Normal people eat on vacation. Around here, we go on vacation to eat. And while we love our desert home, we're not above booking a ticket to the coast just to get our hands on some decent seafood. The good news: With a handful of Valley menus offering fresh lobster rolls, we can now get shellfish without stepping foot on a plane. We threw a couple of local rolls in the ring to see which is the better bet.
In This Corner: Noca
The Setup: This Biltmore restaurant at 32nd Street and Camelback Road began serving dinner again in February, after 22-year-old executive chef Adam Brown took the helm. (Noca halted dinner service last year after bidding farewell to former executive chef Claudio Urciuoli.) The lobster roll is available only on Wednesday nights.
The Good: In the past, the Noca lobster roll has featured chopped lobster tossed in aioli and celery root, but on the night we went, the new chef was debuting a totally fresh twist on an old favorite -- lucky us. Brown's "lobster club" paired succulent, béarnaise-drenched lobster meat with hunks of salty, super-tender pork belly -- an unlikely marriage, perhaps, but a happy one. The lettuce and marinated tomatoes were flavorful and crisp and the buttery bread was browned to crunchy perfection.
The Bad: The sandwich was packed with choice lobster, but the roll itself was on the small side, especially compared to ones you'll find in the Northeast.
In The Other Corner: Chestnut Fine Food & Provisions
The Setup: This reincarnation of a shuttered Arcadia favorite opened at 44th Street and Camelback Road late last year. New owners Marissa Hochman and Kirsten Steele transformed a dated corporate building into a vibrant new restaurant space where they serve breakfast, lunch, juice and coffee. Chestnut Fine Foods & Provisions is open 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.
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The Good: The best part of the lobster roll was its spicy remoulade, which boasted great flavor and a nice kick. Also, you can't beat this restaurant's bright, modern aesthetic and dog-friendly patio.
The Bad: The tomatoes were mealy, the lobster was lackluster, and the "toasted baguette" was barely toasted and not at all warm. Service was slow and somewhat spotty.
The Winner: Noca. The portion size might not satisfy your average Yankee, but speaking as desert dwellers, we'll happily choose lobster roll quality over lobster roll quantity. At $20, the Noca sandwich is only $4 more than its 44th Street counterpart, with several times the flavor. While Chestnut does some dishes extremely well (the Morning Bibimbap Bowl and Baked Oatmeal are to-die-for), when you're craving a lobster roll you're in good hands at Noca.