This is quick because quite frankly the braying, bellowing crowd drove us out as soon as we could finish, which is really too bad because what we had to eat was excellent. It was Mrs. O's b-day, and Maman always takes us out for those; she had eaten lunch there with her son and his wife and enjoyed it very much, so on her suggestion I reserved a table for early Tuesday night. She was shocked at the wall of sound that greeted us, as it had been pleasantly quiet at lunch, one of the reasons she'd recommended it. But the reception was friendly, and seating was swift (as was the appearance of plenty of very good bread, with the ritual oil & balsamic), so figuring we'd probably get accustomed to the noise level we fell to studying the menu. I for one was pleased to see that the day's specials were listed on a separate sheet in the menu, since a spoken recitation would have been difficult to follow, and that the prices were as reasonable as all the others.
Mrs. O is eating lightly these days; I'd noticed the beet salad and thought that would appeal to her, and she did order that as her sole dish. Maman has always been a mussel hound and had eaten these at lunch, and saw no reason to try anything else. The potato gnocchi in porchetta ragù (on the specials menu) was calling my name, even over the din, so I had to try that, plus a glass of a Chianti I'd not heard of (and didn't write down, sorry).
The food was all we'd expected and more: the beet salad was a pretty composition, apparently molded in a bowl and turned out onto the plate, of "roasted golden and red beets, arugula, goat cheese, candied pecans" (quoting from the menu) and the two bites I was allowed were as good as that stuff gets. My gnocchi were al dente but not in the least rubbery, delicious all on their own, and the rich ragù had diced pieces of meltingly tender pork in a rich, flavorful sauce deeply but not overwhelmingly accented with fresh rosemary. My chianti, which had been pleasant but hardly remarkable, came to spicy life in the presence of the food. Of Maman's mussels I cannot speak; she is not a food-sharer, but she went through them briskly and followed up with all of the big bowl of broth, and expressed great pleasure afterwards.
As soon as my companions had finished their food, and I'd had about half of mine, I called for a clamshell for the rest, since the next table had gotten only louder. The table was cleared quickly but very politely - those guys are good - and my bag-o-lunch and the check appeared right away. We were asked on the way out how everything was; Maman and I both told the man the good and the bad of it, and got the heck out of there.
I know that environmental factors (such as noise levels) are supposed to be ignored or glossed over on this Board, but this is nothing trivial from a gustatory standpoint: I had the rest of my gnocchi today for lunch, nuked in a glass bowl, and although the meat got a little tough I was tasting shades and colors of flavor that I wasn't tasting last night, because now I was calm and nobody was shouting. (Too bad I didn't have some of that Chianti, too!) I do want to go back there for lunch sometime, but you couldn't pay me to do dinner again, and that's a total shame.
The tab, with two starters, one entrée and a glass of wine, was about $52 before tax & tip.
452 S Fair Oaks Ave, Pasadena, CA 91105
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