At first glance, the dishes at Bar Chelou, the busy new restaurant in the iconic, nearly century-old Spanish Colonial-style Pasadena Playhouse building, are gorgeous, eye-catching bouquets of ingredients. Warm, sultry lighting gives a romantic glow to dishes like sugar snap peas buried in a blanket of cured egg yolk or an expertly cooked butterflied trout splayed atop a pond of white pil pil sauce surrounded by a swirl of bright green garlic chive oil. Underneath the fish is a treasure of delicate rice that has been cooked in corn juice to give it a pleasing crunch.
Chef Douglas Rankin has worked with many great chefs, including José Andrés and Ludo Lefebvre, with whom he served as chef de cuisine for the wildly popular Trois Mec and Petit Trois. Most recently, he helmed his own Bar Restaurant in Silver Lake, which closed in 2022. Rankin’s food is both surprising and delicious. The plating, though whimsical, is also intentional and practical, offering mystery followed by a perfectly composed bite.
“I’m not afraid to mix flavors from different cultures into dishes,” says Rankin. His carrots, a play on the classic French dish carottes râpées, are maybe the best example of Rankin’s boundary-pushing Parisian “bistronomy” style with global influences.
“I’m not a purist because I’m not French. So I’m able to look at it from a different lens,” he says of the shredded-carrot salad seen in French bistros. Rankin’s version take its cues from Thai papaya salad, with the carrots brined overnight in sugar and salt, then tossed with avocado, Thai basil, cilantro, mint, sliced raw shallots, and peanuts in a thick coconut-ginger dressing, all topped with crisp fried potato sticks for texture.
The name “Chelou,” French slang for “unexpected,” “strange,” or “weird,” suits this refreshingly relaxed bistro that also serves well-balanced cocktails and a rotating list of small-production wines.
The menu, which Rankin describes as “haute Parisian cuisine,” embraces the European sensibility in four parts: tapas, smaller plates, larger mains, and desserts. The prices allow for frequent visits, and the food certainly does, too.
37 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena, barchelou.com
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