[Note from Seth: I apologize in advance for the quality of the photos on this review. We tried one photo with the flash and due to the mirrored walls at Noca, it was like a brilliant lightning strike, so we took the photos sans the flash and hoped for the best.]
J. and I are definitely lovers of food. Our waistlines and stacks of cookbooks reveal our inner souls as that of two people who savor the food we consume. Unfortunately, there are times when we discover that what is promised on the menu is not what is delivered, and the money from our daily labors are wasted.
Knowing that walking into a new restaurant is a complete risk, J. and I drove to the hottest dining scene in Phoenix and found ourselves sitting at a table for two inside Noca. Located on the northwest corner of 32nd Street and Camelback, this dining spot replaced the old Eleve that went through a series of falls only to close its doors.
The place was quite busy even though our reservation was at 9 PM. The boisterous crowd were laughing and chatting away while drinking wine and beer and devouring the food on the plates delivered to their tables. We were immediately brought water and I mentioned to our server that our table was a bit wobbly and I asked if the feet turned to level the table out.
Little did I know that my request would bring such a flurry of activity. Suddenly, we had our server, a member of the bus staff, and the owner all profusely apologizing for the table and promises to fix the situation, which they did. I felt bad for bringing it up, but was happy it was rectified before we had sloshed water all over the place.
We reviewed the menu and J. and I were particularly impressed with the options. We each decided to start with a beer. J. got the Hitachino White Ale ($7.00) and I got the Mirror Pond Ale ($5.50) as well as a Diet Coke ($2.50).
Our server left to place our drink order and a member of the staff appeared with a plate of bread and a small ramekin of olive oil. The bread was soft and fresh with a chewy crust and a flavorful taste. The olive oil was silky smooth and had a wonderfully fruity flavor that paired well with the salty bread.
When our server returned with our drinks, we were ready to order. To begin, J. ordered the Duck Confit with Huckleberry Waffles ($15.00). I went with the Simple Salad ($12.00). This would be followed by the Steak Frites ($25.00) for J. and the Duo of Pork ($34.00) for myself. We struggled to make our choices because we really wanted a taste of everything on the menu.
Shortly after placing our order, we were presented and amuse bouche of a Crispy Fingerling Potato Chip in Avocado Puree. The quick bite to entice the palate was beautiful in the Asian soup spoon that kept everything together. Alas, I was unable to partake in the morsel as my avocado allergy rested squarely in the front of my mind. J., however, was quick to take my serving. After downing both, he said they were quite good, but did say he thought the avocado slightly overpowered the flavor of the potato. Still, he said it was a wonderful way to start the meal.
With the amuse bouche devoured and only crumbs of the bread left, our table was reset and more bread was brought. Unfortunately, our server brought bad news from the kitchen. One of the parts of the Duo of Pork had run its course and was unavailable, so I was asked if I could select a new menu item. I decided to go with the Duck Breast ($28.00). Our server was quite apologetic, but I didnâ€™t give it a second thought. Dishes run out and it is a minor inconvenience.
Shortly thereafter, our first course arrived. J.â€™s Duck Confit with Huckleberry Waffles was on an elongated plate and was complemented with a tangy frisee salad and was drizzled with a Vanilla Sauce. One bite of the confit and J. was in heaven. â€œTruly outstanding,â€ he said, as he offered me a bite. Oh, it was much more than outstanding. It was sublime. It was melt-in-your-mouth delicious.
My Simple Salad was anything but. A mixture of various veggies and lettuces were tossed with Brioche croutons, dates, candied walnuts, Pecorino cheese, and a Cabernet Vinaigrette. The production was quite good with everything melding together and hitting just about every note on the palate. The standout, however, were the Brioche croutons. Crispy, but still soft and buttery, these were outstanding.
After we had finished our appetizers, our server arrived with two plates of Seared Scallops in a Cauliflower Reduction with Lobster Butter. We were told this was provided to make up for the issue with the table and having to reorder. We were extremely pleased with the customer service. We were even more pleased with the treat. This dish was a total knockout. A seared scallop had been quartered and set atop a small puddle of a cauliflower reduction mixed with lobster butter. It was incredible. The scallops were perfectly cooked and not rubbery at all. The reduction still had bits of chopped cauliflower that gave some texture to the dish. The lobster butter was completely addictive. This was a stupendous dish and won accolades from us both. We were so enamored with the dish we requested another round of bread just to mop up the sauce.
A brief pause ensued as we waited for our entrees. The first plate to hit the table was J.â€™s Steak Frites. The Flat Iron Steak had been slices and placed atop melted leeks and then drizzled with a red wine sauce. J. was thrilled with the dish and said the steak and melted leeks were a perfect match. I completely agreed. The sweetness of the leeks and the savory nature of the steak were wonderful. I had never seen steak paired with leeks before, but this was knocked out of the ballpark and truly inspired. The steak fries that were served with the dish were also stellar. The starchy and delicious potatoes were crispy shells holding a light and fluffy interior. This was a superb dish all the way around.
My Duck Breast was without a doubt the best production I have had in some time. A meaty breast was incredibly tender and served with sauteed arugula, red turnips and a rich, thick duck jus. And while the duck knocked my socks off, the Alsatian tart could easily be something I could eat daily. The tart was a small puff pastry tart filled with Brie and bits of pork belly. This was truly pure inspiration. Where Brie is normally served with fruit or bread, it was a risk to pair the rich cheese with something even richer like pork belly, but it worked and was phenomenal.
We continued to mop up sauces and flavors with the bread. But we werenâ€™t done and decided to indulge with dessert. We didnâ€™t want something over the top, so we settled on the Gelato Trio for J. ($9.00) and the Malted Vanilla Milkshake ($5.00) for myself.
As we waited for our desserts, we were brought a bowl of Cotton Candy. Looking like Marge Simpsonâ€™s hairdo, we giggled at the sight of the dish, but dove in and had a wonderful time tearing through the cloud of sugar and talking about how we hadnâ€™t had cotton candy since we were kids. Was it an odd item to put on a table at Noca? Sure thing. But I loved it as J. did. It was unique, fun and a nice way to tide us over until we got our desserts.
When our desserts did arrive, they were spot on as far as portion size. My Malted Vanilla Milkshake was in a squat glass and ice cold. The milkshake was frothy, smooth, thick, rich and had plenty of subtle overtones from the vanilla and the malt. It really was a nice cap to the meal.
J.â€™s Gelato Trio had three flavors: Salted Butter, Malted Vanilla, and Cherry Lambic. Each was fantastic in their own way, but the highlight was the Cherry Lambic with its explosion of flavor and a tart sweetness that had our taste buds doing somersaults.
As we finished our drinks and paid our bill, we were brought two small cellophane satchels of Pecan Shortbread to take home to munch on for later. The total was $118.00 including tax. This was a bona fine steal. The quality and freshness of the ingredients along with the creativity of the chef and the eye on customer service made Noca the best deal going in town. The service, as expected, was spot on and we also loved the eclectic mix of music from blues to pop to rock.
As we left, we were personally thanked by owner Eliot Wexler for spending the evening at Noca. We chatted for a bit and then headed out into the cold air and to the car.
The next few days were spent gushing over our meal at Noca. It was just phenomenal. It was exquisite. The restaurant experience was the best we had in 2008 and had us talking about going back at our earliest convenience.
Noca is the best new restaurant in the Valley and deserves all the accolades it is getting.
I am already counting down the minutes until my next visit.
3118 East Camelback Road
Phoenix, AZ 85016
Dress: Smart Casual on up.
Hours: Sunday through Saturday – 5:30 PM to 10 PM
Notes: Extensive wine list; plenty of parking; just north of Keegan’s.
Alcohol: Mostly wine and beer