Noir Nosh

It was a hot summer night, the kind of night that Newport seldom sees, with the kind of heat that could curb your appetite and make your taste buds take cover.

However, my palate was primed for food … and intrigue.

The interactive mystery dinner theater troupe, Gourmet Detective, had taken up residence at the Balboa Inn, and it was my job to check out their show (“Mystery at the Café Noir”), and the cuisine.

Accompanying me on this gastronomic excursion was fellow culinary sleuth Stasha Surdyke, an attractive actress with full red lips and exceptional cooking skills—two of my favorite attributes. Only problem on this particular evening was that Stasha was running late.

I paced in the parking lot of my office building until Stasha arrived. As she got out of her car, I noticed her lovely long legs were entrenched in a short dress that clung to her body like Saran Wrap.

She stared at me and smiled the kind of smile that would melt sorbet in two seconds flat.

“Sorry I’m late,” she purred as she poured herself into my car.

“No problem, sweetheart,” I replied in my best Bogart voice.

We headed south down Newport Boulevard to Balboa Village, hitting green lights and making good time. We parked near the pier and strolled to Balboa Inn, where we were greeted and ushered to our table.

Costumed actors in 1940s garb milled among the diners, chatting and offering clues as to who might have killed Andre Gavreau, the owner of Café Noir. Gavreau was a powerful man who was shot to death, and each character had a motive, including Sheila Wonderly (an intimate friend of the deceased), lowlife Vince Thursby, Angelique Toureau (co-owner of Cafe Noir), Simon Gutterman (a martini-toting lawyer), and voodoo priestess Maria LaRue.

As we ate our salads, the lights dimmed and private detective Rick Archer strolled onto the scene. Rick provided appropriate and necessary narration as the evening’s mystery unfolded, played out in the center of the room and among the tables.

“I’m trying to follow the plot, but I’m not sure who did what to whom,” I whispered to Stasha, who was sipping a martini as she watched the mystery unfold.

“That’s the point. It’s a mystery,” she whispered back.

“Oh, right.”

I contemplated my glass of cabernet as the characters came to our table, cleared the salads and served the entrees.

“I didn’t know the actors served the food, too,” said Stasha.

“Gives them a chance to mingle more with the guests,” I reasoned.

“They also don’t have to pay more servers,” added Stasha.

Sheila Wonderly was about to serve our entrees when Stasha asked her for double veggies instead of mashed potatoes for her salmon entrée. Sheila went back to the kitchen and returned moments later with Stasha’s salmon. I cut into my chicken parmesan, which covered most of the plate.

“Not bad,” I mumbled with my mouth full.

“The salmon is wonderful,” cooed Stasha. “It’s simply grilled, and the capers set it off well. The veggies are perfect.”

As we ate, the lights dimmed and the mystery resumed. By now, the dinner guests had gotten into the spirit of the evening and were offering retorts to the actors’ antics.

By the time the final denoument came, Stasha and I were full yet still managed a few bites of the strawberry cheesecake dessert.

Rick asked everyone to write on a slip of paper who we thought committed the murder, and why. I wrote “Sheila Wonderly—because she’s a blonde.” A clever answer, I thought, but no doubt the wrong one.

Turns out Stasha followed the plot better than I had and knew who the murderer was (which we cannot reveal in this column). However, my flip answer was singled out, and I was coaxed to come to the center of the room and assist the actors in reenacting the crime scene.

“How was I,” I asked Stasha when I returned to my seat.

“Keep your day job,” she replied with a laugh.

We posed for a photo with the actors before returning to our car. On a whim, I decided to take the Balboa Ferry route.

“That was a fun evening, and the food was actually pretty good,” I noted as we boarded the ferry.

“Yes it was—very fun,” agreed Stasha. “But—where are we going?”

I paused, looked at her, and said in my best Bogart voice, “Sorry sweetheart, it’s a mystery.”