99 Essential Restaurants 2014

Ración

photo by Anne Fishbein

Ración, the exquisite Spanish restaurant owned, operated and dreamt into being by chef Teresa Montaño and general manager Loretta Peng, is an unlikely place. It’s hidden a block south of Pasadena’s main drag, with the nearby Cheesecake Factory and Buca di Beppo acting as a kind of siphon along the way for many Old Town shoppers. There is no paella on the menu, and the tapas are on a wholly different level from what you’ll find on all those gastropub small-plates menus around town. Ración offers a cuisine that exists somewhere between San Sebastián and the chefs’ idea of it, glorious plates of beer-braised octopus with Asturian white beans; lamb meatballs with Basque cider; an exquisite John Dory with sunchoke purée; an ode to local vegetables that looks like a painting; a pile of bafflingly tender salt-cod fritters with lemon cream. Actually, the Buca di Beppo down the street is a very good thing: More jamón ibérico for us.

-- Amy Scattergood