. This dish was on the small side and could have used a bit more pasta to go with the ragu. If only there had been more bread.
The porchetta, available in daily in limited quantities, came with a smattering of salsa verde and a shatteringly crisp skin. The fingerling potatoes, from Weiser Farms, had absorbed the pork juices and were delightful. Even though I promised myself to eat just one bit of that skin, I found myself enjoying bite after bite.
Our waiter confided that on occasions where the porchetta skin does not turn out crispy, the kitchen will simply not serve the dish, relegating the meat to the staff meal instead. This pursuit of perfection, with skilled chefs and the finest quality of ingredients, makes Union not only one of the best restaurants in Pasadena, but one of the best in Los Angeles. Sure, it’s a little pricey, but it’s worth it.
Location – 37 E Union St, Pasadena 91103
Website – http://unionpasadena.com
Kid-Friendly – Yes
Kid’s Menu – No
Vegetarian/Vegan Friendly – Yes
Gluten-Free Options – Yes