A space adjoining the historic Pasadena Playhouse has been home to a succession of promising but short-lived restaurants. The latest arrival, deserving a longer run, is Bar Chelou, suitable for a multicourse meal or a quick cocktail and snack.
Bar Chelou’s casual-chic dining room is still a work in progress, but it features a room-length chandelier with amber glass globes illuminating copper-clad tables. A cozy bar is situated at one end of the restaurant; at the other end is a glass-ensconced kitchen presided over by chef-owner Douglas Rankin, who has cooked with culinary heavyweights José Andrés and Charlie Palmer.
Chelou, French for “strange” or “unexpected,” applies to Rankin’s playfully eclectic menu of dishes designed for sharing, inspired by the unpretentious neo-bistro movement sweeping Paris.
Smaller plates include unexpectedly addictive chunks of crispy potatoes plated over a nori-speckled aioli. Morcilla (blood sausage) “cigars” resembling actual stogies are clad in crispy egg roll wrappers and served with a spirited apple vinegar that cuts the filling’s richness.
A good vegetarian option is cauliflower presented in a pool of Sichuan-style au poivre, a novel spin on the classic French pepper sauce. Brined carrots in coconut dressing, reminiscent of Thai green papaya salad, are topped with shoestring potatoes.
Larger plates, reflecting Rankin’s cross-cultural musings, include a tender, juicy Ibérico pork chop in a Chinese mustard sauce, topped with a soft cabbage salad and a dusting of furikake with fennel pollen. Rainbow trout is plated over jasmine rice with both a garlic-chive emulsion and a pil pil sauce traditionally used for cod in Spain.
Bar Chelou offers a varied wine list and a cheese plate that works as well toward the end of a meal as it does at the beginning. Desserts may include an intensely rich chocolate tart with hazelnut ice cream, or lemon-chamomile semifreddo crowned with a delicate floral tuille.
Best dishes at Bar Chelou
Crispy potatoes, morcilla “cigars,” cauliflower in Sichuan au poivre sauce, Ibérico pork chop, chocolate tart
Starters, $7–$23; entrées, $24–$98; desserts, $14
37 S. El Molino Avenue. 4% surcharge on each bill.