By Charly SHELTON
Magnolia House hasn’t opened yet. I know by the time you are done reading this, you will be getting in your car to go visit but, alas, you must wait until they open their doors sometime next week.
On the corner of Lake Avenue and San Pasqual Street (just north of California) sits a small, unassuming, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it building with a huge open window façade looking in on a warm fireplace surrounded by bookshelves, curiosity cabinets, deep leather chairs and upholstered sofas. The big flat screen is playing “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” a story recalling a journey towards the comforts of home. Handcrafted cocktails abound, gourmet dishes are served on small plates, perfect for sharing with two or more people. And in the low light, as you sip a cocktail of watermelon, whiskey, vermouth and Aperol, you realize you never want to leave.
Magnolia House is a brand new venture from John and Chris Bicos of Bicos Hospitality, the restaurateurs behind Gus’ Pit BBQ in South Pasadena and The Original Tops in Pasadena.
This time around the concept is very different. Whereas Tops gives you quick counter service with great burgers, rings and Pastrami, and Gus’ Pit BBQ is just that – a down home BBQ joint – Magnolia House is more upscale. You would feel out of place in a T-shirt if you didn’t have a blazer over it. This is a great spot for a date. The super fancy cocktails are perfect for a little get-to-know-you talk and, if it goes well, the small, sharable plates of incredible food will keep you there far into the evening. Cocktails range from $10 to $11 and plates between $2.50 and $16 (honestly though, most plates are between $10 and $12). The most expensive and best thing on the menu, Korean short ribs on kale and Shitake risotto, is still only $16 and the portion is big enough for two, ensuring this date won’t break the bank.
I was invited to the media night preview before the restaurant opened to the public and Magnolia House gave us its best shot. And what a shot it was! From the aforementioned whiskey and watermelon cocktail (The Jonesy) to the king crab mac ‘n’ cheese, to the wild mushroom flatbread with truffle cheese sauce and Crimini and Portobello mushrooms, everything on the menu was incredible. Our waitress was extremely knowledgeable, not only about the menu and the ingredients, but which flavor profiles would best pair with what we were eating or drinking. It was apparent that she was trying to make this the best meal experience. The Smoking Dragon cocktail, at her suggestion, was one of the best things I have ever had. Genever (a gin that thinks it’s a dark whiskey with a smoky, almost leathery flavor) combines with cherry herring, Lapsang Suchong tea (naturally very smoky) and aromatic bitters to make a smoky cocktail that tastes like manliness. My girlfriend didn’t like it very much but I was in love. If you like smoky flavors or the less sweet bourbons, then this will win you over.
All in all, this place was amazing. I recommend it very highly and hope that you will enjoy it once it opens. I know that as soon as they open I will return, hungry for more.
Magnolia House, 492 S. Lake Ave., South Pasadena.