By Charly SHELTON
Eating good food is a big part of good overall health. Organic, locally sourced meat and produce are not only better for you, I also think they taste better too. But eating all fresh and good-for-you foods is difficult if you want to go out to eat, as restaurants usually buy food in bulk that is cheap, not necessarily going the extra mile to make sure it’s the healthiest possible. If they do go beyond to get the fresh, local, sustainably grown foods that are so good, the difference is usually reflected in the price.
Paul Martin’s American Grill is the exception to the rule. They prove that with great ingredients comes great food.
Paul Martin’s has just opened its 10th location – this one in Pasadena – within the last few weeks. Located on Lake Avenue between Del Mar Boulevard and California Boulevard, it specializes in classic, comforting foods. Not necessarily comfort food like chicken fried steak and potatoes, but foods that are comforting because they are good flavors done right.
I have seen this at other restaurants. Since the 1990s, the popular thing was for nice restaurants to serve “our take on” a food to keep it fresh and new. In the last two or three years, though, I have noticed new restaurants and new dishes at existing restaurants going for more simple, classic versions of a dish rather than the “take on” version. Paul Martin’s is among these and, rather than fading into the woodwork of the modern restaurant scene, it takes a step forward by doing it in the right way, and doing it themselves. Everything on the menu in every dish is made in-house, from ice cream to salad dressings to tortillas. If it is on the menu, it was made in-house at that specific restaurant.
This is amazing. To think that nothing comes out of a package or warehouse pre-made sounds like a mighty amount of work for the kitchen staff. Add on top of that the produce and meat are organic, sustainably grown and as local as it can get (salmon from Oregon because salmon is not native to Pasadena for example). One might assume that the bill would be out of reach for most people. But the prices are great – dinner entrees from $12 for salads to $39 for Prime New York Steak, with most dishes coming in around $24. Happy hour is even better, with dishes and cocktails in the $5, $9 and $14 ranges.
I cannot overstate how impressed I am with all of this work. The smoked salmon, smoked every day in-house, is spectacular as is the chimichurri chicken, with wild mushroom farro and cipolline onion and the marinated skirt steak with the maple bourbon glaze and grilled sweet potatoes. It would save time to write the dishes that I didn’t like … if there were any. Out of the 15 dishes I sampled when I was invited to the restaurant menu tasting, I would rate them all between 6 and 10 on the awesome scale.
The dish that I was most surprised by was something that I have never enjoyed anywhere else – the house-made pistachio ice cream. Whoever thought a nut flavored ice cream was a good idea way back when is an idiot, in my opinion. Nuts are salty and weird and not what I want as a base flavor in ice cream. It’s like having sprinkle flavored ice cream – not birthday cake ice cream with sprinkles intermixed, but that waxy flavor of crunching on a big mouthful of sprinkles. Suffice it to say, I hate pistachio ice cream but not for lack of trying it repeatedly over the years.
When a huge bowl of fresh house-made ice cream was brought to the table at Paul Martin’s, I avoided the pistachio like the plague. Everyone else was raving about it, so I finally caved in and tried the tiniest bite. It was unbelievable.
I have never liked this flavor of ice cream before but the way it was made at Paul Martin’s is so delicate and perfect it almost defies description. It is a singular flavor that hints at pistachio while taking the diner closer toward the classic ice cream sweetness and creaminess that is expected. I can honestly say this is the best pistachio ice cream I have ever had.
When you go to Paul Martin’s and ask them about what makes the food better and healthier any of the staff can give you a detailed explanation on the “never-ever” beef, sustainably raised seafood, natural chicken and organic produce. This is one of those restaurants that may change how you think about healthful eating. Or at least change the way you think about ice cream.