Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Noir Food & Wine, Pasadena

I frequently visit my brother down in the Southland. I enjoy the weather, seeing his kids grow up, and more recently, cooking with him in his newly renovated kitchen. Spacious and light, it is actually a whole addition to the home and is the size of my office and kitchen combined. Great cabinet space, a huge industrial-type gas stove, two ovens, and most of all—room to work without tripping over one another.

While we did get to do some cooking together during this last visit, we also had the pleasure of dining at one of Pasadena’s newish restaurants, Noir Food & Wine, located in Old Town. The small restaurant, located adjacent to the Ice House Comedy Club, currently consists of seating for 30 inside and 10 tables on the outdoor patio. Construction is expected to start in a week to open a wall out to the patio, which will reduce seating by 3 tables total, but will make serving easier, as well as access to the wine storage. (Reservations are encouraged given the size of the space.)

The restaurant’s kitchen is run by chef Claud Beltran with an ever-changing menu of small plates, rotating cheeses, charcuterie, and some yummy desserts. The menu during our visit was well rounded, and upon questioning found that about 80% of his produce is sourced locally, which is something I always like to hear.

The wine list included (no kidding) 600 different bottles, including over 100 pinot noirs, which is virtually unheard of for a restaurant this size. Taking the pressure off having to choose one, sommelier Jared Hopper kindly works out a menu of wine flights that allow you to tiptoe through selections, and has a lengthy wine-by-the-glass menu. Extremely knowledgeable, he also helped us venture out of our comfort zone and try new things, and made a generous substitution when they were out of one of our choices.

Since there were four of us, we were able to try a wide variety of items. We began with a fromage board of Exploratuer, Bucheron, and Servilleta, which came with fig cake, honeycomb, glazed nuts, and jellied fruit triangles. They don’t go overboard on the cheese offerings (11 total), and split them between those cheeses that would pair well with white or red wine. My only complaint was that the portions were a bit skimpy. The charcuterie plate had some tasty Spanish chorizo, as well as prosciutto, salami and hot coppa. Unfortunately the hot coppa, while wonderful by itself, wipes out the tongue for awhile with its heat and flavor, making tasting other items a bit difficult. Probably not the best choice when served with delicate cheese, but that was our bad. We also ordered a side of pomme frites here, which arrived with a homemade garlic aioli, catsup and blue cheese dip.

Round two was a salad of heirloom beets. The delicately cooked and julienned beets were served with chives, roasted garlic vinaigrette and a parmesan mousse. What was nice is that this wasn’t the standard roasted beets with goat cheese, which I love, but becomes a bit repetitious.

On to the seafood course, which brought two large, nicely seared sea scallops served on a bed of fresh corn and shitake ragout. Cooked perfectly with a crisp crust, we were sopping up the sauce with pieces of bread, it was just that good. The shrimp remoulade was well sauced and tasty, with a portion of four Gulf shrimp nestled atop a layer of grilled Treviso lettuce.

The red meat course was well received at our table. We tried both the hanger steak and the Farwell burger. The hanger steak was cooked perfectly and served with (slightly tough) mustard greens, chorizo-flavored gravy and grilled potatoes. Again, a sauce worth mopping. The Farwell burger was served slider-sized with tarragon, caramelized onions, remoulade and melted Pecorino. Hard to share, I only had a small bite at the end, so I did not get a full taste. My fellow diners did enjoy it however.

The last, and my favorite, course was dessert. The French press coffee arrived right before and was the perfect accompaniment to the chocolate terrine, Noir Bananas Foster, and the heirloom apples with ginger caramel sauce. The terrine, rich and dark, melted perfectly on my tongue, coating my mouth with heavenly chocolate. The Bananas Foster was an innovative version, with chunks of bananas deep fried in a delicate batter and served atop a caramel-like sauce with vanilla ice cream on top. Two orders of that went down in a jiffy. The simple presentation of a sliced apple with a dipping sauce washed down all the richness of the evening. Bright Honeycrisp and Granny Smith apples made short work of the well-infused caramel sauce. Some might think there was too much ginger flavor there, but it worked perfectly. (The only thing to make this better would have been a sprinkling of their glazed nuts!)

Overall, delightful space, company, and food. Service was good, staff was friendly and helpful, and for being such a small space there was not an overwhelming din from diners. I wish the Noir the best of luck in staying open in what is a very crowded food scene.

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