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"What You Start with" Matters at a/k/a in Pasadena

By Elizabeth R. Elstien

Rustically chic is a good descriptor for a/k/a in Old Pasadena. Opened in 2010 by Restaurateur Robert Simon, the bistro is seriously committed to sustainable, seasonal, organic products. Having worked the restaurant business with his father beginning in 1983, and as the current owner of Bistro 45, Simon is no novice in the restaurant world. With an already proven track record, a/k/a is thriving.

Designers Richard Hollbrook and Deborah Simon, Robert's wife, artfully completed the look and feel of a/k/a. Broken up into different areas, diners can opt for the main dining room, private wine room or outside terrace, each with its own charm. These rooms work well for small gatherings or private events if reserved in advance. The food, service and décor are designed, Simon says, "to make everyone feel special."

Executive Chef James Lambrinos has been there since the beginning helping to create each dish, including meatless items. "The menu reflects something which is unlike any restaurant of its kind," Simon says. Only sustainable, natural, hand-done products are used. Sorbet, ice cream, salad dressing, mustard, mozzarella, meatballs and more are completely made in their kitchen. Simon explains, "Products are 100 percent organic in the summer and 80 percent organic in the winter and are always hormone free. You can taste the difference."

Simon describes his favorite menu item as vacherin because it is "summer on a plate," and it's hard to resist this crispy meringue dessert with fresh summer fruits on top. Of special note are the watermelon Greek salad with red and yellow watermelon, olive topping and feta cheese and the calamari starter, which is sautéed rather than fried. "A wonderful vibrant profile of flavors," Simon says of the menu.

Simon's great reputation in the area helps bring in money for charities, centering on a few nonprofits each year. For instance, Simon and his wife chaired Hillside's Home for Children's recent event raising $600,000 in just one night. Focusing on sustainability in the restaurant spills over into the community, as Pasadena is such a wonderful community-oriented city. Simon describes Pasadena as a "fairly large town with a small-town mentality," so residents want to help out. "Being community oriented has been part of us forever," says Simon.

Diners from all over remember the food at a/k/a, of course, but are also struck by the comfortable ambiance and efficient service. The Portobello fries with truffle aioli, especially, seem to be a favorite bar item or starter. Reviewers agree the bar drinks are made right and the music is relaxing. With all this going for it, it's no surprise that the place is often packed.

Living in Berkeley in the 1960s, Simon learned from two mentors in the organic, sustainable, local restaurant concept, Alice Waters and Narsai David. They inspired him to go after his passion of owning a restaurant. His most important piece of advice from his mentors revolved around the ingredients. "Most important is what you start with," Simon recalls learning. "This stuff matters."

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About The Author

Elizabeth R. Elstien has worked in real estate for over 15 years as a real estate...

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