Poblano pepper and bean dip with crispy flatbread
Bar Celona has been in Old Town Pasadena for years, but Chef Josef Centeno of Echo Park's Lot 1 helped re-do the menu recently. Though I hadn't been to Bar Celona before, I did remember looking at the menu and thinking that it didn't seem very interesting. This time, there were more things I wanted to order than I could afford (or eat).
We went on a Tuesday night because we wanted to hear the live flamenco music. Every Tuesday night, local flamenco band Cale plays in the bar area. They mostly played Gypsy Kings, which I enjoyed and is certainly crowd-pleasing, though I would have liked to hear more variety. You don't have to sit in the bar area to hear the music, as they play it through the restaurant's speaker system. Unfortunately, we were sitting right underneath a speaker and it was very loud. I also had to watch some drunk birthday girl twirling around in front of the band, trying to get attention all night. I guess what I'm saying is that the music is great, but you might want to sit in the dining room instead of the bar area. You'll still be able to hear the music.
We started with a non-Spanish hummus-like appetizer. The flavor was good, but it had that fermented tang to it, like it had been sitting around a day too long. So you may want to skip the poblano pepper dip.
But don't worry, it gets better.
Piquillo peppers stuffed with goat cheese, lightly breaded and fried
I have loved piquillo peppers ever since I had them at Jose Andres's Jaleo in D.C. I savored every bite of this dish, eating it entirely too slowly so that the fried breading got soggy. I also love chile rellenos, but I'm not sure that deep frying peppers is the greatest idea--they're so moist that you're lucky if the coating is still crispy when the dish arrives at your table. Eat this one as soon as you get it.
Flatbread with three sausages
The flatbread with three sausages sounded so boring, and $9 for what is essentially a mini-pizza is pretty egregious. (You're right--I didn't order it.) But the Spanish chorizos and the unique, tangy sauce were outstanding. The dish had a very rustic, homemade feel and was big enough that you could share it without feeling deprived of a decent portion.
Potato and pulled pork shoulder croquettes
I love croquettes, but they are almost never done right. Usually, croquettes are dry, and these were no exception. Pulled pork could have been a very flavorful filling (think carnitas), but in this case it wasn't. I think I'm just going to have to learn to make my own croquettes, because the only good ones I've had since Spain were in Puerto Rico. I wouldn't order this dish again.
Sweet potato and butter empanadas
I couldn't get enough of the sweet potato empanadas. The deep-fried pastry was light and flaky on the outside and gooey on the inside. The sweet potato filling was sweet and creamy and thankfully did not remind me of Thanksgiving. I'm not sure I ever saw an empanada while I lived in Spain, but authenticity be damned. The empanadas were delicious.
As I'm sure you can tell from the photo, the only bad dish of the bunch was the chicken kebab, which was overcooked and dessicated. It didn't seem like it would have had much flavor even if it had been cooked for the correct amount of time. Marinade, anyone?
Sauteed oyster and crimini mushrooms
The sauteed mixed mushrooms were very flavorful and took me right back to Spain. The name of the dish was slightly misleading, as there were plenty of (cheap) button mushrooms in the dish as well, but it was still more mushrooms than I wanted to eat in one sitting. This is a good dish to share, or, if you don't mind snooty looks from the waitress, take home the leftovers.
Plates range from $6 to $25, so the tab adds up fast--I could have gone out for sushi for the same price and about the same level of fullness. Though I didn't love the prices (especially for the sangria--$8 for one glass with ice in it, really?), they are customary for a tapas restaurant (I'm sure they're also necessary to pay Colorado Blvd. rent!). You can save a few bucks if you go during happy hour, though.
I also didn't like our waitress's snobby attitude, but I can't say that it was representative of the overall service at the restaurant (or even of her--could have been a bad night). I really enjoyed the food, the sleek decor with glowing red panels and warm yellow ochres, and the live music. I would definitely like to go back the next time I feel like splurging.
46 E. Colorado Blvd.
Bar Celona website
Bar Celona menu