Like La Patisserie and Elizabeth Street Cafe, Lenoir has taken one of the neighborhood's cottage houses and transformed it. As I had seen previously written, the interior is a combination of dark masculine wood when you enter, surrounded by the more feminine feel of off-white gauzy/lacy curtains. The tables and chairs are wooden, painted in a light coat of white, so the grain of the wood is visible. The taller, cocktail-style tables have leather and brass stud accents on the corners, while the ten-seat community table in the middle of the room sits under a bank of lights, giving it a modern chandelier look. I believe I counted a total of 33 seats -- 9 at the bar, 10 at the community table, and 14 at the 2 and 4-top cocktail tables. It's not very big at all. Our waiter and his witticisms was always present, but not hovering.
Lenoir's menu is divided into four areas: field, sea, land, dream (dessert); you can pick any three dishes for $30, and additional ones are $10. The menu changes with what's available seasonally and locally.
My first course was the upma polenta with Brussels sprouts and carrots. It's actually a semolina (wheat) polenta, as opposed to the traditional corn. (May be a problem for gluten-free eaters, as it's not listed as wheat on the menu.) It had a nice late-hitting spiciness to it, from mustard seed and I am not sure what else. The baby Brussels were seared, and the carrots tender.
The second dish I had was axis venison in a spiced broth with haikurei turnips, sunflower sprouts, daikon radish (they were cut very thin, like angel hair pasta), and rawa noodles, made from toasted wheat. I would call this their take on a pho bowl. The venison was cooked beautifully, and the broth really had a nice flavor to it, and the two together were wonderful. While the waiter named cinnamon and star anise as being in the broth, the lingering flavor was the heat from the Balinese long peppers (they look like miniature, long pine cones), a relation to black peppercorns.
For my third course, I had the chaubier cheese with almond nougatine, and grapefruit preserves from the local maker Confituras. And I apparently forgot to take a picture! Chaubier is a wash-rind, semi-firm goat and cow's milk cheese from France; I'd say a medium-strong cheese. It's creaminess was nice with the candied almonds and tart jam.
Other dishes my friend's had.... gulf shrimp with kabocha squash, kale and xo sauce. I was not familiar with xo before; it's made from dried fish, shrimp, scallops, along with chile peppers, garlic and other spices, and is often used in Cantonese foods. Lenoir is making their own, and it was fantastic. It really elevated this dish, giving it a great depth of flavor. (This dish was about to come off the menu, as kabocha is about out of season now.)
The chickpea panisse (like a polenta), oyster mushrooms, wilted winter greens, and a poached egg.
Red curry short ribs with scarlet runner beans
Leftovers were packaged in a swan boat! (Maybe we'll call it a grackle instead...) On the table behind the swan was a black holder for a small vase of flowers, and also a salt cellar, with a flaky sea salt with lavender and herbs in it. It looked more like decoration until I looked more closely at it, and then tried it.
It's sort of hard to pin down the specific type of food that Lenoir is serving, and maybe that's their point. They have described themselves as making "hot weather food" -- spicy and acidic, and the Asian influences from the dishes I tried can attest to that. The name Lenoir refers to a varietal of French black grape, brought by the Spanish to Central America, and well-rooted in Texas, a parallel to the owners' own culinary journey. Glad their journey has brought them to our little neck of the woods.