Recently two new restaurants opened in Long Beach that might define a fresh approach to dining, all the while contributing new life to two emerging shopping districts. Although their menus are completely distinct, through dining and design this pair of restaurants have apparently identified an emerging demographic in the southern and downtown areas of Long Beach. Given the crowds I have seen at these establishments, it seems they have hit the mark.


Pâtes Fraîches is a French pasta restaurant located at the southeast corner of First Street and Elm Avenue, in the heart of the East Village district. This new restaurant anchors the series of boutique clothing stores located along First Street between Elm and Linden Avenue, with Utopia providing a fine culinary anchor at eastern end of the strip.


The concise menu at Pâtes Fraîches includes just over a dozen items, evenly split between fresh salads and intriguing pasta dishes. Portions are appropriately modest. All the pastas are made fresh at the restaurant with certified organic flour; they include such unique creations as barley cavatelli shells and buckwheat rigatoni. The wine menu is a bit limited but includes a good bottle for just about any taste, thanks to the aficionados at Vin Du Pays a couple blocks away.


I’ve had the chestnut pappardelle with roasted duck and rice gemelli noodles with gruyère cheese sauce. Both were fantastic, with simple ingredients and light sauces that allowed one to identify every component of the dish. I’ve had the soup of the day on more than one occasion. That’s a rarity for me and reflects the deliciousness of their soups.


In the middle of Fourth Street’s Retro Row (between Junipero and Cherry), Number Nine: Noodles+Beer opened just a few weeks ago and has already hit its stride as a fine dining establishment. This great addition to an eclectic shopping district builds upon the momentum represented by the recent relocation of {open} bookstore a few doors down, as well as the renovation of the Art Theater across the street. With the opening of the new Lola Mexican restaurant a block away, Number Nine will expand local dining beyond what Portfolio Cafe created nearly a decade ago.


Number Nine is a Vietnamese noodle restaurant with a simple menu consisting of varying combinations of about a dozen items. The drink menu is more expansive than the dining menu, encouraging patrons to take their time as they dine. Appetizers include spring rolls and egg rolls, as well as an assortment of meat and vegetable skewers. The noodle entrées include pho (a warm soup) and bun (a cold vermicelli rice noodle bowl). There are also a few Vietnamese sandwich options, including barbeque pork, chicken, and vegetable. The pho and bun are just as good as any you’ll find on Anaheim Street. The five spice chicken (which can come in about any form: skewer, bun soup, or sandwich) is fantastic! My understanding is that four of those spices are illegal in forty states, and that it is considered a felony to carry more than six ounces of the fifth. Needless to say, one should try the five spice chicken if dining at Number Nine.


It is noteworthy that Pâtes Fraîches and Number Nine share a design and planning sensibility. Both are in areas well-served by existing restaurants, yet both have found local environments with built-in clienteles drawn from surrounding residents. Reflecting their simple menus, both establishments are modest in size: at about 800 square feet, each is approximately the size of a four-car garage. While this limits seating capacity, neither restaurant ever seems cavernous or empty. Due to their limited size and focused neighborhood market, parking is not critical to patronage; instead, these restaurants can rely on walk-ups and on-street parking, or even the new magenta bike racks now springing up throughout the city.


The two restaurants share a subtle design that is less about superior lighting or fancy finishes, and more about contrast and the use of natural light. Pâtes Fraîches uses black furniture and a brick veneer on one side wall, which contrasts well with the large windows on two other sides. Playing on this duality of dark and light, the back wall draws your attention with a series horizontal slats of varying colors. The brick wall often serves as a backdrop for a rotating art collection, typically made up of larger works that contribute strongly to the mood of the space.


You might miss Number Nine’s storefront if you’re not paying attention, given that it is just over a dozen feet wide. The storefront has nearly floor-to-ceiling glazed windows, and its high ceilings are actually taller than the restaurant’s width, giving the space a light and airy aesthetic. Like Pâtes Fraîches, Number Nine uses bright colors to create a design hierarchy; in this case, we find a glass mosaic tile on the back wall of the restaurant, highlighted by sunlight that enters from a skylight immediately above. The remaining walls are entirely white, with finished concrete on the floors. The clean contrasts of the space make it maximally effective as a place for pleasant dining.


Pâtes Fraîches and Number Nine are both excellent culinary experiences: the work of their cooks is only amplified by their respective interior designs. I envision nothing but success for these two establishments, as more local residents become aware of them and word spreads to the rest of Long Beach. More generally, both restaurants show us how design and dining can come together to help build a vibrant urban fabric.