Agnes brings witty cooking, cheese counter to Old Pasadena

www.latimes.com
5 min read
fairly easy
Agnes in Pasadena, an eclectic, cheese-focused restaurant and market, is an instant hit.
To surrender into the flow of Agnes — an ambitious, ever-crowded, 4-month-old restaurant and market on a bustling block in Old Pasadena — order the dish that best embodies its rhythm and wit: loaded baked potato dumplings.

The dumplings are gnocchi, the kind shaped like firm pillows that dissolve into clouds as soon as they hit the palate. In their wake come texture after texture and flavor after flavor. Sour cream, chives and curls of white cheddar set the baseline richness and pop. Hunks of lardon bring a bacony whomp; they're offset by a mulchy, acidic riff on salsa made with roasted broccoli. A garnish of extra-thin shoe-string potatoes adds crunch and smartly reintroduces the starchy goodness that vanishes when the dumplings melt away.

It's conceptual fun, the loaded baked potato as Pop art. A lot of moving parts produce easy deliciousness. The dumplings usually arrive on china patterned with blowsy pastel florals, a visual that reinforces the playfulness.

Loaded baked potato dumplings — gnocchi crossed with a Midwestern baked potato — at Agnes in Pasadena. (Maggie Shannon / For The Times)

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Thomas Kalb and Vanessa Tilaka, the married chefs and owners who run Agnes, make a running theme out of these kinds of skillful larks. Kalb runs the kitchen. He grew up in Iowa and uses a populist sort of white Midwestern culture as a springboard for his eclectic menu, though more in respectful homage than spoof. (The restaurant is named after Kalb's grandmother, Mary Agnes.) A handful of corn nuts scatter across meat and cheese boards. A winking spin on savory eclairs includes chicken mousse piped in billows like wedding cake icing over cornbread sticks and topped with preserved cherries — the intense dark ones, happily, rather than the Day-Glo variety of maraschinos.

Architecture studio Ora (the team behind now-closed Auburn, one of L.A.'s most stunning restaurant interiors of the last decade) wove the Middle Americana motif into Agnes' designer…
Bill Addison
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