At long last here is my report of the SO and my 14th Anniversary Dinner at Noe Restaurant (Omni Hotel) on Sat, 18 March 2006. Thanks to the Chows for the many suggestions, especially this one, which was a place previously not on our radar. We delight in checking out new spots, especially downtown- and Silver Lake-adjacent.
After a grueling 3-hour drive down to San Diego for a family event and a nearly 3-hour drive back, some of it in the rainwe finally arrived back in LA around 7:45pm. (Does anyone else remember when it took 2 hours or less to go to SD??) Along the way we knew we were not going to make our 7:30 reservation, so we called to push it forward, but only got voice-mail. Turns out it didnt matter much. After we hit home, changed and headed over, we were steered to parking by an umbrella-toting doorman. We wandered the poorly signed hotel to find the restaurant, walking through the very cool piano bar into a smart, spartan, dimly lit dining area passing one party of eight and two couples separately wrapping up their meals. Well we wanted romantic. Then it dawned on us: it was the night before the Marathon (hence the spillover parking): everyone not in the restaurant was likely either drinking, sleeping or carbo-loading in their rooms.
We were seated at a comfortable table for four and our eyes adjusted to the darkish room, scanning the safe but contemporary Asian art mysteriously mixed with images of the Eiffel Tower? Large glass windows faced a courtyard with tables, now closed due to the chill and the rain. Menus, water, we ordered drinks and the waitress arrived to explain that aside from the regular menu, there were also two tasting options available, one 6-course, one 9-course, both spontaneous meaning she would ask a series of questions, get to know our tastes, and the chef would do whatever. We were game and went for the 6-course ($75/each). The questions were basic and the SO is far more picky than I, so I listened as he provided a few exclusions: lamb, scallops, crab (for 14 years, Ive been denied these ... ahh the sacrifices).
The breadman arrived with an array of ciabatta, rosemary and wheat breads, set on the table with a rectangular dish of olive oil poured over two slashes of chili paste. In the center of the dish was a curl of anchovy, and a few olives bobbing in the corners. We enjoyed our drinks as the other guests left and out came an amuse bouche of avocado and fingerling potato salad on a crispy wonton, accompanied by a liquer glass of mango and banana frappe. This was an unexpected and rather quick surprise and it was fun to taste the cool salad on the warm wonton skin, chased down by a sort of mini fruit shake.
Soon thereafter came a small dish that held daikon sprouts wrapped in anchovy on tuna sashimi with pickled vegetables. At this point I was slightly concerned another anchovy appearance so quickly after the bread, but it worked and the ahi was fresh, cool but not cold, and two rather healthy size chunks at that. Couldnt tell what veggies were pickled, but they were sort of thin radish-like, crispy ovals.
Next came a beautiful plate with blue rays radiating from the center, in the middle of which was a single potato ravioli sitting on chopped mirepoix. The ravioli was more pierogi- or potsticker-ish: lightly greased, slightly crispy, with a chewy dough, very flavorful potato center. No soy sauce. Gone in three bites. Delish.
A small wait and then came some thin thin thin carpaccio beef dusted with almond shavings and piled upon mixed greens with more sprouts. I might have relished a little mustard or sauce on the carpaccio, as the nuts were a bit dry but the meat was moist and overall the dish grooved.
Soon, out came a small demitasse of roasted corn soup accented with chili-dusted popcorn. Ooops the SO forgot to mention he didnt like corn (I know, I know, dont get me started). So after he feigned a swallow, I finished mine, then his. Smooth, thick, and a little foamy, it was a cream-based strained puree that tasted of sweet corn. The crunch of the popcorn with heat was the right touch. Very nice.
The first of two small entrees arrived: a slab of flounder stuffed with spinach, (would have been crab if the SO hadnt objected, I later learn) with a lobster bisque-style sauce. Flounders not my fave, and the fish was fine, but nothing to write home about. Even a little chewy, slightly fishy, not 100% loving this though the soupy sauce rocked.
Getting a bit full by now, we were served a boneless beef short rib with chanterelle mushrooms on curry rice. Sounds lovely, great ingredients, but somehow didnt jive. First, the short rib was not meltingly moist, rather a bit ropas viejas salty, stringy, not ribby enough for this dutch oven afficionado. Mushrooms were slivers of chew, not fall apart loveliness and the curry ricealmost a risottocould have had more bite for me. So the last two servings were kind of a sorry showing in light of the promising high notes previously hit with the smaller plates.
I wobbled to the restroom and when I got back there was a hot cup of decaf cappuccino for me and a plate each of chai tea panna cotta surrounded by plenty of fresh blueberries, raspberries and strawberries. In comparison with the other plates, the dessert was quite large, and I couldnt finish it. I savored the berries while the pudding itself was actually a bit bland, not quite living up to the stronger chai tea taste I would have expected and preferred.
For those who lost count, with the amuse and dessert we had more than 6 coursesso a bargain at $75but also the 9-course menu would have been way too much food. Overall, a thoroughly pleasant experience in a beautiful, if lonely, setting. There is much promise to Noe, which is in desperate need of an appreciative audience: an inspiration to any chef Im sure. While we were there, three other groups came in, but two of the groups left quickly after reviewing the menu. The waitress said it was sticker shock. Maybe they thought they were in Dennys?? The other small family remained, ate but left quickly. Ah, hotels. Gotta love em. Incidentally, our waitress, while very kind and courteous, did not seem a professional in a couple of senses (helping choose a wine, explaining ingredients in a course), more like a moonlighting student. Then again, between the breadman/busboy and the runner, and a lack of clientele, she didnt have much to do, so not sure they could keep a high-end kind of waiter.
Still, for us Noe satisfied our need for a nice quiet relaxing place, close by without any scene or hipsters. We might try it again before a show or a concert, and would recommend it to others as having a competent kitchen, clean and semi-luxurious ambiance, but these are not stellar complements. Truthfully, neither of us came away with a strong sense of who Robert Gadsby (the chef) was, what he was about (other than his obvious fondness for Asian fusion), but more importantly, we still dont know how to exactly describe the personality of the place. Hard to put in words, but its sort of like having casual cocktail conversation with a party guestone you sense you may never see again?but not being able to summarize the banter later to anyone because, while comfortable enough at the time, the whole experience somehow vaporizes in a fog. But hey, not everyone is a captivating raconteur and not every dinner is exceptional, but that doesnt mean its not enjoyable.
Total with 2 Martinis, 1 Strawberry Daquiri, 1 glass of Fess Parker Pinot Noir
+ 1 cappuccino = $240 total with tax and tip + $8.80 parking
Noe Restaurant (dinner only)
251 S Olive St, LA CA 90012
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