Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Noir Food & Wine - dinner review - March 4, 2011

Last month, the husband and a friend and I had occasion to try out a new restaurant. Noir Food & Wine is located on a smaller street in Pasadena, very close to the IceHouse Comedy Club. There's a multi-story parking structure across the street, so parking there is very convenient. We walked across the street and went to check in at the restaurant for our reservation. The layout of the restaurant is a bit odd. There was really no check-in podium that we could really see, so we kind of stood by the door until someone came to talk to us. We were trying not to be intrusive to the diners seated near the door. The restaurant has several rooms, and our host told us that there were a couple of tables open that would fit our party, so it really just depended on which room we wanted to sit in. The open table in the main room we had entered was fairly close to the door, so I asked to see the other tables. He led us to the adjacent room and showed us another table, and then he went outside another door that brought us back onto the street and then went in another door that led into another room and showed us a table in the corner there, which we decided to take. It turns out that room was fairly new, having just recently been opened to seat customers. There was also a patio area in the back that was expected to be finished and open soon, and there would also then be a connecting door from the other rooms, so that you didn't have to go back outside to enter this last room. It was a bit weird but still charming.

We sat down and started to peruse the menu - or should I say, menus. The restaurant basically serves tapas - small plates meant to be shared so that you can order multiple dishes. There was a main menu and then an "additions" menu, which are pretty much the specials. The server mentioned that the menus, especially the "additions" menu, change very often since the chef likes to use whatever ingredients are fresh at the farmer's market at any given time. After reviewing the menu, we decided on a number of courses that we would all mostly share, minus courses that any of the one of us didn't necessarily like.

We decided to start with some tastings from the "fromage and charcuterie board" - that would be the meat and cheese platters. There are a selection of different meats and cheeses, and you can order a selection of several items on a plate. In previously looking at the menu online, I had noticed the prosciutto listed as one of the meats, but on the actual menu, it was listed as an item that you can order separately. We decided to order the prosciutto plate (sliced San Daniele prosciutto with grilled ciabatta bread) and a 3-item sampler plate as well. We ordered one cheese (I forget exactly what kind it was), and two meats, one of which was the salami in cocoa powder, which we thought sounded interesting. The plate came with various accompaniments like nuts and dried fruit. The meats and cheeses were all good, but I thought the sampler plate portions were smaller than I had expected. I think the salami in cocoa powder was good, but there were only 4 slices of that. I don't think I'd be inclined to order a meat and cheese plate again. (I'm describing all of this because it completely skipped my mind to take a picture of either plate.)

The menu listed a "Noir specialty butter", described as follows: "Chef Claud Beltran has selected this premium, organic butter from Vermont Butter Company. This european style butter is ultra-sweet and a perfect addition to our ciabatta bread." We had wanted to order it to try it, but they were unfortunately sold out of it, so we decided we'd have to order it on a future visit.

For the other dishes we ordered, we decided to have them come in courses, since it would work out better that way. The husband and our friend shared a bottle of red wine - I think it was from Spain, though I could be mistaken. Noir only serves beer and wine, neither of which I partake of much, so I just had water with my meal.

The first course were the salads. We decided on a frissee and cucumbers salad from the regular menu and a blood orange salad from the "additions" menu, partly because the husband and I LOVE blood oranges.

frissee lettuce and Persian cucumbers with dijon Maytag Bleu vinaigrette

The frissee lettuce was fresh and the cucumbers were nice and crunchy, and I really enjoyed the dressing on the salad.

blood orange salad with Windrose Farms spicy asian greens and sesame soy vinaigrette

The blood orange salad was very nice as well, and the blood orange slices gave it a really nice extra flavor.

Next up were the "starters".

seared scallops with heirloom cherry tomato salad and parsley puree

The scallops were *very* tasty. They were cooked perfectly, and the dish was beautifully presented with the nice complimentary colors. The cherry tomato salad was a nice accompaniment to the scallops.

crab fritters with black pepper aioli and Carolina mustard sauce

The crab fritters were a little boring to look at, but they were very tasty, especially with the choice of the two dipping sauces.

grilled octopus with parsley and yellow tomato salad and caper vinaigrette

I very much enjoyed the octopus. It wasn't too mushy or rubbery, as it can sometimes be.

And then came the "entrees".

half cornish game hen with rosemary risotto and sauteed summer squash

I was the one most interested in trying the cornish game hen, in spite of the rosemary risotto, neither of which I'm particularly fond of. I liked the crispiness of the hen, and it was pretty tasty, except that the part I tried had been sitting on the risotto, and some of the rosemary had seeped in. The husband and our friend enjoyed the risotto portion of the dish.

seared Hudson Valley foie gras with Korean pears, pomegranate seeds and pomegranate syrup

I am decidedly a fan of foie gras, but I'd never had it seared before. My phone doesn't do a good job with taking pictures in low light, so the picture doesn't begin to do justice to the dish. The flavor of the foie gras was delightful prepared that way. Foie gras is very rich, so it was nice to have the pears to offset that a bit and to add to the overall flavor. It's definitely a dish to be shared. Even with three of us sharing the dish, we each had plenty. You can't really eat too much foie gras at a time because the richness can be unpleasantly overwhelming.

grilled Australian double chops lamb with roasted sunchokes and Tom Lun sauce

I am normally a fan of lamb, but I'll admit that because there was other stuff to eat, I didn't get around to trying the lamb chop until it was a bit tepid. I did still enjoy the flavor though, and it was very tender. The husband had his taste when the dish was still warm and he said it was very good. We all did like the sunchokes, though we didn't know what it was. Our server told us that it was the heart of a sunflower. We decided that we hoped to have it again on another dish.

brussel sprouts sauteed in garlic, shallots and orange zest

The husband and I are particular fans of brussel sprouts, so when we saw that it was on the menu as a side, we had to order it. They were prepared very nicely, not overcooked and still with good flavor and texture.

We probably ended up ordering too much, just because there was so much we wanted to try. I know we didn't finish one of the salads, and there was quite a bit of the cornish game hen left on the plate.

But, we definitely had to leave room for dessert!

Noir bananas foster with vanilla gelato

This was off the regular dessert menu. It was pretty tasty, but the husband did have one complaint, which he did end up relaying to our server. He asked if it was cooked in the same oil as the crab fritters, and the server said it was actually cooked in an adjacent section, but it's possible some of the oil could have crossed over between the two. The husband said that he could actually taste some of the crab on the dessert (we noticed how much the dessert looked like the crab fritters as well), which wasn't a particularly pleasant combination. The friend and I didn't notice the crab flavor as much. The server said she would relay his comment so that the kitchen could be more careful about not having the flavors mix.

passion fruit panna cotta creme brulee

This dessert was on the "additions" menu, and I liked it very much.

All in all, it was a lovely dinner. The dishes came in groupings, as we'd asked the server to do, so we were able to enjoy each set of dishes before the next set came, and we had time in between for conversation and fun. Our server was very nice, and she was very knowledgeable, as we ended up having many questions for her, both about the food and otherwise. She was friendly and forthcoming throughout, and we never felt rushed, even though we were one of the last to leave that evening. It was a lovely meal, and it's a restaurant I definitely intend to visit again.

Noir Food & Wine
40 North Mentor Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91106
(626) 795-7199


Sherry said...

The cheese was Midnight Moon, made in Holland.

The wine that your husband and I shared was, indeed, from Spain. It was the 2005 Solpost, a blend of Garcha, Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Monstant.

I had a great time, and am looking forward to going there again someday. Thanks for inviting me!

Sherry said...

OK, that should say "Garnacha", not Garcha.

janea said...

oh my GOSH. that food looks amazing. (i came to your blog via mousepad ^_^)

i love octopus, and yeah some places do serve it too chewy or rubbery. i am bookmarking this restaurant!