The Uncouth Gourmands are notorious for thinking we are way more important than we really are. Notice our use of the third person. We had a fine example of that the other day when Josie called me while I was checking my mailbox (real not virtual). I said, “Oh, we just got a special invite to the grand opening of the Fresh & Easy in Pasadena.” Now, this was actually a flyer that went out to all the neighbors and included $5 off with the purchase of $20 or more and a free reusable canvas bag with the purchase of more than $10. I was excited so I pretended like we were the only ones with this inside invite. Josie works, like at a real job, so I went solo today at around 11:30A, an hour and a half after the ribbon cutting ceremony. I have to say, I am not normally all that impressed by Fresh & Easy, but have only ever visited the Eagle Rock location. Fresh & Easy has it tough in their new Pasadena location. First, as an MBA student and a TJ enthusiast, I know that Trader Joe’s first location ever was the one on Arroyo Parkway. It was started there because Joe saw Pasadena as the epitome of his target market “the over-educated and the underpaid”. Also, Pasadena has the first 2-story Whole Foods west of the Rocky Mountains, it caused me anxiety attacks the first 2 months of being open. It is that big and grandiose that I feel drawn towards the massage room every time after I go up that elevator from parking. Pasadena is also home to my poetic Ralphs, Gelsons, Hows, Bristol Farms, and many more. To add one more thing stacked against Fresh & Easy, they have a bad parking lot that rivals any of the worst TJs lots and the location used to be home to Wild Oats. Wild Oats always had a special place in my heart especially before they were bought by Whole Foods. Business Fact: Did you know that the CEO of Whole Foods spent 7 years on the Yahoo Finance Forums criticizing Wild Oats under a pseudo name? The CEO-shocking-I know. I apologize for the tangent, back to the ambitious opening of Fresh & Easy.
I came with low expectations and was really only looking forward to using my coupons and getting my bag. However, I ended up having a very good time. The air conditioning helped cool and relax me from the blistering heat outside and there was loud music booming inside. The store was crowded, but I had plenty of room to browse. I liked that they had specialty items like pad thai and a large variety of olives but still carry my name brands like Diet Coke. Remember I am a Diet Coke head. I bought a bottle of wine, a bottle of champagne, mustard, soy milk, Captain Crunch Berries, turkey, Arizona iced tea in average sized cans, tangerines, chips, and more. My least favorite things about TJ’s is the poor quality of bread and how everything is right at the expiration date. I don’t care if it doesn’t mean anything, I want my stuff dated weeks in advance. Fresh & Easy fell into the latter trap but their bread looked great. Mini ciabattas, green chile sourdough bread, and foccacia were all looking yummy.
My favorite thing about the new Fresh & Easy was that there was a sample table right in the middle of the store. The employee said this is the only store in the area with the sampling table in the middle as opposed to nestled in a corner. One thing I hate is self -check-out. I like to be serviced, what can I say? Anyway, one of the employees did it all for me. I am not sure if this is a regular occurrence, but I loved it. She used my new free bag and provided me with more coupons for the next few weeks. It was a great shopping experience and my total was around $30, very cheap and a lot of variety. It is a good combination of Ralphs and TJs and a nice alternative when you don’t have time to go to both and it actually may be more cost effective in THIS economy!
Josie and I had a dinner in the works and I suggested we check out a sort of unknown Jamaican restaurant in Pasadena called Kingston Cafe. Josie was feeling really tired from work and wanted to cancel, but I convinced her that we should go out and have a nice meal. Either my Jewish guilt or her hunger pains prevailed and she met me there. I tried to find a menu online but I found nothing. I called the restaurant and they offered to email me one. I also sent a Tweet to them and they responded right away. When we walked in I felt like I knew everyone already. I also felt like I knew the restaurant’s story about sharing a home with a medical office and going through a reopening sometime in the near future. Most of what I knew came from the great review on Pleasure Palate. However, I had no idea how big the place was, when we walked in we went past three private and very bright rooms before we got to the large back room. It was painted my favorite color, orange, and Josie was surprised that the frames had no pictures inside of them. We ordered drinks and it may be the first time in history while drinking my cup went up rather than down. I ordered the homemade ginger beer (no beer included) that packed one hell of a punch. I would take a sip and then add in some water to mellow the intensity that always left me with an incredible after taste. I ordered the coconut rum shrimp and Josie had the curry chicken. Both entrees came with a salad and an appetizer of plantains and festival.
The first courses were quite nice and we were trying to figure out what festival reminded us of, the waiter said it was a cornmeal substance. All of the sudden, it came to my brain and I said it was just like the outside of a corndog. Josie gave me a hush noise and I said, “What?!?! I love corndogs”. Uncouth. Before we even began on the first course I asked the waiter if we could meet with the manager, Keone, that had emailed me the menu earlier. He came out and was very young and handsome. We were confused by the whole concept, the new signage-that no longer included Women’s Diagnostic Imaging Group, and were in need of some backstory. Keone happily obliged and told us that his Jamaican mother was a physician there who had the property and used the front half of as a restaurant for a long time. It was closed for several years and now he and his uncle are turning the whole thing into a restaurant and patio area with reggae bands on Saturday nights. It is all a soft opening, they are waiting on art, perfecting the menu and looking for local food bloggers to point them in the right taste directions. Keone had a fascinating story of his own. He is half Jamaican and half Chinese, he grew up in the area, studied engineering at Pomona, is a writer, heads the very popular Nerds with Swag, and is now in the restaurant business. Similar to the dark lit and orange painted back/main room of the restaurant you have no idea how you got there from the bright corridor but you like it and are excited to be there. The waiters were all kind and I think they all visited our table at one point. One waiter we recognized as a former Lucky Baldwin’s employee. Another server also works as a personal trainer who recommend we go for a hike until Josie said, “Carina hates nature”. The whole staff was as kind and friendly as can be. Josie was in hysterics about how many times she was offered more water.
Okay on to the main course. My coconut rum shrimp was perfect. Plump and good quality shrimp, the sauce was sweet but not too heavy, and the rice was cooked to perfection. Josie liked her chicken as well and I was a little jealous of her red bean rice. It was a fun night and we will definitely return and can’t wait to see it after the official reopening. The restaurant was kind enough to write this on Twitter after we left:
The conversation did get a little devious at the end when we discussed are trials in online dating, our dating draught and misfortunes, and our love of men that are either artists and/or homeless and other things that made him a little scared. His words not ours.
How can I describe the beef roll? Like the baby of the best of Mexico and the best of China wrapped in a cute snugly onion pancake.