Carrin Schechter has a background in the art world and spent time working in the galleries of New York City. That attention to detail, having an eye for what people want, is now being put to use at Noir Stamford in the city’s downtown. She’s dealing in dining and plating instead of painting and photography, but still approaches this passion with the same gravity. “When you have a really good chef and you’re putting out good food, it’s a craft,” Schechter says.
Prior to opening Noir in October 2015, she experimented with recipes and frequently cooked for large dinner parties, saying her social life revolved around food. Now her professional life does too. Understandably, someone with Schechter’s background is going to pay particular attention to appearance and ambiance. What’s on the plate is just as important as what the plate is on, and presentation matters as much with dishes as it does with decor. Food has always been an extension of art to Schechter, and she wanted a space that had an artistic feel. “I took one drive by the place and I just loved it,” Schechter says. “It was little, quaint, and that’s all it took. I saw it, I loved it, I wanted to make it work.”
Making it work included a major interior renovation. A low ceiling with acoustic tiles gave way to a high, wood-beamed ceiling with black chandeliers. Walls were pushed back. Stairs and bathrooms were moved. Painter and television host Bob Ross often spoke of “happy accidents” that occur when creating a work of art. The happy accident at Noir was a miscommunication with the contractor which led to plaster being removed from the walls, exposing marred brick that Schechter says she now loves.
But the pièce de résistance happens to be the only piece of art hanging in the cozy, 40-seat dining room: a mysterious, black-and-white Leonard Freed photo that shows two shadowy figures — one, the assumed aggressor, almost completely shielding his face with what looks like a book — in a seemingly intense conversation. Schechter first saw it in the early 1980s in a magazine article previewing a European photography show that was coming to New York, ripped the page out and kept it through the years.
“I was standing in my mother’s kitchen, flipping through the [magazine] and I instantly saw that and I loved it,” Schechter says. “I was laughing because I was involved in the art world and I know how people are very opinionated about what they consider art, or what they consider good art. And I’ve witnessed a lot of these conversations. I’ve had them myself. And I just liked it. I loved the high contrast as well. Every time I moved, and I’ve moved fairly frequently, I would just kind of tack it to my wall.”
Schechter had the photo reproduced on a large canvas, and now it’s symbolic of the theme of the restaurant, while also serving as a conversation starter for Noir’s guests. Not knowing that was its intention, I can attest that it absolutely served its purpose at my table. But I wasn’t at that table for art appreciation, or conversation for that matter. Good thing too, because the conversation all but stopped when the food arrived.
We ordered three small plates and an entrée to split, making the tough decision to pass on a few intriguing items — namely the French onion soup, charcuterie boards (poached pear, brie and blueberry), lamb lollipops (a small plate), and the cavatelli with shredded short ribs entrée. What we did decide on left us with no regrets, just a desire to return.
The calamari ($11) was perfectly done — all rings, lightly breaded, crispy and served with both marinara and a delightful lemon aioli. We ordered the beef brochettes ($14) without really knowing what it was, but were pleased to find out it was basically bruschetta (which should have been obvious, in hindsight) topped with a thick slice of roast beef, horseradish, arugula and shaved pecorino cheese. The third small plate was braised short rib ($16), which seems to be on every menu these days. “People want it,” Schechter says. “If I take it off the menu they want to know where it is. … Everyone’s got them because everybody wants to eat them.”
Noir’s iteration on this night was topped with fried onions and served over roasted Brussels sprouts. It is also sometimes served with caramelized onions and Comté cheese, and like leaves on trees, will change with the seasons. “I want to be able to introduce people to new things,” Schechter says, “but at the same time I don’t want to disappoint them that something they love is no longer on the menu.” She also wants to shift toward more specials and less menu, adding a little suspense and keeping with the theme.
Our entrée was pan-seared scallops ($20), and it was immediately evident it was the right choice. Tender, flavorful and served with risotto, arugula cream, and roasted cauliflower, it was a unique take on a common dish and executed flawlessly. And while science has yet to explain why, sweet chocolate lava cake ($8) goes down easy no matter how full you are.
Noir has a full cocktail menu, beer and a nice wine list that includes French, Spanish and California selections that also change with the seasons. In the summer the front windows come out and big flower boxes go in. There’s no outdoor seating, but Schechter says it has the feel of an outdoor restaurant in the summer. She’s also thrilled with her location for more reasons that just the space itself.
“I really love being on that block,” Schechter says, noting that Summer Street has a bit of a New York feel and reminds her of her time living in downtown Manhattan. “It’s become much more of a neighborhood, and that’s nice to be part of that. … That’s why I wanted to be there.”