I went to L.A. for love. It’s where my dog-boyfriend, Wally, lives. This is Wally, as you can see he is very handsome. Wally is also famous and has his own instagram. (Ignore the pictures of him with other women. He is in love with me. Those other women are models who throw themselves at him. His mom is a brilliant fashion photographer, and she says the models always are falling all over my boyfriend.) Wally’s mom, Diana King, asked me what I wanted to do once I got to Wally’s house. I said, “Eat dinner in Pasadena. Pasadena is on my list, and then I can write a story.” The happy part is, we had dinner in Pasadena. The sad part is, Wally had to stay home.
Pasadena has character, and that was a welcome surprise. Most of L.A. is filled with flat, blocky buildings, expanses of dirty pavement, and straggling trees—everything Pasadena is not. Pasadena is charming and established. Full of light colored, Spanish style buildings crowned with red tiled roofs. Arched doorways welcome you into sturdy buildings that feel like they were built in a time when people took pride in their work, because they knew their work would stand for generations. The trees are established and full, and the plants show that California really can be a lush place instead of a concrete desert.
On the third day of my Wally visit (Tuesday, July 18, 2016 1:15 p.m. CST) Diana took me to a place called Earth Café to meet her writer friend, Ingrid Sundberg. As we approached the restaurant I realized I was in for the most California of California meals. The place was really called the Urth Caffé, and it was in one of these lovely Pasadena buildings where the café was open on all sides, and you actually sat outside in a shaded terrace next to a fountain splashing water against a bright blue basin. The menu was expansive, but not overwhelming. Nothing was fried or fatty, and I was surprised to find red meat in the list of offerings.
Ingrid joined us in the line at the counter as I debated a few options. When I mentioned the Pot Roast sandwich Diana lit up and told me, “That’s what Wally’s dad always gets.” A girl’s got to trust Wally’s dad, so that’s what I ordered. We paid, took our plastic-tent of a number, made our way onto the crowded patio, and procured a tiny wrought iron table next to the fountain. Diana filled plastic-cups from glass coolers full of ice, water, and floating fruit, while Ingrid and I made friends.
After an appropriate amount of time a server piled our table full of plates. Mine held a lovely, unadorned roast-beef sandwich on a French baguette. A large ramekin of au jus and a small ramekin of horseradish sauce barricaded my sandwich from the salad—lightly dressed, consisting of greens and one bright red cherry tomato.
Now, I don’t know how much we’ve discussed roast-beef, but I should let you know I’m biased on the subject. When I was a baby all I would eat was roast-beef and French fries. Thirty-six years later it’s still my go-to meal. (It probably means I have an iron deficiency, but all the same I love it.) If I was on death row and I had to order my final meal, it would be my mom’s roast-beef hash. Furthermore I’m not even too particular about the quality or preparation in which the beef comes to me: rare, well-done, lunch meat, fresh roasted, thickly sliced, slathered in gravy, fried, stewed, Canadianed-up in Poutine, or cold from the fridge, I’ll take it any way I can get it. And since I’ve had it in every way possible I am quite happy to label myself a roast-beef connoisseur.
As a connoisseur I will authoritatively say, Urth Caffe does roast-beef right. The beef was sliced thick, and the meat was still tender and juicy. Most places hide the meat in their sandwiches, burying it beneath stacks of lettuce, tomato, or cheese. At Urth they let the roasted meat do all the work, because nothing else needs to be done. The baguette crust was thick—perfect for dipping in the au jus. The soft white flesh of the bread sopped up the flavor intensifying each bite of the beef. I’m ambivalent about horseradish, but spread Urth’s horsey-emulsion on a bite with great hope. It didn’t really add anything because the horseradish had no kick to it, but it didn’t hurt the sandwich at all. Luckily I kept peppering Ingrid with questions about her writing career, so I got to listen and eat. By the time I’d cleaned my plate she hadn’t even had a chance to get through a quarter of her meal.
I ate my entire side-salad, but it was really nothing more than dressed greens. The dressing wasn’t memorable; it was a bit like the rest of blocky L.A.—there, and instantly forgettable. Ingrid and Diana both got salads for their full meals. Their plates were loaded with kale and vegetable-straws or some other healthy nonsense that would be scoffed at in the Midwest. Everyone ate their dinner in full, so the salads must have been all right.
We dropped Ingrid off at her place and went to downtown Pasadena where Diana introduced me to Yogurtland. A magical place of taro flavored yogurt and tiny balls of liquid strawberry that burst in your mouth like caviar. Yogurtland is full of creamy cold opportunity and endless topping possibility—we went three more times in the next two days.
If I was a good girlfriend I would have brought Wally a doggie bag and let him taste that delicious Urth Pot Roast Sandwich for himself. But it’s okay he didn’t hold it against me—and that’s true love.