Delightful Tastes of Noisette

08/08/2012

Photographs by Abe Zuckerman

Noisette is a new event from the folks at Noise Pop, renowned for their annual festival of all that is cool and hip in indie rock music (not to mention the Treasure Island Music Festival). Billed as “an afternoon of food and music”, the Noisette model seems to be something of an emerging trend, following Brooklyn’s Great GoogaMooga (“an amusement park of food and drink”) during which headliners The Roots and James Murphy shared schedule space with some of New York’s boldest-face names in food. Noisette offered a similar experience, combining note-worthy bands with bites from San Francisco’s most highly-regarded chefs.

Though it could not best its Brooklyn counterpart in size, celebrity, or sheer volume of offerings, Noisette succeeded in, well, being a success. The Great GoogaMooga, by all accounts, was not. Whereas The Great GoogaMooga suffered from long lines and food shortages, Noisette had neither (although it was uncomfortably crowded trying to maneuver the balcony at times). Noisette’s punch card system ensured that each attendee received one of each dish, and no one seemed to feel rushed or afraid that supplies would run out.

The setting was Public Works, a Mission event space accustomed to welcoming food-focused crowds (Iso Rabin’s Underground Market operated there in its illegal heyday). While hardly big enough to accommodate both a full-sized rock show and a roving tasting menu, the open layout allowed the modest crowd to circulate between chef stations with relative ease. The DJ stage was hidden away in a dark corner of the upstairs bar area and was mostly ignored. The main stage, on the other hand, was more than loud enough to hear from anywhere in the venue. In fact it was so loud at times that it was difficult to discuss the outstanding food, or carry on a conversation at all. Luckily, a small outdoor space with delicious snacks provided a brief respite. Let’s dive deeper into those delicious snacks, shall we?

Snack #0: Beef Pho Rolls and Vietnamese Coffee by Rice Paper Scissors
This was the VIP-only snack, and while the crowd for the VIP-hour was thin, the ladies of Rice Paper Scissors seemed to make enough rolls for the entire city. Can quantity breed quality? Yes. Wow, these were delicious pho rolls! Their secret, it seems, was doubling the standard rice paper wrapping. The salty-sweet, tender (you could actually tell it was juicy!), marinated hanger steak was encased by a ridiculously satisfying chewiness. There was also a hit of freshness from scallions, and a subtle hint of heat. Their iced coffee shot was a cool and sweet accompaniment. So good we went back for seconds (don’t tell). Also, they are very cute.

Snack #1: Butterfish Crudo (with salmorejo, jamon Serrano, soft eggs, bulls blood micro greens, and smoked paprika ) by Bar Crudo This was one hell of a bite. Champion of the raw, Mike Selvera’s offering was a spectacularly tender and fresh piece of raw butterfish at the center of traditional, hearty Spanish flavors. One might think that earthy smoked paprika, fatty-salty cured ham, a smooth, finely diced egg, salmorejo (a sort of Spanish cream of tomato soup) and intensely fruity olive oil would overwhelm a poor slice of butterfish. Not so! This ultra-traditional combination only enhanced what was a beautifully presented and delicious raw bite. It was almost a tragedy to enjoy it with an IPA perched on the side of a makeshift stage from a compostable plate. Almost.

Snack #2: Seafood gumbo with Andouille sausage, crawfish, shrimp, and white rice from Garcon!
I don’t eat shrimp so I skipped this one. A brief tasting of the broth provided a glimpse that this dish may have been slightly muddy in flavor, and a bit grainy in texture, but without giving it a full go, I can’t declare that in good faith.

Snack #3: Smoked rib-eye, burnt ends and beans, pickled corn slaw from The Monk’s Kettle/The Abbot’s Cellar Chef Adam Dulye just opened a fancy new spot in the Mission to serve his delicious food with finely-tuned beer pairings. Congratulations Adam! Obviously, he is a busy man. Did this contribute to his Noisette offering not being that great? Maybe. We’ll let it slide. The rib-eye, though well cooked, was not high on flavor and while I cannot stop thinking about the barbecue sauce it was slathered with (apricot? I think so), nothing else about the plate was remarkable. There was precious little corn slaw, so that was a wash (the corn’s sweetness didn’t make a dent in the smokiness of all the other parts) and the beans were cold. Not horrible, of course, but not great. Moving on.
Snack #4: Carta di musica with rabbit and peach mostarda from Flour + Water

This was a knockout: basically a tour of the rabbit with terrine (kidney, shoulder, and loin), rillettes (rabbit belly cooked in its own fat with spices), and rabbit liver mousse atop a whisper-thin olive oil and fennel pollen cracker. Garnished with pickled mustard seed, aioli, peach mostarda, and nasturtium blossoms, Ryan Pollnow’s offering was likely the most complex and sophisticated of the day.

Snack #5: KFC (Korean Fried Chicken) Sando or Smoked pork shoulder with a mustard sauce and white bread from Namu Gaji

As earnestly as Dennis Lee and his hip team tried to make this sound low-rent, it was nothing of the sort. The “KFC sando” was a truly amazing piece of fried chicken thigh coated in an addictive sweet chili sauce sandwiched between La Boulange pain de mie. Sure, it had mayonnaise and iceberg lettuce, but fast food fare this was not. The smoked pork shoulder was good, but not great. That said, the accompanying vinegar-based mustard sauce was excellent, and the same pain de mie was useful for sopping it all up.

Snack #6: Grilled lamb cheek with cucumber and tomato dashi from Commonwealth

The lamb cheeks were tasty, well-seasoned, fatty, and grilled on a large outdoor grill. Served atop unadorned farro, lightly pickled cucumber, and tomato this was, well, generally forgettable.

Snack #7: Pork Po’boy with pickled watermelon slaw.

A perfectly executed little sandwich, the pulled pork was marinated in watermelon juice and then spiced well and cooked perfectly. Each bite had tenderness and flavor in addition to crunch. The slaw on top added freshness, and the soft potato roll was a most appropriate vehicle without overwhelming its contents.

Snack #8 Char siew chicken bao with lemon verbena aioli, green chili sambal, and pickled radish slaw by Graffeats
When bao is done well, it takes all ones strength not to gobble the whole thing before really tasting the different elements that went into the dish. I must admit that this time, I was not able to conjure such strength and thus cannot speak to the nuances of the garnishes. The chicken was smoky and satisfyingly moist. The bun itself could have been a little heavy if these were full size, but in miniature was just fine.

Dessert: Speakeasy root beer floats with vanilla ice cream by Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous

Deliciously creamy and redolent with vanilla bean, I found the float to be the most filling dish of the day. It was, however, a delightfully simple way to close for an overwhelmed palate.

The Music

Taken by Trees took the stage fairly promptly at 1pm, while many patrons were still assessing the lay of the land. Although they made the highly unfortunate choice of burning sage during their performance (the last thing eating people need are clouds of smelly smoke), their dreamy pop was the perfect way to begin. Their sound is vaguely reminiscent of Beach House, and you may recall singer Victoria Bergsman from the Nordic super hit “Young Folks” by Peter Bjorn and John. There is a vulnerability to her voice and the lyrics are simple and earnest enough to be almost cute. Overall it was an enjoyable way to begin the day even if most people’s attentions were somewhat distracted.

Each act played a 40 minute set to keep things moving as there were four acts booked for one stage in the span of four hours. It seemed that this tight schedule may have made the sound checks difficult, as there was some popping during the Taken by Trees set, and the following act, Craft Spells, could have used a lot more volume in their mics. Crafts Sells were adorable, however, and their energetic brand of surf rock meets New Wave was exactly what was needed to ward off a mid-afternoon food coma. “Scandinavian Crush” is so catchy, so pleasantly retro that it is nearly impossible not to dance to it, and indeed most of the people in the main room did exactly that.

Things were starting to heat up, beers had been thrown back, and it seemed as if a party was brewing. This set the stage well for Pillowfight, a collaboration between Dan the Automator, who is a pretty big deal, as well as Emily Wells who is not yet but sings extremely well. Wells has a sultry, smoky voice which enhances their soulful, hip-hop vibe. Kid Koala’s turntable scratching adds some interest if you’re into that sort of thing, though I could imagine this being more appealing in a dark club show, rather than an airy warehouse with sunlight streaming through the skylights. Pillowfight brought great energy and they managed to turn heads and keep folks’ attention, but I think they were hoping to get the room bumping, which didn’t happen. Perhaps that’s why it felt like they weren’t firing on all cylinders.

It must have been tough to go on last after the crowd had gorged itself on food and drink for three hours, but The Dodos did so bravely. Darlings of Noise Pop’s lineup this past February, they combined the best elements of what Noisette had to offer musically: upbeat enough to sway (or dance if so inclined) but not too-high energy that it seemed out of place in the afternoon. “Black Night” was a strong beginning, and they followed that up with a slew of new songs that seemed a bit tamer and adult contemporary than their previous work. To be fair, I may have been a little too tired, full, and overstimulated to appreciate it.

That’s the rub with Noisette: neither a tasting menu nor a concert, it was hard to get comfortable enough to enjoy either of the elements fully. However, for what it was trying to do, Noisette was well executed and enjoyable. I look forward to what they come up with next!