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Restaurants & Bars 5

Noir: Grace and Goodness

Will Owen | Sep 30, 200902:43 PM

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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