Comparisons are odious, of course. But still. Union offered a true meal, easily chosen from the menu, taken in a relatively small room where all the diners were clearly a member of a community of some kind, if only provisionally. The room was well lit; though busy, it was quiet enough to make conversation possible. The restaurant is on a side street in the "Old Town" business district of Pasadena, with a fairly lively street scene.
Bestia is a warehouse sort of building in an industrial part of old Los Angeles; there is no street scene. The dining room is broken up into at least three areas. The place is incredibly noisy inside; we ate on a sort of enclosed terrace where it was possible to converse and even — as you'll see — eavesdrop on the next table: but always aware of the noise within. The room was so dark we resorted to flashlights (from our iPhones) to read the menu. And speaking of menu: first, most of the items were composed of a number of ingredients; few of the items seemed to fall readily into a coherent dinner plan; most of the items were really, really expensive.
Perhaps I'm telegraphing my final preference between the two. But let's get on to the dinner: We began, since it's Friday night, with Martinis, specifying our preferences (three to one, up, with a twist, for me; half and half, up, with olives, for Cook), and were quickly advised the bar had no Martini olives. Okay, fine, a lemon twist will do. The drinks arrived in curious stemware but were perfectly to specification — and ran $16 apiece.
We started simply, with bread and oil ($6) and roasted vegetables — apart from a number of salads, most of them collisions, to my mind, of unrelated things, just about the only vegetables on the menu. You see some of them in the photo above: heirloom carrots, tiny Brussels sprouts, broccoli flowerets, all beautifully flavored, roasted together in olive oil in, I'd guess, the pizza oven, for a short time, at high heat — probably after first having been blanched. This was a delicious thing, worth lingering over.
From there I went on to Cavatelli alla Norcina: ricotta dumplings — strozzapreti-shaped gnocchi, you might say — with housemade pork sausage, black truffles, and grana padana. The truffle was thankfully restrained, the sausage a bit on the bland side, but the dish was well balanced. Lindsey's pasta was better, I think; I had ordered it last year — the menu isn't changed that much in the lapsed year — and recalled it as a nicely structured and integrated dish.
Dessert: none for me — well, a simple grappa — but Lindsey ordered the "chocolate budino tart," with its now-obligatory salt caramel and olive oil. I thought it rather pedestrian under its olive oil and salt, but Lindsey liked it.
At the table behind me I'd heard a woman exclaim, in an Italian accent, at the presence of puntarelle on the menu. I love puntarelle, myself, and would have ordered them, but they came with endive, persimmons, pomegranate, mint, and pecorino, in a chili lemon vinaigrette — what I meant by collision. Later the same woman expostulated about the fish, a grilled "whole" orata which had apparently been cooked, somehow, without its bones. How can they think of doing that, she said afterward when we left the room together, how can they cook the fish without the bones, it's the bones give the fish its substance and its structure, you can take the bones away after it's cooked, of course, but you can't possibly cook the fish without the bones.
Well, I said, non siamo in Italia, things are different here, they travel and read and learn and then ignore the history and make it new, that's what Los Angeles is about.
Basadone, Castello di Verduno (Piemonte), 2013 (light, attractive, fragrant, fully achieved)