Back when the Raymond opened, the best-known restaurants in Pasadena were cafeterias. Now, after two decades of foodie tumult, it's a wholly different town for dining, but the Raymond is virtually unchanged.
Probably that was always the point. After all, this is a restaurant that chose to locate in a '30s-era bungalow that time seemed to have passed by even 20 years ago: three smallish rooms paneled in dark wood, two flower-lined patios. The food stands still too. The menus change weekly, but it's never a wrenching change, usually just a matter of a different sauce or garnish on the same, simply cooked choices of fish and meat.
Regular customers clearly find this comforting, and the Raymond is, in its faintly frumpy way, an unusually comfortable restaurant. Your dining room can be full with everybody at every table talking, but you won't have to raise your voice to have a conversation. It's like being in a somewhat lively home that happens to look as if the occupant is old enough to come to the attention of Willard Scott.
You reach it going down a sort of one-way driveway at Fair Oaks Avenue and Columbia Street. On leaving, you'll wind up on Fair Oaks again, though if you make the right turn instead of the left, you'll spend half a mile on State Street first.
The appetizers always include some savory pastry, such as a fleuron of filo topped with stewed cremini and portabello mushrooms, and a couple of salads: perhaps greens mixed with fresh fruit and pecans in a light, sweet dressing. The "soup of the moment" might be simple split pea (if they offer to spike it with Sherry, by the way, I'd just say no).
Among the entrees, fish is the strong suit. At recent dinners I've had salmon fried in a pleasant crust of pumpkin seeds with a terribly mild-mannered lime cream sauce, and grilled salmon with a tangier, though still subdued, cream sauce that seemed mildly peppery. At brunch there was sea bass with a more rustic sauce of tomatoes, sweet peppers and mushrooms. The treatments were nothing that would make you call up your friends, but the fish was always fresh and perfectly cooked.
This simple approach is a little less becoming with meat. One night three nice little lamb chops came in an unconvincing cherry sauce and the breading on the wiener schnitzel was thick and clumsy. Whatever entree you order, by the way, you get a little ramekin of perfectly cooked vegetables: say, asparagus, baby carrots and pea pods.
Still, at lunch and brunch, light, simple food might be just on your wavelength. Take the tropical chicken salad--not salad with chicken in it or even on it, but slices of roast chicken next to mixed greens in a rather tart dressing and a little pile of chopped fresh fruits and sliced avocado. Other dishes may include a sandwich and an undemanding old-fashioned curry, complete with the very un-Indian.
Brunch, that leisurely, informal meal, is when the Raymond really finds its metier. In addition to a couple of lunch items, it will have egg dishes (an omelet, a frittata, coddled eggs) and choices like French toast topped with sliced bananas, or a good fresh scone with raspberry jam and clotted cream (with a smoky aftertaste, as if from goat's milk).
You can get dessert at any meal, including brunch, and the dessert list is longer than the entree list. The selection runs from a very delicate and creamy creme brulee to a fairly dull cheesecake; from a refreshing napoleon consisting of a layer of lemon curd sandwiched in filo to a soggy pecan pie with a deadly dark molasses flavoring.
One thing you can count on: chocolate. The old-fashioned sour cream chocolate cake is cloaked in a dark chocolate icing, and the sundae is good vanilla ice cream with a hot Belgian chocolate sauce.
* The Raymond, 1250 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena. (626) 441-3136. Lunch 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Tuesday-Thursday; 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Friday; tea 2:30-6 p.m., Tuesday-Thursday; 2:30-5:45 p.m., Friday-Saturday; 2:30-4:30, Sunday; dinner 6-9:30 p.m., Tuesday-Thursday; 5:45-10 p.m., Friday-Saturday; 4:30-8 p.m., Sunday; brunch 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday. Full bar. Parking lot. All major cards. Dinner for two, $90-$98; brunch for two, $26-$44.* What to Get: salmon coated with pumpkin seeds, Creole sea bass, scones and apple sausage, Raymond sundae, lemon napoleon, creme brulee.