Noca's opening night -- with lots of pictures . . .

By Michele Laudig

A month ago, I reported on the imminent opening of Noca, the new “modern American” restaurant from Phoenix’s most obsessed gourmet, Eliot Wexler, and chef Chris Curtiss.

To the best of his knowledge, Eliot had predicted July 8 as the opening date, but his crystal ball was a little cloudy. He was right about the number 8, though. Last night, 8-1-08, was the actual first night in business. A couple of preview runs happened last weekend, which gave the team a chance to hit the ground running. Noca is located at the northeast corner of 32nd Street and Camelback, in the same plaza as Delux, Zen 32, and Gelato Spot.

Before I go into the dinner details, here's an important side note. Noca's "Simple Supper," a three-course tasting menu for $35, won't be offered until tomorrow (Sunday, August 3). The menu will change frequently, but here's the inaugural version: Download file

By the time I got there, the place was buzzing. Last time I saw the dining room, it was totally gutted, with wires and ductwork hanging from the ceiling. What a transformation -- now it’s dressed up in a warm palette, with a mocha-colored banquette facing a dazzling all-stainless open kitchen on the opposite side of the room.

That’s Chris Curtiss there in the middle. He barely caught a breath all night.

Hefty polished silverware rested on thick marble slabs.

The amuse bouche was a spoonful of burrata cheese with basil oil, basil seeds, marinated cherry tomato, and a “pop rock.” I didn’t take a picture of the bread, but servers were generous with slices of a crusty loaf, and golden brioche rolls.

There were two kinds of crudo on the menu, and it would’ve been hard to choose between the two. Thankfully, I didn’t have to. This is the fluke, drizzled with an eye-opening yuzu-shallot vinaigrette that I’m already craving. Those tiny green things on top were sea beans – crisp and fresh. On the left are tiny potato chips made from fingerling potatoes; on the right are dabs of balsamic reduction.

Kampachi crudo – rich and kind of nutty, dressed with pepperonata, caper berry, pine nuts, pickled fennel, and mint – was a nice complement to the citrusy fluke.

Here’s the gracious host. Eliot was really in his element.

Another glimpse of the cool exposed-element lighting fixtures.

Lobster carpaccio, pounded thin, was topped with butter-poached claw – so tender you didn’t really need a knife. It was served with fresh carrots and corn, both exceptionally sweet, as well as a lobster reduction with cream. On top, more tiny fingerling chips.

“Caviar” of organic eggplant was a pleasant surprise, served in this cheeky caviar tin, with a side of still-warm blinis, and three toppings: lemon, chive crème fraiche, and pickled red onions. These were satisfying to eat, the blinis moist and light, and the salty eggplant a creamy, almost fluffy texture.

Foie gras torchon was so silky, teamed with brioche toasts, apple jam, and marcona almonds tossed with purslane.

And what about the entrees? To keep reading, click "More" . . .

I’m so pleased that this photo of the skate wing turned out, because it was as scrumptious as it looked -- lightly crispy on the outside, very moist on the inside, and resting on a mound of braised greens. On top were huge roasted beach mushrooms and buttery béarnaise. The pureed Jerusalem artichokes were as smooth as mashed potatoes, only with a much more unique flavor.

Double your pleasure: a juicy seared pork chop *and* crispy pork belly that was melt-in-your-mouth decadent. Both had a subtle vanilla flavor, which really worked, somehow, with the caramelized meat. Haricot verts and rosemary spaetzel rounded out the dish.

For dessert, we had warm doughnut holes dusted with sugar. They were scrumptious on their own, but three dips were an added bonus: peach jelly, caramel sauce, and milk chocolate sauce.

Fruit soup was a dollop of mascarpone semi-freddo surrounded by cherries, plums, and peaches, with a thin, crunchy nougatine disk on top. When it was served, the waiter poured chilled fruit reduction over it.

Three desserts were over the top, but I swear we cleaned our plates. (You know how you can't stop eating when your stomach says "stop" but your tastebuds say "go"?) “Milk and cookies” featured chewy chocolate chip cookies and a frothy shake made with malted vanilla gelato – so tasty.

The Noca House Cookies were chocolate chip shortbread, and I have no idea how I managed to eat one after eating all that other stuff.

I caught Chris during a momentary lull before I left, and he flashed me a smile. Thank you for the delicious meal, chef! For the first night in business, it was quite a feat.

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