Pez Coastal Kitchen: Dispensing Seafood with Flair in Old Pasadena

4 mins read
A plate of food with broccoli
Spaghetti chitarra with sweet baby Manila clams and black mussels, topped with uni nage. Photo: Pez Pasadena

It’s only week three at Pez Coastal Kitchen, but everything is sophisticated, sexy, and smooth as silk.

Lucy Ramirez-Thompson, who co-owns this new Old Pasadena eatery with her husband Chef Bret Thompson Roth, formerly Corporate Executive Chef for The Patina Group, makes the rounds to every table where she is greeted with smiles, hugs, and literal applause. Of her slinky reptile print gown, she says, “I’m in my ’70s mob boss phase.”

Ramirez was born in Central Mexico’s lush and scenic state of Guanajuato and grew up in East LA. Mexico’s complex indigenous cuisine inspired the couple’s first venture, Pez Cantina, still going strong after nine years in DTLA’s Bunker Hill area.

Here, we have to say: en Español, “pez” is not a kitschy, collectible plastic dispenser of weird, chalky candy tablets. “Pez” is a live fish, flashing like silver through the sea foam. With this in mind, the new Pez location at 61 North Raymond (at the corner of Union) offers a menu that’s 70-80 percent seafood, often featuring up to four types of raw oysters and the fresh ceviche of the day.

And while we’re clearing things up, unless you’ve spent time deep in Mexico, far south of the perpetual spring-break party vibe of Hussong’s and Señor Frog’s, this is not the Mexican menu or ambiance you might expect.

You will not hear the cheerful blare of mariachi music on the sound system. Neon papel picado banners and piñatas in day-glo colors do not sway overhead. And no dish arrives heaped with shredded Jack cheese and iceberg lettuce. You will not be greeted with a mountain of chips and a bowl of salsa.

Not that there’s anything wrong with any of that, of course.

This is food that reconsiders fish, shellfish and other proteins through a breezy coastal lens, made global-chic with Japanese and continental flourishes, depending on which night you visit.

It’s upscale eclectic, but “It’s not ‘fusion’,” explains Ramirez-Thompson. “Mexican food created in Mexico reflects what’s ripe, what’s fresh, what’s in season. And like all great cuisines, Mexican cooking is alive. It changes. It reflects influences that pour in from all over the world, and we love the elegance and excitement that brings to our guests.”

The decor sets the tone. One wall shimmers with a repeating pattern of large fish scales glazed in a gleaming range of teal and turquoise tones. The Ramirez-Thompsons worked with designer Margee Drews Design to create an interior vibe that is not stereotypical and anything but sterile, defined by graceful arches painted in subtle sand tones, including a neutral color wash over the exposed, high-soaring industrial ceiling.

The couple decided to retain the original oak flooring, installed around 1896 when the building was a YMCA. There are, of course, worn areas that have been smoothed and stained, grounding the space. Havana-style rattan and wicker fans and lighting elements accentuate the high ceilings and create a romantic, almost Rick’s Café a la Casablanca mood: call it Mariscos Moriscas. Plush booths and tropical plantings invite you to linger and keep eating.

When we visited, the place was already buzzing at 5 PM. Speaking of buzzing, we instantly ordered a signature cocktail, the Mezcal Mai Tai. So potent and flavorful that we immediately ordered another. What we’ll be trying next: the Rosemary Paloma, Matcha Sour, and Chartreuse Colada. We started with the bread service with butter, a flaky and savory focaccia, which primes the palate for what is to come and soaks up some of those high-proof spirits. Not that we’re complaining.

That night’s appetizers featured seared bluefin tuna, BBQ octopus, black mussels and white anchovies, as well as premium and unexpected ingredients, including charred rosemary, hibiscus vinaigrette, crispy sweetbreads, several types of olives, and avocado labneh. The Pez Caesar Salad exemplifies the inspired vision of the eatery: it’s topped with crisp nori tempura for a true splash of the Pacific Rim.

The chilled seafood and crudos (raw) selections include oysters, scallop tartare, dry-aged cured, smoked kingfish prepared using the “sea-cuterie” method, and steelhead trout rillette prepared with American sturgeon caviar, pickled shallots and forbidden rice cake. For sheer drama, order the spectacular Chilled Seafood Tower for two, which includes a cooked, cold half-lobster, crab claws, and a briny bouquet of pristine, premium mollusks and crustacea. It is a great way to celebrate a win, pop the question, or just because, as L’Oreal used to say, you’re worth it.

Not everyone loves seafood, so the Pez menu of entrees generously includes terrestrial proteins as well as whole fried fish, including Pacifico sea bass, seared jumbo scallops served with smoked ham-celery fritter and truffled apple salad, and spaghetti chitarra, a nice, chunky egg pasta laced with sweet baby Manila clams and mussels topped with uni (sea urchin).

FYI: the “chitarra,” guitar, refers to the frame of wires used to cut the pasta into long, rather porous ropes that hold sauce well. For diners who prefer terra firma to the ocean waves, there’s crispy half-chicken with petite roasted carrots and radish, prime-cut center filet of ribeye with green peppercorn demi-glace, and the half-rack of smoked baby back ribs with wilted chicory and citrus BBQ sauce.

Sides, include yam skins with green tahini, whipped feta and buttery Spanish Marcona almonds, and desserts – try the warm chocolate butterscotch peanut butter cake with honeycomb ice cream and (not or) the citrus olive oil cake served with mascarpone pistachio ice cream and limoncello granita – all of which further demonstrate Chef Bret’s sensory imagination and flawless technical mastery. Everything we tasted balanced the rich and glossy with the tart and astringent, the chewy with the crispy, and the salty with the sweet.

Prior to his years with Patina, Chef Bret perfected his technique with Michelin 2 and 3-star chefs in Spain, Lebanon, in Saulieu and Paris, France.

It shows.

Before the duo opened Pez Cantina in 2015, they owned the Milk Ice Cream bake shop from 2007 until 2022, gaining momentum and deserved prestige, bite-by-bite. Now they’re finally here in our grazing range, and we’ve decided that we simply may never cook again.

Why tamper with perfection?

Pez Coastal Kitchen
61 North Raymond Avenue
Closed Mondays and Tuesdays
Special events, parties of 8 or more, call (626) 210-0775 to reserve

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Victoria Thomas

Victoria has been a journalist since her college years when she wrote for Rolling Stone and CREEM. Victoria describes the view of Mt. Wilson from her front step as “staggering,” and she is a defender of peacocks everywhere.
Email: [email protected]

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