Fabulous ribs. The restaurant sign actually says "Tommy Lasorda's Fabulous Ribs." Strong words, Tommy, I thought; sort of like predicting a Series. I'll just see for myself.
The Pasadena Lasorda's--there is another in Marina del Rey--looked more like a clubby prime rib joint than a barbecue, but I ordered the beef ribs anyway. And wow, they were more or less fabulous. They'd been coated with a sweet tomato-based barbecue sauce and dried out somehow, in an oven or under a salamander, so the sauce turned into a luscious, concentrated, garlicky, sweet-and-sour . . . tomato frosting. They were sort of overwhelming (a more vinegary barbecue sauce is available on the side, presumably to cut the sweetness).
I had started the meal with fried zucchini strips, which were the best I had ever had in my life, the zucchini beautifully cooked and crisply breaded. The ribs came with a remarkably good coleslaw, faintly buzzed with horseradish, and some pasta in garlicky tomato sauce. I couldn't wait to come back.
Have you ever watched your team start a season at the top and then go nowhere but down? Little did I know I'd already had all the highlights at Lasorda's except for the desserts. The next time I came I had barbecued chicken, which was merely OK; moist and tender, but nothing major-league. And the baby back ribs were a shocker, dull beyond anything I could have predicted after those supernal beef ribs. I left some on my plate.
And that's all the barbecue there is. The rest of this rather oddly composed menu is mostly Italian dishes, plus a barbecue-Italian combo called "Mama Lasorda's Chicken in a Pot." This is linguine simply mixed with barbecued chicken and tomato sauce, served in a huge pewter pot with a quaint lid. Odd, but not bad at all, and it easily serves two.
The Italian entrees are mostly pastas, but they can scarcely hold their own next to the fabulous ribs. The cheese-stuffed tortellini in pesto sauce is memorable for being staggeringly rich, and the rest of the pastas tend to come in an unvarying tomato-heavy sauce of the sort that has a bitter undertone (good sausage, though, in the linguine with sausage and peppers). There is also a New York steak that ought to be more tender and flavorful than it is.
I found the appetizers to be more reliable. The house specialty is fried onions, thin strings of onion floured rather than battered, and they're quite addictive, if a little oily (and don't expect them to be "crisp," as the menu describes them). The fried mozzarella in a crisp breading is quite good, as are the marinated peppers, the appetizer of choice for garlic-lovers in this garlic-oriented restaurant. No problem with the fried breaded calamari and shrimp appetizers.
When you get to dessert, one item towers over all the others as mightily as the ribs tower over the entrees: the bourbon walnut pie. It's flavored with chocolate and a splash of Jack Daniel's, making it in effect a chocolate pecan pie with walnuts substituting for pecans (sometimes Lasorda's offers an actual chocolate pecan pie as well). Next to this, the chocolate mousse cake is just a rich blowout and the New York cheesecake a little odd. The vaunted mud pie, made of coffee ice cream with hot fudge, peanuts and whipped cream. is somewhat ruined by an Oreo crust that is not only salty but hard enough to bend a fork tine.
But you're not kidding about the ribs, Tommy. They really are fabulous.
Tommy Lasorda's Fabulous Ribs, 424 Fair Oaks Ave., South Pasadena. Telephone (818) 799-5050. Open for lunch Monday through Friday, for dinner daily. Full bar. Valet parking. American Express, MasterCard and Visa accepted. Dinner for two, food only, $23 to $46.