Bruce Kalman’s new eatery deliciously honors Northern Italian cuisine

Friday, March 14, 2014 | 9:34 am

Chicken Diavalo at Union.

James Beard-nominated and two-time TV cooking show winner Bruce Kalman believes in letting the food speak. There was no formal media opening for his new Northern Italian-themed restaurant, Union; no velvet ropes, no special, invite-only foodie parties. He simply opened the front doors onto Union Avenue.

The food did the rest. From the opening overture of pork meatballs—sweet, salty and spicy all at once—to the local basque bakery bread, to the gelato with real honeycomb, his dedication to the “farm to table” concept shone through.

“I’ve cooked everything,” Kalman told Pasadena Now, taking a break from his busy kitchen last night, “but I always come back to Italian food. It’s very simple, very real, and the philosophy of Italian food runs parallel to the ‘farm to table,’ idea of local vegetables and meats, local grains, and shopping for fresh food every day.” As an example, Kalman buys the flour for his fresh-made pastas from Pasadena flour shop Grist & Toll.

“It’s important for me to serve fresh and local,” Kalman explained. “It’s why we buy our bread from Extea, a Basque bakery in Hawthorne, every day. This is close to my heart, you can’t make great food with sub-par ingredients.”

There are also imported Italian items like his Parmesan-Reggiano.

The menu is a relatively strict Italian, but not necessarily what you would expect. There is no lasagna and there is no pizza. It’s the next level of authentic, but innovative Italian menu items for a smart and discerning audience.

The fresh quality of the menu rang through the aforementioned pork meatballs, as well as the Chicken Diavalo, two grilled pieces of chicken vacuum-sealed in the cooking process to hold in the juices and keep the chicken deliciously moist, and topped with a lemon slice. There are no salt and pepper shakers on the table for a reason.  Kalman’s creations arrive perfectly seasoned, and lovingly presented.

The menu is wide-ranging (I was alone. I couldn’t pick off your plate), but appetizers range from Ricotta Crostini with pickled onions and Pancetta; Pacific sardines with Ranco Gordo Beans, Citrus Salad and Saba to house-made Charcuterie. There are also a host of pickled items, Kalman being an official Pickle Master. (Yes, there is such a thing, and yes, it’s an art.)

Dessert was an Olive Oil cake, somewhat similar to a pound cake, served with a drizzled strawberry sauce and a honey gelato—certainly not your standard spumoni. Coffee was French Press, served individually at your table—an especially delightful treat, as good as anything else on the menu.

Kalman is joined in his Union effort by partner Marie Petulla , the front of house manager, and George Pitsironis, a sommelier and wine consultant.

With this opening, Old Pasadena’s restaurant bar has just been significantly lifted, which can only bode well for the smart and aware foodie.

Union is at 37 E. Union St., Pasadena. (626) 795.5841. www.unionpasadena.com.



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