An array of incredible, Basque-style tapas and exemplary wine can be found at Ración, a small Pasadena restaurant that leaves a big impression.
It’s been a while since I visited a restaurant where the waiter didn’t deconstruct the menu upon arrival, waxing poetic about their small plates philosophy or how one should go about ordering a meal. Not that I don’t appreciate the insight—I certainly find it useful to know if some plates feed two people and some feed four. But I also enjoy exploring a menu on my own, just choosing dishes and seeing what happens. And if those dishes happen to be extraordinary, well, all the better.
This is one reason why I’m enamored with Ración. The small, unassuming Pasadena restaurant is a place for exploration. Its menu is not broken up into curated sections; instead, it is one long list that progresses from smaller items to larger ones, and no one tells you how to order. Owner Loreta Peng and chef Teresa Montaño opened this Basque-style tapas restaurant in 2012, and the menu hasn’t changed significantly since then. Thank goodness—there is so much here that should remain on the menu. Traditional croquettes become a thing of beauty, stuffed with the most buttery pieces of chicken and fried perfectly on the outside with a smear of membrillo honey for dragging your bite through. Citrus is a powerhouse: a wheel of bruléed caña de cabra cheese is topped with slivers of grapefruit and orange while lemon sugar is dusted over creamy pistachio; and citrus-cured salmon, the skin fried to a delicate crisp, swims in a cool ajo blanco.
Come during a mellow week night and you may get a little more attention from the waitstaff than, say, a Friday—but not much. That’s not a bad thing. Food appears and disappears at all the right moments, and refills are inquired about just as you were contemplating another glass of wine. Order the wild mushrooms a la plancha and it will appear swiftly, a stunning plate that pops with color and of-the-earth flavor. Because this is Basque food, the menu is filled with seafood options, too, like an incredibly light, house-made squid ink pasta peppered with mussels and piquillo peppers. Montaño also does a braised octopus justice, accenting the tender meat with squid and a slightly spicy chorizo.
Could it get any better? Approaching dessert, I wondered if this was where the meal would fall apart, but I had nothing to worry about. Churros and chocolate are deconstructed into golf-sized balls with crumbles of mint scattered among them, a creation that doesn’t sacrifice flavor for creativity. As I scooped up a bit of chocolate, a bit of churro, I realized that what made Ración such an outstanding dining experience was a confluence of basic check points: fantastic food, mindful service, and the freedom to choose your own adventure, in a sense, through a menu that leaves room to explore.
What to Eat: The croquetta de pollo ($9). The bruléed caña de cabra cheese ($12). The citrus-cured salmon ($12). The house-made squid ink pasta ($14). The beer-braised octopus ($16). The churros and chocolate ($10).
What to Drink: When it comes to Spanish wines by the glass, Ración's list is short and sweet, around 8-10 total. Yet you could close your eyes, blindly point at one and be bowled over by what you get. A 2009 Losada Vinos de Finca ($13) emits notes of stewed plums and blackberries without being overwhelmingly fruit-forward, and pairs well with pretty much everything on the menu. From that same year, a dense Bodegas Aster from Tempranillo ($14) has hints of cherries and licorice. Then again, you could be just as happy with a glass of the house-made sangria ($6) made with sherry and apple cider, perfect for a mid-day break.
Where to Sit: If you're coming to Ración for lunch, the outdoor patio is a lovely, secluded place to enjoy your meal and a drink. Come dinner, though, you'll want to be seated at one of the comfortable booths inside, where simple light fixtues (you won't find trendy Edison bulbs here) and neutral tones lend a calming atmosphere.
119 W Green St
|Opening hours:||Mon 6-10pm; Tue-Thu 11:30-3pm, 6-10pm; Fri 11:30-3pm, 6-11pm; Sat 11:30-3pm, 5:30-11pm; Sun 5:30-10pm|
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Average User Rating
5 / 5
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My girlfriend and I came here for our anniversary and absolutely loved every bite of our wonderful meal. Each dish came out quickly and were prepared with as much care and beauty as the photos above. The bruléed cana de cabra cheese was on a whole other level. The mix of citrus, cheese, and pistachio was perfectly balanced and left us wishing we had ordered three more servings. It was the wild mushrooms, though, that completely stole the show. The heavenly aroma and sumptuous flavor made this dish stand out above all others in recent memory.