My family and I went to East West Bistro in Pasadena for Mother’s Day brunch yesterday. When I called to make the reservation last Tuesday I was asked whether I was planning on the brunch or the full menu. I didn’t know if it would be an Asian-style breakfast buffet or a mixture of Americanized Asian platters, so I asked what was entailed. I was told that it was a buffet. While I didn’t get a complete answer over the phone, the buffet involves eggs, bacon, sausage, shrimp egg rolls, pan fried port dumplings, grouper in a lemon sauce, crispy beef, curry noodles, orange beef, cream puffs, chocolate covered strawberries, pineapple, fresh ginger, pork fried rice, and a variety of sushi rolls. On a normal weekend the whole spread runs $16 per person. For Mother’s Day it’s $20 per person and includes bottomless mimosas and Bloody Mary’s.
That being said, there are two reasons that I don’t think I could write an honest and thorough review. The first is that I don’t feel that you can judge a restaurant by the food it serves buffet-style. While the food may be prepared in the same way it is rare that you get each dish as fresh as it was intended. The second — and the more important of the two — is that it isn’t the same restaurant that I remember and preferred.
Albert Yau opened East West Bistro in summer 2006. Before that it was Hunan Annapolis, owned and operated by H.C. Ting (known to his regulars as “H.C.”) and his wife Scarlett Chou for over two decades. Back in 1985 their real estate agent misinformed them about the location of the space they were buying, but by the time they found out the sign and print media had already been ordered. After 20+ years in the same Pasadena strip mall, I’d say that it didn’t matter that the name didn’t match the location. The portions were copious and delicious and the service top notch, only beaten by the attentiveness of the hosts. I had been going to Hunan Annapolis for over 15 years. I didn’t go often because we saved it for special occasions, so it was a shock to witness the disappearance of a familiar sign, menu, and host during a routine shopping expedition to the area. That was a year and half ago.
Aside from the food, only the beautiful bronze carving back by the bar and glass divider remains. The glass is illuminated by a subtle green light that appears to emanate from the glass itself, depicting cranes and reeds etched within. Whether a tribute to the original owners or too expensive to replace, it’s a reminder of times past. Better times. H.C. is no longer available to greet you by name and see you to your table in gentlemanly fashion. He would pull the ladies chairs out for them and place napkins in your lap. On Mother’s Day he would give imported orchids to the ladies. H.C. must have had a photographic memory because he would always ask about us kids even when my parents would go without us, even if we only ate there a few times a year. Gone was post-appetizer cup of lime sorbet to cleanse your pallet before the main course, as were the impeccably dressed and mannered wait staff, as were the steamed towels brought out at the end of your meal to clean your hands. To be fair, some of these things may remain during dinner hours but based on the what I saw of the full menu crowd’s experience I have my doubts.
Hunan Annapolis was a classy place, but today it was clear that the ambiance has changed drastically. Once dim and quiet, the dining room could be full and you still couldn’t make out what the table next to you was saying. Today, it was brightly lit and noisy (complete with crying babies). I was dressed business casual where one of the wait staff was wearing jeans and an untucked polo shirt. As much as I don’t like dressing up all of the time, I’m going to miss the formality of it.
To top it off our check included 20% gratuity for buffet service that was mediocre at best. Aside from the fact that I can’t stand added gratuity, it was a harsh reminder that things aren’t as they were. Still, I want to give East West Bistro another chance. Next time I’m going to try to leave my expectations and memories at the door.
East West Bistro
8151 Ritchie Highway
Pasadena, MD 21122