Pasadena, while delightful in so many other ways, has never been long on plausible adult restaurants, dining rooms where the cooking was serious, the noise level was reasonable and the wine list extended to more than a few dozen usual suspects. And a pretty high percentage of those restaurants over the past decade or so, places where you wouldn’t mind dragging a foodie after a movie or a public lecture at Caltech, have turned out to have something to do with Claud Beltran, a slightly odd chef trained under Thomas Keller. Beltran’s classical French dishes always seemed to have a touch of Mexico or Piedmont about them, and his herb-intensive cooking style was just slightly too eccentric, too rough around the edges to propel him into the ranks of L.A.’s best chefs.
At first glance, Beltran’s new Noir, in a narrow space right next to the Ice House, is an ordinary midlife-crisis wine bar, dimly lit, speckled with bottles and decorated with posters from Willi’s Wine Bar, the archetypical second-career wine bar near the old Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. The music leans towards Brubeck and Miles; the clientele toward the country-club set. There are cheeses, perfectly diverting wine flights, a nice roster of things by the glass. But when you look at the wine list, put together by owner Mike Harwell, you see the document of a madman: 600 bottles, including nearly 150 examples of California pinot noir, many of them priced significantly lower than what you could hope to find them for in a store or at auction. The menu features the usual chops, hanger steak and boutique burger, but also a shockingly good Creole gumbo, grilled venison in a mole colorado and a perfect summer dish of seared scallops with sweet corn. Noir is the last place you would expect to find excellent chile verde, but Beltran’s version, made with boar shoulder and profoundly smoky roasted chiles, is the best I’ve had all year. And then there was the peach: slightly chilled, cut into neat sixths, served with a discreet spot of cream, but just a peach. A brave, perfect dessert.
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Noir: 40 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena. (626) 795-7199, noirfoodandwine.com. Mon.-Sat., 5-11 p.m. Beer and wine. Street parking. AE, MC, V.