Pasadena has always felt a little too grown up for me. Whenever I find myself in the area, my inevitable criticism of my activities is that the vibe is too upper-middleclass-personality-void for my taste. That being said, there are some GREAT restaurants there, and my beef with Pasadena in general may have more to do with the fact that I actually enjoy it almost every time that I end up in some conservative, grown-and-sexy eatery and feel guilty for loving it. Perhaps it’s time to admit my passage into real adulthood, and embrace the guilt. Here goes: I had a very grown up burger experience recently, at Noir.
Upon arriving, I was escorted through a small and very cozy yet sophisticated bar area and into an open-air back patio. I was sat right next to the water feature, which felt like something you might find in the lobby of an excessively nice Beverly Hills Yoga studio. Noir is sort of a fail-safe date place, because if you like serious dates and are impressed by elements like the soothing sounds of an outdoor fountain and piped in saxophone music, they have them and you win. However, if you think that stuff is hilarious, they still have those things and you still win. In this case I was a member of the latter camp, and fortunately for me so was the friend I drug along. Despite my apparent smugness about the ambiance, from the time we were seated until we left, the food and the service were nearly impeccable.
Noir is more a wine bar than anything else, if you had to peg them for a specialty. The list of both Old World and local selections is long, and generally pretty affordable though you can certainly drop several hundred dollars on a single bottle if that’s your style. One of the greatest parts about the wine menu (particularly if you, such as myself, are not extremely educated about wine but thoroughly enjoy it) is that they offer flights of various types. Meaning you get three supposedly 2.5 ounce pours (mine were definitely bigger) of mid ranged wines from your selected group: Cabernets, Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays etc. for about $15 give or take a buck. The pours hardly look short of a proper glass of wine, so I found this to be a great deal and easy way to spare oneself the struggle of rationalizing the purchase of multiple drinks. You’ll be half drunk after a tasting.
Noir’s dinner menu is not large but rather skips straight to the main events. As a wine bar, the selections of charcuterie and fancy cheeses is vast, and the actual entrees are few but look like a greatest hits of food compilation. Lamb Chops, Steak, Seared Scallops, Crab cakes, and of course, a burger all can be found on the focused menu, with sides such as bacon fried rice, frittes, and truffled cauliflower. Naturally, I had the burger, which is referred to on the menu as “The Farewell Burger” though I managed to leave without thinking to ask our sever why the heck they call it that. Perhaps because I was drunk on 3 types of pinot noir… Anyhow, this is not a typical burger. The Farewell is heavily seasoned with Tarragon, and topped with caramelized onions, remoulade, and emmenthal cheese on a bread that most closely resembled ciabatta. Oh my dear lord the flavors. What a delight. Wonderfully seasoned beef, served extremely rare. I never thought I would say this but it actually could have been more cooked, though the burger certainly did not suffer for the lack of time on the grill. The onions were sweet, the remoulade tangy and plentiful, cutting down the funk of the emmenthal. The proportions were perfect, despite the burger being very saucy. It should be just as it was. The only problem and my singular criticism of the burger was the texture of the bread. Its flavor was spectacular, but it was so chewy, there was no hope for keeping this thing together as a sandwich. With all the other components being soft and slippery, every time I tried to take a bite everything on the bun squished out in every direction. I gave up early on and ate the whole thing with a knife and fork, and the bread was so tough event that was a challenge. I would still totally recommend Noir’s Farewell Burger, just plan on eating it like a steak.
Though all the food I tried was excellent, the real reason to go is for the wine. The selection was fierce, there are many affordable options, and my server was immeasurably knowledgeable about their offerings (as I should hope the entire staff is). Should I find myself there again it will probably be for an actual date, on which we indulge in many affordable wines, an impressive selection of French cheeses (so I look sophisticated), and hopefully with someone who finds humor in a smooth jazz aural backdrop.
p.s. the lighting was so moody that I could not take a single decent photo. Fortunately the good folks at Noir were kind enough to provide the only photo of the Farewell Burger.