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"We're going to use as much local, sustainable produce as possible," says Curtiss. "Whatever catches our attention, we can print on the menu that day."
He calls his cooking "modern American" — ingredient-driven, created with French techniques. The latest draft of the menu includes chilled white corn soup with baby carrots, chorizo croquettes, and smoked paprika oil; duck breast with summer squash, garlic confit, cranberry beans, crispy squash blossom, and duck jus; and day-boat halibut with Jerusalem artichoke purée, braised greens, royal trumpet mushrooms, and bearnaise.
Wexler goes on to explain that since America's a melting pot, there will also be homemade pastas, as well as crudo (raw seafood dishes, such as kampachi with oven-dried tomato, caper berry, pine nut, and mint). The dessert menu will feature chocolate and banana pudding cake, warm doughnut holes with dulce de leche jam, and several kinds of homemade gelato. And an evolving three-course "Simple Supper" tasting menu will be offered daily for $35 (Wexler and Curtiss' reaction to exorbitant menu prices at certain area restaurants).
Their general idea is to take old-school fine dining and tweak it for a new generation, presenting sophisticated food in a more relaxed environment. Curtiss hopes the place will be a "fun, comfortable, high-energy neighborhood restaurant like you'd find in my hometown, San Francisco, or New York."
No surprise, Noca will have an open kitchen, with seats along a counter.
"If you're a food geek, you like to see this stuff get put together — it's theater," says Wexler.
The timing of Noca's opening — in the dead of summer — seems to be the one thing that Wexler hasn't been able to control. (Well, that and the state of the economy, which nobody saw coming when he decided to open a restaurant.)
Restaurateur Peter Kasperski knows firsthand what that's like. His Scottsdale spot Digestif debuted to much acclaim this spring, but the opening dates of subsequent projects — including Mexican Standoff, as well as an expanded Sea Saw — have been pushed out.
"Opening in the summer has the serious advantage of getting most of the publicity to yourself, as well as most of the 'Have you been to that new . . .' buzz, because most places steadfastly avoid the summer," Kasperski says.
"The tougher part is getting check averages up," he continues. "If your restaurant doesn't have smaller plate or grazing options, it can be tough to convince folks to eat there when it's 100-plus outside. We also find people eating later in the summer, so we took that into account when we decided to keep Digestif open until midnight every night."
Steve Chucri, president and CEO of the Arizona Restaurant & Hospitality Association, agrees that summer's a tricky time to open a restaurant, and that skyrocketing gas prices have cramped people's disposable income. Indeed, there's been plenty in the news about how people are cutting back — not just shunning restaurants but actually growing their own gardens to save money.
Tough economy or not, the prospects of opening a restaurant are daunting.
Still, Chucri says, Arizona is the second-fastest-growing state for the restaurant industry, behind Nevada by a tenth of a percent. If you've got a solid business plan, there's money to be made.
"You've got to have a key location, and an understanding of how the market works and how food costs fluctuate," he says. "You should also talk to lots of other restaurateurs."
I don't have a crystal ball to tell you how Noca will fare once it opens its doors. As far as the food goes, that's something you'll have to judge for yourself.
But when it comes to doing his homework on the Phoenix dining scene, well, I'm pretty sure that Eliot Wexler has picked all the right brains.