Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Vertical Wine Bar's new spring menu + more pop-up action for Laurent Quenioux

lamb two ways: the shanks were particularly luscious
Diver scallops with English peas and lardons
Itinerant French chef Laurent Quenioux, formerly of Bistro LQ et al, has been executive chef at Pasadena's Vertical Wine Bistro for several months and launches his new spring menu this week. "It's light, it's simple, it's vegetables, it's what people want," he explains in his charming accent, alluding to Pasadena residents' notorious fear of any food that's too adventurous. He's serving us local writers classic French spring dishes like braised lamb shanks with flageolet beans and diver scallops with English peas and lardons while endless platters of sliders and cones of fries are delivered to the surrounding tables. I'm not entirely sure the Vertical patrons really want anything except the sliders and fries and an occasional cheese plate, but Vertical valiantly offers a full menu with some nice French touches thanks to Quenioux's involvement.
lychee panna cotta, salted plum gel
The native of Sologne, France, enjoys shopping at the South Pasadena farmer's market near his home and famously loves tweaking diners' palates with unusual ingredients and combinations. But at Vertical, he's sticking to straightforward bistro fare that's easy to pair with their extensive wine list. My favorite of the evening was the first we tasted (or maybe the first glass of wine in the evening is always the best?) -- the Sancerre from Domain Fouassier had both minerally and apple juice-like flavors going on, very nice with the watercress and endive salad with hazelnuts and Valdeon cheese. The one dish common to both Vertical and his pop-up was of course my favorite -- lychee panna cotta with salted plum gel is also served at Starry Kitchen and has that great sweet, salty, Asian interplay.
Lately Quenioux has been doing pop-ups with the kooky kids at Starry Kitchen, offering things like beaver and bear and rooster cockscombs. That's ending, and it might be too late to get in on the "secret" weed dinner too, but Quenioux promises that he's about to pop up at another restaurant soon. Where? He's not ready to say, but let's say it will be much more convenient for those of us in the NELA area.

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