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Union is One of LA Weekly’s 99 Essentials!

February 19, 2016

Thank you LA Weekly for putting us right at the top of your list! You can see their write up on Union below or read the entire feature at their link here.


This year’s list has greater turnover than we’ve seen in recent years — and some surprises

This past December, in the midst of the four-month flurry of eating and parsing and thinking and writing that precedes our annual 99 Essentials issue, I stopped in for a quick bite at Girasol in Studio City. The restaurant has never been on the list, seeming not quite up to the distinction when I reviewed it back in 2013, but I kept hearing great things about the food from other eaters I respect, so I stopped by, sat at the bar and ordered a plate of hamachi crudo. And, man, that crudo blew my socks off. A wild sorrel broth that pooled around it was touched with white fir and finger lime and tasted like nothing I’d eaten all year. With a schedule that includes three meals out on regular weeks and up to nine per week during 99 Essentials research, that’s saying something. Chef C.J. Jacobsen’s dish was so bright, so new, so refined — and in that moment his restaurant earned its move from the “maybe” to the “definitely” column.

It’s moments like this that make the planning and research for 99 Essentials, which this year I shared with L.A. Weekly food editor Garrett Snyder, such a pleasure. Each year we get to rediscover L.A., return to the places that make this city a joy for food lovers, discover new flavors and chefs and taqueros, and catch up with chefs and restaurants that have new and exciting things to offer. The scenario above happened in some form or another at so many places around town: A quick bite revealed more than I’d been hoping for. Of course, these discoveries present their own set of issues. In any given year, there are never enough closures among the previous year’s 99 to make room for all the new entries we’d like to include. This year — more than any in the four years since I’ve been overseeing the list — we’ve added new discoveries and places that, like Girasol, have earned their spot years after opening. Of this year’s 99 restaurants, 38 are new. This means we had to say goodbye to some long-standing honorees we love and admire and still consider essential. But the headline says 99, so 99 it is.

There are other firsts on this year’s list. It’s a the first time we’ve included a supper club, which I’m sure will be just as controversial as the first time a food truck appeared. No, it’s not a traditional restaurant. Is the food incredible? Is it essential to L.A.’s dining scene? We think so. These days, great food arrives in all kinds of formats. For 2016, we’ve broken out purveyors from Grand Central Market rather than having an entry for the market as a whole; we adore the market and all it stands for, but we think certain folks deserve individual recognition.

We’ve left Mozza, however, as a conglomerate, encompassing all three of Nancy Silverton’s restaurants on the corner of Melrose and Highland. Yeah, yeah, we know it’s a copout. Maybe next year we’ll break them out, too. There were a lot of places and things on this year’s list we couldn’t bear to let go of, especially after experiencing them again. Who could imagine L.A. without a Langer’s pastrami sandwich? How would we live without Ricky’s Fish Tacos? Is Animal any less delicious than it was last year? (It is not.) Some things are just tried and true, and the 99 Essentials celebrates those places as well.

We hope you find the 99 Essentials as inspiring as we did while putting them together. Here’s to all those moments — at tables and at bars and at food stands and in supper clubs across the city — when that plate of food arrives and practically knocks you off your chair. We hope we can help bring more of those moments into your life. —Besha Rodell



(Spaghetti Alla Chitarra photo by: Anne Fishbein)


There are few restaurants as tiny, bustling and convivial as Union, Bruce Kalman’s 2-year-old Cali-Italian restaurant in Pasadena. Large family groups commune at long tables, the babies among them happily gobbling meatballs as their parents drink interesting Italian red wines. It’s the type of place where people stop in for a quick plate of pasta and a glass of wine at the bar, a perfect first-date spot, a perfect 100th-date spot. Starters, such as a beautifully spiced cotechino sausage served with braised collard greens and a soft poached egg, are inventive but comforting above all else. The handmade pastas are the star of the show, however, from the simplest tomato sauce-dressed spaghetti chitarra to heavier ragus. This is the type of restaurant we all wish we had within walking distance of our homes: laid-back, friendly, relatively affordable and with food you could eat happily over and over again. —Besha Rodell
Read our full review.

37 E. Union St., Pasadena, 91103



February 11, 2016

Thank you to LA Weekly for their really nice write up on our sister restaurant Knead & Co. Market + Pasta. They’ve got a love for the porchetta dip, calling it “king of the heap” at Grand Central Market. See their full feature below or read the entire article at this link.


(Porchetta panini at Knead & Co.)
You can now find fresh-shucked oysters, hand-sliced pastrami, Northern Thai khao soi and killer falafel wraps at downtown’s Grand Central Market, so it should be no surprise that there’s now fresh pasta, too. It comes courtesy of Bruce Kalman and Marie Petulla, the business partners behind Pasadena’s Union. Their newest endeavor is Knead & Co. Pasta Bar, where Kalman is serving pastas such as baked ziti and “Sunday gravy” spaghetti with meatballs, as well as sandwiches, salads and crispy, sauce-filled hand pies called panzerotti.
The first thing you’ll most likely notice about Knead & Co. is that its kitchen is absolutely enormous, about the size of a tractor trailer end-to-end. It’s bigger than the kitchen at Union, in fact. On one side is the hot line, where dishes like squid ink tagliolini and locally grown spelt cavatelli are plated as elegantly as they can be inside compostable cardboard bowls. On the other side is a pasta lab, an airy glass atrium where chefs use locally milled flour from Grist & Toll to produce a kaleidoscope of pasta shapes. You can also buy some of this fresh pasta to-go, along with tomatoes, sauce, tiramisu and other goodies.
If you’ve tried the stellar pastas at Union, you’ll recognize many of them on Knead & Co.’s menu — which is far from a bad thing. Twirling your fork around tender bucatini noodles sauced with tomato, basil and house-cured pork jowl is as pleasurable in a quaint Pasadena dining room as it is in the rowdy confines of Grand Central Market.
But if there’s one reason to make a beeline to Knead & Co., it’s the porchetta dip panini. It’s a bulging, downright carnal sandwich — part Philly roast pork, part French dip — with soft, dripping pork shavings crammed inside a crusty length of house-baked bread. A layer of roasted rapini cuts through the fattiness of the pork, and pickled mustard seeds add a sweet, vinegary zip. There’s a small cup of spicy-crunchy giardiniere and garlic-zapped jus on the side, but since the sandwich is succulent enough on its own, you might consider sipping the jus as if it were a cup of fancy bone broth instead. Even among the growing roster of competitors currently filling out Grand Central Market, this sandwich could be king of the heap.
Knead & Co. Pasta Bar, 317 S. Broadway, downtown; (213) 624-2378, kneadpasta.com.

Knead & Co. in Grand Central Market

Union Cooking at “The Essentials”

January 25, 2016

Union will be participating in this year’s “The Essentials” hosted by LA Weekly. Chef Kalman will be cooking up tastes along side a host of other wonderful chefs. All details are below.

You can order tickets to The Essentials at this link.

From LA Weekly’s website:
LA Weekly presents The Essentials at the California Market Center in DTLA. Join us Saturday, February 20th, from 6pm-10pm for LA Weekly’s signature food and wine extravaganza. Curated by our award-winning food critic Besha Rodell, the event showcases signature bites from restaurants featured in our 99 Essentials restaurant issue that hits stands the same week. Along with the great food, guests will enjoy wine from top shelf wineries and cocktail samples from our liquor partners.
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The Essentials
Saturday February 20th, 2016
6pm – 10pm
VIP Hour 5pm – 6pm
California Market Center
110 E 9th St., Los Angeles, CA 90079

21+ event — Must have valid ID to enter.

General Admission ticket includes:
Entry into the event
Unlimited food samples from over 40 Essentials restaurants
Beer, wine or cocktail samples
Access to our artisanal vendor village with 20+ vendors
Presale Pricing: $60 (November 17th @10am – November 22nd @10pm)

Super Advance Pricing: $60 (November 23rd @10am – January 17th @11:59pm)

Advance Pricing: $65 (January 18th @12am – February 7th @ 11:59pm)

General Admission Pricing: $70 (February 8th @12am – February 19th at 5pm)

Door Pricing: $75*

VIP Admission ticket includes:
1 hour early entry into the event
Unlimited food samples from over 40 Essentials restaurants
Beer, wine or cocktail samples
Access to our artisanal vendor village with 20+ vendors
Special VIP Gift Bag
Presale Pricing: $95 (November 17th @10am – November 22nd @10pm)

Super Advance Pricing: $95 (November 23rd @10am – January 17th @11:59pm)

Advance Pricing: $100 (January 18th @12am – February 7th @ 11:59pm)

VIP Pricing: $105 (February 8th @12am – February 19th at 5pm)

Door Pricing: $110*

* Tickets will be sold at the door IF tickets are still available. This event has sold out in the past. Tickets are NOT guaranteed to be sold at the door. IF tickets are available at the door, sales will begin at 6pm at the entrance.

Union Named 1 of 10 Best!

January 21, 2016

Thank you to La Weekly for their continued support. It’s an honor to be recognized. You can read the feature on Union below or find the full article at this link. Have you made a reservation? 626-795-5841


Squid ink garganelli at Union (Photo by: Anne Fishbein)
Old Town has rarely been the destination for the best cooking in Pasadena, and it isn’t hard to see why — rent is crazy high, and most of the traffic in the area is from casual shoppers looking for an easy stopover that won’t challenge the palate or the wallet. But over the last couple of years the scene has greatly improved, thanks in no small part to Union, Bruce Kalman’s home of pasta and pickles. The space is small and decorated with folksy, vegetable-focused sayings from Alice Waters and friends, the menu is interesting and hyper-seasonal, and it’s still one of the toughest reservations in the neighborhood. Pasadena needed a place like this, with staggeringly good cacio e pepe and a thunderous porchetta, where the bread comes with delicious giardiniera and the star dessert is olive oil cake. 37 E. Union St.; (626) 795-5841, unionpasadena.com.