Last Friday night, we met our friend Anna at the boutique wine bar and shop, Monopole by WineRx. Located in a beautiful architecturally historic building, the wine bar and shop offers live entertainment on some evenings. Other nights, they host a paint and wine event upstairs in a lovely room with a Juliet balcony. On Friday nights, they host a blind wine tasting for $25.
Dr. Lucy Darin owns Monopole by WineRx, and her sister Patricia runs the shop. She welcomed us and led us to comfortable leather chairs at a cocktail high-table near the wine bar.
Brian, a server, introduced himself while strolling through the wine store.
“Here’s a cheat-cheat to help you,” he said, leaving a two-page wine list and sheets of paper numbered one to four for us to make notes about the wines we tasted and make a guess about the varietals.
The menu featured 30 wines from California, Oregon, Washington, South Africa, France, Spain and Italy with a description of the producer, aroma and tasting notes.
With the success of wine-focused movies “Somm” and “Blind Ambition,” this type of wine tasting has become a popular way for beginner to oenophile to gather friends and discover different nuances about four wines. It’s an opportunity to strike up conversations while describing wine based on what you perceive. Brian poured two white wines from bottles covered with velvet wine bags. Sipping from each glass tests not only your tasting skills, but knowledge of varietals, regions and producers.
He returned with two reds with the bottles covered in a velvet numbered bag. There are five basic characteristics to wine tasting – sweetness, acidity, tannin, alcohol and body. We discussed each and wrote down our discoveries.
After about 45 minutes, Brian led us up to the front of the shop and removed the first velvet bag to reveal a Chenin Blanc from Secateurs Vintage White Wines from South Africa. We agreed the creamy texture of this pale, straw-colored wine offered notes of melon, honey and a touch of citrus and juicy apples.
The next bottle unveiled was Touraine Torres de l’Aumonier Sauvignon Blanc from France. The pleasing floral nose offered green apple and notes of apricot and citrus. It was slightly acidic and offered nice minerality on the finish.
The two reds surprised us, starting with bottle number three, a Domaine Du Rochouard 2020 Bourgueil by Dominique and Jean-Luc Duveau. Using 100% organic cabernet franc grapes from 40-year-old vines, the wine is aged for 6 months in concrete tanks, creating a medium bodied, ruby red wine with plum and wild berry nuances. The velvety tannins and long finish make this an easy drinking wine.
Last was an Italian Poderi del Paradiso Chianti Colli Senesi grown in the D.O.C.G. This is a classic Sangiovese, with grapes growing in the hills of Sienna in Tuscany. It was smooth to drink and offered a harmonious cranberry, pepper and cocoa finish.
What a fun way to kick off the weekend before dining next door at chef Douglas Rankin’s new Bar Chelou. Rankin worked with Ludo Lefebvre, as chef de cuisine at Trois Mec, and at Bar Restaurant 2.0 in Silver Lake.
“It is the best restaurant in Pasadena right now,” Anna said.
The restaurant looks out to the courtyard of the Pasadena Playhouse State Theatre of California, which was founded in 1917. The location has seen its fair share of restaurants. Red White and Bluezz later lead to Danny Trejo’ Cantina and then Saso.
At Bar Chelou, they have dressed up the interior with theatrical soft beige curtains framing the kitchen viewing window, as well as softening the back wall and the oval bar.
A pre-theater crowd was dining before seeing Stephen Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music.” The servers dress casually and are happy to share their opinions of their favorite dishes on the one-page menu. They serve tables in a timely manner so the pre-theater patrons can finish their meal before the curtain opens at 8 p.m.
Share plates populate the menu so we started with a bowl of warm, marinated olives followed by a deeper bowl of shredded thin carrots piled into a pyramid. They were enhanced with a light coconut and lime dressing, and generous amount of shaved lime leaf pixie dust. Sliced scallions, chopped peanuts and thin angel hair crispy shoestring potatoes provided a pleasing texture and crunch with each bite.
We enjoyed this dish with a glass of unfiltered orange Notre Terre wine from France that offered a creaminess with apricot notes, and a glass of Java natural wine that was drier with shades of acidity.
Rankin amplifies the flavors of white asparagus by sautéing them in brown butter and Meyer lemon. A generous sprinkling of white and black sesame seeds, chopped green onion rounds and micro lavender garlic flowers decorate this savory vegetarian dish.
Snap peas arrived with a shaved cured egg yolk hidden under fresh mint leaves. Spicy, crumbled Chistorra, a Spanish chorizo topped the dish giving it a touch of heat and savoriness – a nice surprise.
Heartier dishes include a dry-aged bone-in ribeye served with an anchovy salsa; Merguez sausage, and Iberico pork chop. We ordered the acorn fed pork chop served with most of the meat cut from the bone. The tender meat had a layer of shredded cabbage, fennel pollen and furikake with toasted white sesame seeds on top.
“I hope you will pick up the bone with your hands, we won’t judge you here,” our server said. So, I did, and enjoyed every morsel. It was the highlight of the meal until the dessert arrived.
An exquisite brulée cheesecake with a thin sticky toffee date cake crust was creative and more flavorful than a traditional graham cracker crust. The crunchy top was fired golden by a cooking torch and a spiced coffee anglaise on the bottom of the bowl made this dessert extra special.
Other desserts include lemon-chamomile semifreddo served with a sweet fritter, rice pudding, chocolate tart and sorbet.
In French, the word Chelou means “weird,” “odd” or “strange,” however at Bar Chelou, there is nothing bizarre about this new restaurant in Pasadena. Rankin’s touch of theatrics in presentation and exciting flavors will tantalize your senses.
Dinner service is from 6 to 9 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays. $$-$$$ 37 S. El Molino Ave., (626)808-4976. Monopole by WineRx is located at 21 S. El Molino Ave., (626)577-9463. “A Little Night Music” opened April 25 to May 28. Tickets start at $39. pasadenaplayhouse.org. 39 S. El Molino Ave., (626)356-7529.