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Sep 30, 2009 02:43 PM

Noir: Grace and Goodness

You walk into a place for the first time, and though the room is small it's comfortable, and its occupants clearly enjoying themselves. An older man in casual street clothes, the owner, sees you and, as everyone else is busy, comes over to offer you a table. The menu is charming and varied, with many unusual and intriguing items, all well-priced; the many wines by the glass follow the same pattern. Your waiter is friendly and attentive, but if he's occupied and you need something the nearest staffer politely volunteers to provide it; at one point it's the chef himself who sees your searching look and comes over to ask what you need. "We'd like the bread-basket replenished," you say. He smiles and says, "Oh, I think I know how to cut bread!" and takes the basket away...

Noir is an establishment utterly comfortable in its own skin. No towering egos, no showy drama, no prima donnas, no wobbly amateur-night missteps. That it's like this AND almost brand-new is astounding, and it can be so only because it was conceived, executed and staffed by solid, honest professionals. Mrs. O, her Maman and I came by after a movie last night, expecting a pleasant experience because of the uniformly fine reviews. We got that and more: besides two little plates and a charcuterie platter, all splendid, plus excellent bread and exactly the wines we were in the mood for, we took a ride in the most finely crafted, well-oiled culinary machine I can remember experiencing anywhere.

Wine was a Red Tree pinot noir, the least expensive of those at $7, but limpid, bright and lovely, plus glasses of Prosecco for mom and daughter, who'd never had it before but found it perfect. Since we all wanted just a very light supper, instead of getting several plates to share we simply ordered what each of us wanted to eat: Maman asked for the shrimp remoulade, Mrs. O the charcuterie plate, I the two lamb chops with a harissa sauce and mushrooms; we also asked for bread, and a bowl of the pommes frites for the table. The bread, as we had hoped, was baguette from Europane down the street. Maman was very quiet for a while and then the shrimp were gone and she was smiling, so I assume those were satisfactory. My chops were two riblets, quite rare but with a good seared crust, making them juicy and savory instead of flabby as rare lamb can be; the mushrooms were an added delight, and the sauce even better mopped up with bread. Mrs. O did share her platter, which included some prosciutto, Spanish-style chorizo, dry salame and what-d'ya-call the dried salt beef, plus some nuts, whole-grain mustard and a bit of what seemed to be a sort of orange marmalade. All of this made for the best kind of end-of-meal snackage, with bread and butter being wielded around the table to dip into this and that. The only questionable item was the bowl of frites. They were quite tasty, cut in very fine julienne and with a nice spicy seasoning, but no attempt had been made to make them crisp. They were fully cooked, but rather soft and floppy, like lengths of strangely tender waxed shoe-string. They're just $6 for a generous bowl, so if you're curious by all means try them. I'm a French Fry Agnostic myself, and I thought they were okay... they also come with a shallow compartmented ceramic dish offering three different dipping sauces, one of which is catsup. See? No big egos...

Any gripes at all? Only the usual, that too many of the customers think that bellowing is an acceptable indoor conversational mode. This seems to be an American affliction, and a fairly recent one, since I was certainly never allowed to use my outdoor voice in a restaurant, nor do I recall any other person's doing so without attracting the disapproving attention of everyone else. Maybe it was different in the Midwest...

The business end of this little feast was a tab for $67.50 + tax = $73.53, to which we added our usual 20% plus a smidge. When they split the bill for us kids (we were treating Maman) they rounded it DOWN to $73.52, a small thing but saying much about their institutional attitude. So: they're just down the street, they're open until 11PM, they have umpty-'leven more things on the menu we want to try (not to mention a few hundred wines) and they're a totally class act. See ya there.

Noir Food and Wine
40 N Mentor Ave, Pasadena
(626) 795-7199

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  1. Mrs. O, who was obviously paying more attention to her order than I was, has asked me to make the following corrections: first, the bread from Europane is not baguette, though it was very good. And the shreds of fruit with a bit of syrup on the charcuterie plate is made from dried apricots, not orange. The Management regrets any misunderstanding...

    1 Reply
    1. re: Will Owen

      Your Clientele forgives you.

      I missed the point when I skimmed this post too quickly earlier today and somehow thought that, despite the name, Noir was a Pasadena ladies-lunch joint. One glance at the gorgeously appropriate photo on the front page of their Web site convinced me otherwise. (Too bad their graphics designer nearly ruined the effect with a large overlaid title.)

      They present a fine-looking menu of very appealing small plates -- the ones you describe plus, for example, fresh foie gras (and a nice glass of 2005 Chateau Suduiraut to have with it). The rest of the wine list is impressive for an apparently small place. Outside of Bern's Steakhouse in Tampa I've never seen a restaurant offer so many California Pinot noirs. Why they don't have even one bottle from the great Acacia vineyard is a mystery I'll have to investigate when I visit. Also, I wonder if it's possible to order the Farwell Burger with some of the catsup you got with your frites? (Just kidding, Father's Office fans.)

      Good job, Will -- I'm ready for a little "grace and goodness" and will certainly try the place soon.

      Noir Food & Wine
      40 North Mentor Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91106

    2. Hi Will Owen,

      Nice review. :) Totally agree with the indoor conversation comment. :) I'll have to try this the next time I'm visiting friends in the area. Thanks.

      1. I worry for that place.

        Location seems cursed ... bad feng shui ...

        1 Reply
        1. re: ipsedixit

          Well, if anyone can overcome that, they can. The unmentioned constant in my take on the place was how comfortable it is, totally overcoming its narrowness and its being damn near out in the street. The chairs and tables are comfortable, solid, and the right height; the linens and silverware plain, solid and perfect. They could sell bologna sandwiches and soda pop and I'd come hang out.