Early on in the day, writing at the computer in my north-facing apartment, which means it was near cold enough to snow, my hands were hardly able to find the appropriate keys. This was despite the fact that the heat was roaring (though since the heater is in the hallway and faces the bathroom and not any actual room, I don’t know why I was expecting a different outcome).
As a reward for hours spent plugging away in near blizzard conditions, I hastily exited my microenvironment, jumped into my car all ready reaching for the air, cranking the dial to red hot and full blast, and headed for a late bite at Mike Farwell and Claud Beltran’s Noir Food & Wine.
I happily sat at a small two-seater right near the front door so that the afternoon sun could slowly warm me up. I didn’t realize that the entrèe I ordered would do that for me in record time.
My gumbo came in an angled square white bowl on a square plate, the rice poking through the stew and generously sprinkled with green onions. One bite into the andouille sausage and the accompanying slurp of the sauce, which is heavily dosed with Tobasco and cayenne pepper, and my body temperature spiked upwards. The shrimp were tender, and not too small, not too large, and the rice tasted like basmati, which provided a lightness and that delicious nutty flavor. Despite my mouth being on fire, I reached for at least three slices of French bread (with a spread of butter) to aid in sopping up every last drop.
From there, which could have and probably should have been my whole meal, I ventured on to the Tomato and Buratta salad. “Vine-ripened tomatoes, De Steffano fresh buratta, micro basil and arugula dressed in Tuscan olive oil and vinegar.” This should honestly have been labeled as meal number two, the portion was so generous. The glob of buratta (resembling a bumpy, loosely cooked poached egg) was huge and was plopped next to a large tangle of arugula, next to a hefty tomato. The tomato was surprisingly firm, so I expected it to be one of those sad, tasteless winter tomatoes, but with the roasting it had a lovely flavor, which mingled nicely with the lightly dressed arugula. The tomato’s firmness worked well with my fork-full of wily arugula, which was busy sopping up the creamy, gloppy, stretchy, drooling, and delicious buratta.
Because I wasn’t quite full enough, I asked my waitress what she would suggest for dessert. Though it was past the official lunch hour, Kat (Katherine, not Kathleen like yours truly, but an East Coast native too, though Boston versus Connecticut, Pats versus Jets, etcetera) asked chef Daniel what he would recommend and he kindly brought out Noir’s interpretation of Bananas Foster.
He explained that he began by toasting pecans and sautèing them in butter with a banana (pecans are not a part of the original recipe dating from 1951 at New Orleans’ Brennan’s Restaurant). Brown sugar is added and then all of it happily soaks in rum before it is set on fire, burns itself out, and is promptly served with vanilla bean gelato. It’s a slippery dessert, and I’m not a huge pecan fan or bananas-for-dessert fan, but I did enjoy it enough to finish it off. The robust latte I sipped in between bites was a good foil to the dishes sweetness.
Afterwards, I roamed the outside patio and the back room used for overflow or parties, taking a right here and a sharp left there, feeling like I was sneaking a peak backstage. Every spot had its own charm, the patio with its greenery and waterfall, the overflow room cozy, the main area at the entrance feeling the most casual, with a New York feel (I only needed to hear more clatter from the kitchen to complete the memory). There’s still a lot to sample, so I’m sure to return, maybe for the Sebastian sandwich with capacolla, mortadella, Genoa salami and sharp provolone or the Po’ boy du Shrimp or the pan-seared Blue Nose bass or…
Noir Food & Wine, 40 N. Mentor Boulevard, Pasadena, 626.795.7199, noirfoodandwine.com – info on PinotFest 2013 to be found here, too. Wine, wine, and more wine. Lunch: appetizers $4, sandwiches $12-$14, lunch plates $17-$21, sides $7-$9, gumbo $7-$10.