I have known Eliot Wexler, the principle owner and driving force behind Noca, the Phoenix area's hot new restaurant since 2005 and have been good friends with him since very shortly thereafter. Our friendship grew out of similar interests in food as well as compatible senses of humor. Given Eliot's passion for food and our often similar tastes, it should come as no surprise that I love the restaurant. Given Eliot's attention to detail and his total devotion to the project, it should come as no surprise that others seem to love it as well. Based upon how busy it was this past Friday night when I was there and the reactions of the patrons to their meals, it appears that there are more than a few who have come to that same opinion and feeling.
Since I have known him, Eliot has been a stickler for top quality ingredients, sourcing top grade restaurant quality products for his personal use even before he started the arduous project of opening his restaurant. Long an enthusiastic amateur cook, Wexler spent considerable time working in the kitchens of Kevin Binkley (Binkley's) and Nobuo Fukuda (See Saw) in order to learn as much as he could about product and cooking. Eliot also spent time traveling and dining through some of Europe's finest restaurants including elBulli, Pierre Gagnaire and Mugaritz amongst others, to get a better sense of what European fine dining is all about. He clearly was a fast study as he also learned how to run a restaurant, how to assess talent and how to put a team together.
Located in a fairly non-descript strip mall north of Camelback (thus NOCA) in Scottsdale, Noca is a sharp looking contemporary space with a well-lit narrow strip of an open kitchen visible to the somewhat dark, but comfortable, adjacent dining room. The cooking is part of the decor and entirely on display. Watching Chef Cristopher Curtiss and his team dance balletically around the small kitchen is almost as much a pleasure as eating the food coming out of that kitchen.
The food can be described as contemporary American, taking top notch ingredients from area farms as well as some of the finest seafood and meat purveyors in the country. The menu was loaded with all
sorts of goodies the night I was there including peak season Nantucket Bay scallops served with white truffles, Peeky Toe crab, sea bass, chestnut soup with foie gras ravioli, heirloom beets, lobster risotto, beautiful and delicious house made fresh pastas, duck, Kona Kampachi, Kurobota pork and much more.
The bar, not to be left behind, has followed the lead of the new American Mixology revolution and is using fresh juices and quality liquors to craft cocktails they can be proud of. I enjoyed a "French 75" based on Bombay gin, champagne, fresh lemon juice and simple syrup. This refreshing cocktail packed a nice wallop in addition to its great flavor. The wine list, both by the glass and by the bottle, is filled with reasonable value and variety, especially given the newness and small size of the restaurant. I enjoyed a crisp Spanish Godello with my meal, even as I had my eye on the chateuneuf-du-pape from Vieux Telegraphe.
As I watched the kitchen and photographed the plates that were prepared for the restaurant's diners, I was tempted to order everything. Unfortunately, my stomach is not so well equipped and I had to limit my choices. The decisions were difficult, but the results rewarding. Particular highlights of my meal included the rich chestnut soup, the intoxicating spinach mezzalune, the succulent skate and the full-bodied pork. I was pleasantly surprised how addictive the blueberry cotton candy would be. The desserts were also excellent, particularly the "malted" milk.
I expected Noca to be a top notch restaurant. I am not surprised that it is.
Please see the album for more photos.