Restaurants all over Pasadena are beginning to open just like they were before, and, for the record, it’s nothing like before. Except for the most important thing: the cuisine you came for.
Menus have been changed to an extent. But signature dishes you’ve come to love remain the same, at most eateries.
We visited Urban Plates on Lake Avenue in the first of many restaurants we will begin to rediscover in the coming weeks, and while it may appear at first glance to be the same, a number of significant changes have occurred.
Urban Plates features a cafeteria-like setting for its fresh, upscale menu, but now the cafeteria line is just for showing, not for serving. Patrons, one person or small group at a time, may stroll past the steaming hot dishes in front of the open kitchen, but they are no longer served at that point.
That takes place at the cashier’s stop, where you make your selections from large photographs of every menu item. The cashier, masked and gloved, like the rest of the employees, runs the show, basically.
Drinks will be brought to your table along with your order. No more self-service. And the number of fruit-flavored “refreshers” have also been reduced, from six to four.
Fortunately, most of the menu, though somewhat downsized, has changed only slightly. Most items remain from before, but may be served differently, No one will be handing you a mango tart on a plate, for example.
In addition, the dining room has been drastically reduced in capacity. Dining tables still exist, but they are now utilized differently. We sat at a small table for four, with no one seated near us, although it was admittedly the middle of the afternoon. Tables are clearly marked, however, for seating and non-seating.
A long row of tables in the middle of the dining room is now reserved for delivery services such as Uber Eats, Door Dash, and Postmates. Tables behind us were reserved for online customers to pick up their meals.
The vibe is still friendly and efficient, and the food is still great. Encouraged to “try everything” by General Manager Anthony Martinez, we opted for side dishes instead of combos or standard entrees.
Soon the table was crowded with ahi tuna salad, fresh grilled salmon, ahi tuna, mashed potatoes and a fruit salad.
“There’s a little bit here for everybody,” Martinez said of the menu. “If you’re eating light, there’s fruit salad. If you’re really really hungry, there’s steak and mashed potatoes.” The restaurant also has a small selection of plant-based entrees.
“A lot of people will come and order that,” he said, “but will put sliced chicken on top”
Our plans were to eat light, but when Martinez visited our table midway through the meal, he noticed that I had no “slow-cooked, cage-free, antibiotic and hormone-free chicken tagine with winter squash, olives, preserved lemon and ginger with aromatic spices or turmeric, paprika, cumin and cinnamon, served over brown or white rice” on my table.
That would be the Morrocan Chicken Braise, one of ten $10 everyday value meals throughout the chain, along with a grilled chicken salad, a chimichurri chicken plate, the aforementioned plant-based bowl, and chicken or portobello mushroom sandwiches, served on ciabatta bread. There is also a range of family meals, available for curbside pickup or delivery, which serve four.
Our momentary absence of chicken was quickly remedied. “I’ll have that ready for you when you leave,” he said.
Meanwhile, the time for desserts had arrived. At Anthony’s suggestion, we shared a slice of Urban Plates’ noted Hummingbird cake, which is layers of banana cake soaked with rum syrup and layered with pineapple, cream cheese frosting and chopped walnut garnish.
Added to that was their also-notable Mango tart, sweet slices of mango seated in a cream filling and crispy tart crust. I finished the mango tart at the table, and my dining partner only took a few bites out of the Hummingbird.
That and the Morrocan Chicken Braise made for a pretty excellent late night dinner. As I’m sure anything else on the menu at Urban Plates would as well.
Let’s review—you can eat there with table service and without people crowding you, you can call ahead, pick it up, and take it home to be devoured, or you can have it brought right to your modest Pasadena home. All fine choices, we believe.