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Dining Review: Altaeats is truly a special something

September 24, 2013|By Lisa Dupuy
  • Scallop trio-seared, panko crust and curried at Altaeats in Altadena on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013.
Scallop trio-seared, panko crust and curried at Altaeats… (Tim Berger / Staff…)

The first time you drive to Altaeats, you'll probably miss it. Situated between a salon and a cleaners on North Allen just south of New York Drive, the diminutive Altadena eatery has no sign, only a black awning. But find it you must. It's not often a restaurant with such meticulously prepared dishes opens in our drivable realm.

A couple years back, head chef and co-owner Paul Ragan, formerly of Derek's Bistro in Pasadena, was walking his Altadena neighborhood, toying with the idea of buying a food truck when he came upon this vacant property. Why not make high-end food accessible to the folks in his beloved neighborhood? He gutted and rebuilt the old fish market-cum-restaurant-cum-catering company into a minimalist haven with a chic, communal feel. Ragan recalled working with John Michael Munekiyo at Derek's, an apprentice fresh out of Le Cordon Bleu at the time, and knew he had that special something. Now, Ragan and sous-chef Munekiyo turn out many special somethings every night.

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Typically those special somethings have been in the works for days in advance. For instance, the pork belly appetizer would be seasoned with spice rub 24 hours before, then braised for five hours more, weights compressing it to slowly render out the unnecessary fat. It's served with roasted and caramelized peaches (or other seasonal fruit), arugula, goat cheese and a honey-hazelnut-chive balsamic. The sweetbreads, which only make an appearance on the specials menu every now and again, are poached in wine then soaked in buttermilk overnight to remove impurities. After more straining, poaching and pressing, they're floured, panko-crusted and pan-fried to a crispy delicateness and served with a roasted chili ketchup.

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