I have to warn my Pasadena friends off the new Paseo Cantina in the Paseo Colorado Mall. Hearing they had homemade tortillas, and being depressed and wanting comfort food the other night, I got J to check it out with me.
The place is cavernous - they knocked out all the walls from the Border Grill and made it a big room with hundreds of little tables lined up in rows. J called it a "Vegas arrangement," meaning cram as many people as possible in and who cares if there's flow or it feels at all pleasant. It was empty, but then we eat very early. Still, it was depressing. In the corner there is a little stage and mics for their mariachi band (I've never heard a mariachi band that needed amplification - that's gotta be seriously headache-inducing). Thankfully we arrive before the music. The waitstaff are forced to wear those ridiculous costumes you see at Chi-Chi's in the Midwest, another bastion of fine cross-cultural dining. They were fairly attentive but overall seemed pretty green.
So they brought out the obligatory chips and salsa, which were fine, and actually there were a few stray pieces of quesadilla hiding in the chips. That was a fun discovery. The salsas are good enough, but don't taste homemade. The chips seemed fresh. I started off with a virgin margarita, but those are usually just awful. Margaritas (and turkey sandwiches) are something I miss most right now. Anyway I didn't like the "house" version so I ordered peach, which was on the rocks (with a virgin, that's not good - you need it blended to mask how pathetic it is), and basically peach juice and 7-up I think. Whatever, I can't judge them for that. Margaritas aren't meant to be sans tequila.
Next the waiter wanted to entice us to buy soup, so he brought out a sample of their vegetable soup. It was cold. Not very enticing. And it was also fairly sad, just some potatoes and celery floating in greenish broth. We both tried one sip and didn't bother with more. I mean, why bring someone a sample of cold soup? (Oh, and it wasn't meant to be cold, I'm pretty sure - it was kind of tepid)
I ordered a cactus (nopales) salad to start. I wish I'd gotten the spinach, which had mangoes and avocado, but it cost a lot more and I've liked cactus in the past. Now whenever I've gotten cactus, at nicer places, it's been fresh - kind of tangy and crunchy, a lot like jicama. Well this cactus was pickled. And it was mixed up with pickled jalepeno and carrots (that mix you can get at Costco, you know, that they put on nachos at the movie theater). And there were some tomatoes in there that might have been fresh. And some cotija cheese. But the pickled cactus was really disappointing. Plus, they brought this giant pile of it - and it was more like a condiment, and I didn't need several pounds of it. I ate as much as I could, and I even was a trooper and brought some home and ate a bit of it (it's supposed to be rich in iron, so I figured it was good for me), but eventually the pickledness turned me off. I couldn't enjoy it for long. Again, mostly a condiment, seemed to be from a can.
J had some shrimp enchiladas for dinner, which he said were similar to what he'd expect from a Baja Fresh or a Rubio's (but at $18.95, not worth it). I had chicken with green/sour cream sauce, usually a favorite. However, the chicken was sweetened, and didn't go well with the sauce. I ate two bites and couldn't stomach any more. We both got a scoop of rice (yes, in the shape of a scoop - classy), which was no better than rice-a-roni, and I had beans which, kid you not, were worse than Rosarita brand from the grocery store (no flavor at all and a sickly color). Noticing I ate only a couple bits, the waiter asked about it, and I said I didn't care for it. He asked if I wanted to try something else. Well at that point I'd decided the food was going to be crap no matter what, so I said no. Then he asked if I wanted a box to take the crap home! Ha ha! I said no, I really didn't like it and didn't want to try it at home. He took it away, and J finished while I sat there bored. He charged me for it - $14.50 - for my two bites. I thought that was really tacky. It was clear that I didn't like it. But whatever, I wasn't expecting much at this point.
We got the check - $65 with tip - which was so painful that I just couldn't think about it. It's probably the most expensive meal we'll eat this month, definitely more than anything we've had in a couple months, and I mostly filled up on chips and hated the food. That's what most offends me about places - when they serve you bad food. What is UP with that? And don't charge me $65 if I barely touch it! But more than the cost, it's just a crime against good cuisine, and as a food snob, that's the worst of it for me.
Oh, I should say that they brought us 3 of those advertised tortillas, and they were good enough. Not as good as El Torito Grill's, or even Chevy's "El Machino," but certainly fresh. I used them to choke down the pickled cactus.
I don't see a bright future for this place (although I'm depressed to see it has fans on Chowhound - but then, from what I can tell, Pasadena Chowhound people are a little weird anyway). It made me miss Border Grill terribly. And you know, I heard the reason BG closed was that they wouldn't let them have a door on the side of the restaurant facing the elevators/escalators, so people had to walk all the way around it to find the entrance (and in that place, you'd just think it was closed - it's a weirdly designed mall). Well guess where this craphole's door it? Right off the escalator. How nice for them. I want my Mary Sue and Susan. Wah.
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Sorry you had a bad experience there.
N and I went several weeks ago and had a much nicer time. We enjoyed the salsa and chips (and quesadillas). And, we chose to share the shrimp, steak, and chicken fajitas - saving money and it seemed to be plenty of food.
Also, I had a couple margaritas (full strength) and they were decent if not slightly better than average. Can't remember if I had the house ones or not.
Finally, the Mariachi band really made it for me. It would have been interesting to see if this changed your experience at all. The musicians were phenomenal. The songs were authentic and though I'm not sure if it was the Tequila or the music itself, I distinctly remember getting emotional at hearing one of the songs sung by a woman vocalist. (I don't speak Spanish so I have no idea what she was singing about, but it made an impression).
Anyway, it may not be worth going back, but just thought I'd share a slightly different experience!
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