Planted on an Old Pasadena side street, a sign discreetly announces the entrance to a cozy room dominated by an impressive piece of chalkboard art listing farmers’ markets. That board may be the least subtle thing about this venture from Bruce Kalman, whose produce-forward Italian cooking is all ease and balance. He parries the cured intensity of prosciutto with peaches from Tenerelli Orchards and pairs browned garlic with Fresno chiles in a delicate sauce for the spaghetti alla chitarra. The giardinera is a signature, a jar of pickled seasonal florets riding the tang of house-cultured butter. With garganelli, he goes lush, folding tender lobster and Meyer lemon peel into a lobster stock finished with truffle butter. Kalman butchers a whole hog himself each week, rolling the loin in belly fat and roasting the porchetta until the skin crackles like a crème brûlée.
The Vibe: Elevated neighborhood trattoria.
The Crowd: A unique mix of serious foodies who flock for chef Bruce Kalman’s more adventurous dishes, and locals in search of some weeknight pasta.
The Must-Have Dishes: Porchetta is seemingly everywhere these days, but Union’s is one of the city’s finest versions. Also, the tagliatelle sports a “head and shoulder” ragu, with bits from both parts of the pig.
The Drinks: The thoughtful Italian restaurant features a thoughtful Italian wine list, natch, with many offerings available by the glass.
Getting a Table: This once off-the-radar spot is now very much on the radar. OpenTable openings tend to be before 5:30 or after 9:15. Book a few weeks out if you want a 7:30 slot!
Insider Tip: When available, Union offers a whole suckling pig and an entire pig’s head, both of which are smoked over hickory for 8 to 10 hours. Presented tableside, it’s a delicious spectacle.
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