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There are very few places I will drink coffee in the United States; Urth Cafe and The Conservatory, are my local favorites. I recently discovered Jameson Brown in Pasadena, and after just two visits, it has risen to the top of my favorites list. Like the Conservatory, they roast their own beans, and like Urth Cafe, they offer good pastries and snacks with their coffee. All three of my favorite places offer organic teas and water process decaf for those of us who are sensitive to the pesticides found in most commercial products. There is plenty of easy street parking and a few outdoor tables. Inside, the brick building is bright, open, and inviting, with a couch, a fireplace and WiFi for those who want to stay awhile and work or study. Friday and Saturday nights they have musicians who play for food and coffee, so this can be your local live entertainment spot.

The Mayan Mocha is my favorite beverage here, so much so that I not only drove 20 miles here the day after I first tasted it, but I also took two to go home with me (to be reheated later). Made with Ghiradelli chocolate, cinnamon, and a bit of spicy chipotle chili, this twist on a classic had a nice warmth which is absolutely addictive. The first day I ordered it, it was presented like this:

The next day a different barista made this gorgeous design on my Mayan Mocha:

One of us got the regular latte and even though I preferred my Mayan Mocha, this was an excellent version of the classic coffee drink.

For those who want other unusual variations, they also offered a snowball (made with coconut and white chocolate), and a lavender latte, and even the largest of these inventive drinks is less than $4.50 each! Their special drink this week is an iced latte horchata.

Their chocolate chip cookies were a decent version, not as decadent as Madame Chocolat‘s, but also not as boring as commercially made ones.

The bear claw was am excellent breakfast pastry, with a nice almond paste and streusal interior.

For those wanting less sugary snacks, they also serve bagels and Romanian flatbread, which is similar to a large savory tortilla.

Jameson Brown offers everything you could ask for from a coffee house, quality ingredients, skilled service, a welcoming atmosphere, and that rare ingredient found in all great establishments, a commitment to always doing their best.

Jameson Brown Coffee Roasters on Urbanspoon

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I went on a “vacation” only a few miles away from home recently. A friend was house sitting in Pasadena and even though it was only 20 miles away, I felt as if I was hundreds of miles from my life in Los Angeles. I learned that even a small change of environment for a short time can have magically restorative results, especially when paired with good friends and good food.

Mi Piace was always on my list of places to try, but it was also on my list of “have not made it there yet” until this week. In the heart of Old Town Pasadena, it is the quintessential New York Italian restaurant (in California). It’s in a beautiful classic space with high ceilings, patio tables, and white tablecloths, all of which add to the old world charm while maintaining a Californian casual vibe. Since I ate with another former New Yorker (who also took all the pictures since I forgot both my camera and my phone), and a California native, this was the perfect choice for a bit of both worlds.

We started with the cream of corn special soup which had a sweet rich flavor enhanced with a drizzle of truffle oil, a bit of pico de gallo and avocado. Since this soup had no cream, it was actually much lighter than it looked and the combination of textures added a nice contrast to the smooth puree of corn.

I had the spinach salad, made with Michigan tart dried cherries, California goat cheese, fresh strawberries and candied pecans, tossed with an apple cider balsamic dressing. This was one of the best salads I’ve ever eaten! The pairing of the goat cheese, strawberries, cherries and pecans was not only inspired and artful, but absolutely delicious. I never would have believed these ingredients would compliment each other as well as they did until I took a bite and finished the entire 12″ plate!

Every one’s favorite dish of the night was the spicy shrimp appetizer, made with garlic, red onion, white wine and chili flakes, served on a bed of fettuccine. This dish was perfectly executed (sorry the pic is fuzzy). So good that we all could not resist taking more bites even after we got our main courses.

Spinach was my theme for the evening, as I segued to the spinach and goat cheese gnocchi in a marinara sauce that was as bright and fresh as the picture suggests. The gnocchi were light and filling, a great choice for vegetarians, it was served with caramelized garlic and roasted ricotta.

The Carbonara was equally well executed, with bits of pancetta and baby peas. A very nice touch was that they use organic egg for this classic dish.

The Spaghetti alla pina brimmed with mussels and clams in a spicy tomato sauce. It was tasty, but not as outstanding as the shrimp appetizer in terms of spiciness and flavor.

Since we went on a Tuesday, we were treated to the Tuesday night special of 25% off a bottle of wine!

Only one of us was able to find room for dessert, a chocolate soup souffle made with Belgian bittersweet chocolate, and served with Chantilly cream and ripe strawberries. I tasted a teeny bit and that alone was enough to send me into a chocolate sugar coma!

All together, with the wine, soft drinks, appetizers, main courses, dessert and a double espresso, the three of us ate for about $55 each. As Arnold would say, “We’ll be back”, and next time I will bring my camera!

Mi Piace on Urbanspoon

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