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docsconz

NOCA (North of Camelback)

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I am still working on a report on my visit to the wonderful restaurant that is Noca. In the meantime, my photos can be viewed here.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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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 My Blog for photos.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Thanks, Ron. I had to do my report differently, since yours was so good and comprehensive. I can't wait to go back either. One of the things I like about Noca, is that it is not static. While some of the items on the menu have remained the same, the menu is constantly evolving depending on the market and Chris' creativity..


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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From My blog, A Q&A with Eliot Wexler aka "molto e" and owner of Noca:

1. When did you first realize that you wanted to open a restaurant and what was it that made you want to?

I have always been very passionate or obsessed (or just hungry) about food. Growing up in Chicago allowed me to have exposure to a bunch of different types of restaurants from little hole in the wall ethnic spots to fine dining restaurants. I also went to grade school and high school with a bunch of the Levy kids and their family owned a lot of great restaurants around town so going to the restaurant openings and tastings was always fun. Around ten years ago, one of my childhood friends told me that he thought I should open a restaurant and I told him that he was crazy but he thought I liked food and wine so much that I should do it. The spark of wanting to open a restaurant began at Binkley's Restaurant in Cave Creek, Arizona in 2005. I had read that Chef Kevin Binkley had worked at the Inn at Little Washington and the French Laundry so I knew that he had to have some serious chops so I ventured to Cave Creek to check it out. After the second course of a perfectly seared piece of foie gras, I asked if I could talk to the chef about giving me a cooking lesson so I could see how he seared the foie gras like that. So after the meal, Kevin came out and I asked him if I could pay him for a lesson and he said that I did not have to pay him and he told me to show up Friday at noon. I showed up at noon and he handed me a blue apron and 5 lbs. of shrimp and told me to de-vein them...I ended up staying for all of prep and thru service and I guess it hooked me so I started coming to help in the kitchen everyday.

2.What was your original concept and how did it change over time, if it changed at all?

In the beginning of the journey, I wanted to open a fine dining restaurant with Kevin in Phoenix or Scottsdale but we could not find the right opportunity in town. A meal that I shared with you at Chez Panisse after a succession of great meals in San Francisco and Napa also sat in the back of mind. The simplicity of the preparations and clarity of the flavors at Chez Panisse was in such a stark contrast to the other meals that we enjoyed during that trip and that meal was outstanding. I started to feel that something along those lines may have a greater and longer lasting impression with the diners in Phoenix than a fine dining tasting menu style restaurant.

3. How long has it been in the making?

....probably since my first bite of food but I did not know it then

4. How did you go about finding investors (for the record, I am not one)? Have they changed over time? Have they evolved as the restaurant's concept evolved?

My friends knew how passionate I was about this project so when I pitched it to them and conducted some tastings everything fell in order.

5. Can you describe some of the difficulties you had in opening the restaurant?

There are so many moving parts in opening a restaurant from designers, contractors, permitting,...the important thing to do is stay flexible because getting everyone on the same page at the same time is a bit of an elusive contract. The reality is I had a great and honest contractor, Greg Rowles, and without him I would have been sunk. We had so many "a la minute" changes that he built it the restaurant without plans.

6.What is your vision of what Noca will ultimately be like and how do you expect to get there?

My Chef Chris Curtiss and I share the same vision of hospitality and cuisine which is the most important component of trying to achieve success. We want to use great ingredients and present them when we can in a whimsical manner that will hopefully be fun and most importantly tasty to our diners and keep them coming back.

7. How did you find your chef, Chris Curtiss?

I first met Chris while in Binkley's kitchen, he came in and "staged" for a day when he first moved to Arizona. Fast forward two years while I was putting my kitchen team together, I received a phone call from Kevin telling me to go try the food of this chef in a small restaurant in downtown Phoenix. The next day Geoff Reed, the Sous-Chef of Sea Saw, handed me the resume of a chef and it was the same chef that Kevin told me about. I looked at the resume and saw Fifth Floor, Charles Nob Hill and Masa's and I wondered what he was doing at a small restaurant in downtown Phoenix. At that point, I did not realize that he was the same chef that I had met in Binkley's kitchen a few years before. I called Chris up at 2:00 in the afternoon and told him that I was putting a restaurant together and wanted him to prepare me a tasting menu that night at 6:00, it was one of my best meals of 2007.

Chris is so impeccably trained coming from San Fransisco... he was Sous-Chef at the Fifth Floor while he was working there. He badly wanted to work with Chef Ron Siegel so he would "stage" at Charles Nob Hill with him. Ron called him when the Sous-Chef position opened and Chris started working with him there and when Ron moved to Masa's, Chris moved with him there as his Sous-Chef.

8. For whom is Noca designed?

We offer a few different looks so our hope is to get our diner to come in for different experiences...our standard a la carte menu can accommodate a full on no holds barred roll me out after a bunch of courses meal to a quick bowl of hand-made pasta and a glass of wine or a plate of crudo and some sake that can be had at the chef's counter with no fuss and you can watch all the cooking right in front of you...On Wednesday night's we offer a special in addition to the menu..noca Lobster Roll- Maine Lobster, Celery Root, Fines Herbs tossed with Roasted Garlic Aioli in a Herb Butter toasted Brioche Bun and served with Duck Fat Fried French Fries. On Thursday's our special is the noca Kobe Cheesesteak- American Kobe Ribeye, Caramelized Onion Jam, Roasted Pepperonata, Creamy White Cheddar Sauce, toasted Brioche Bun served with cooked to order Spicy Potato Chips. On Sundays, we offer the Simple Supper which is a 3 course set menu with choice of entree for $35 that the menu changes every week. With truffle season in full swing, we have been having fun with white and black truffles and I attached some dishes that we have been doing....I have been dying to shave some white truffles into our Roasted Chestnut Soup with Foie Gras Raviolini but I have not done it yet.(JMS: Perhaps you should have done it last week.)

9. Can you give a picture of your average day at Noca?

I come in at 10 or 11 pick up the bread on the way in (hopefully I remember to grab it then)...scramble around for things we need for that night's service and bring in lunch for the kitchen crew...pay bills (I hate signing my name now)...meet my favorite wine guys from Quench or Synergy for a tasting depending on what they are bringing around...get the menus ready for service and change the wine menu so I can make Frank crazy with adding a new wine...staff meal 4:45...staff meeting at 5:00 and game-time at 5:30...and service ends when we are done serving and then Chris rips apart the kitchen every night and cleans it....then orders for the next day...end of the night meeting with the kitchen crew...shot of mezcal with Chris from Richard Betts's new stuff made from wild agave, it is awesome-smokey goodness as soon as McClendon's Blood Oranges come in we are going to do a Blood Orange Margarita with it and call it the Vision-have enough of them and you will start having them!

10. What would you change if anything?

Wake up earlier so I could spend more waking hours with my dogs and girlfriend


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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As my first post on eGullet I am excited to report that my wife and future son (she's preggers) will be dining at NOCA tomorrow!

Very excited to have this experience. I find that Mr Wexler's reviews and suggestions for dining in the Phoenix area are spot on, and I am impressed with all of the great reviews and pictures of/from NOCA.

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Congratulations to NOCA. After barely being open for 7 months, the restaurant is a semi-finalist for the James Beard Foundation Best New Restaurant Southwest. NOCA has definitely changed the City of Phoenix Dining Scene.

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Congratulations to NOCA.  After barely being open for 7 months, the restaurant is a semi-finalist for the James Beard Foundation Best New Restaurant Southwest.  NOCA has definitely changed the City of Phoenix Dining Scene.

Congrats, indeed, to Eliot, Chris and the NOCA team. The award up for grabs is actually Best New Restauant U.S., not Southwest, which makes it an even greater accomplishment.

For a complete list of semi-finalists, click here.

Way to go, Eliot! :smile:

=R=


"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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Congratulations to NOCA.  After barely being open for 7 months, the restaurant is a semi-finalist for the James Beard Foundation Best New Restaurant Southwest.  NOCA has definitely changed the City of Phoenix Dining Scene.

Congrats, indeed, to Eliot, Chris and the NOCA team. The award up for grabs is actually Best New Restauant U.S., not Southwest, which makes it an even greater accomplishment.

For a complete list of semi-finalists, click here.

Way to go, Eliot! :smile:

=R=

Sorry for the wrong info, I was confused.

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I had the pleasure of dining at NOCA last week when I was in Phoenix for a business trip. Frankly, I had no clue about this discussion and only went because Doc Sconzo told me on my facebook page that it was the place to go. Note to readers: always listen to Doc when he makes a restaurant recommendation.

So I walked in by myself, without a reservation, and without a clue that the owner is a former eG mod like myself. Anyhow, the gentleman greeting me at the door immediately made me feel comfortable, asked me if I wanted to sit at the chef's bar/table (hell, yes), and asked me my name. We chit-chatted for just a few seconds before the waitstaff took over. Needless to say, this kind man was Eliot.

The meal that I had was as good and as fun as I've had in some time. Chef Chris Curtiss looks like a guy who should be belting out rock ballads, with his solid good looks and his tattoo-laden arms, and not be putting out food of this quality. Within a few minutes, we struck up a great conversation, with him sending out different vinegars and syrups to try. He asked me if I were a chef; flattered, I told him that I just liked food.

I chatted with the other cooks on the line, and frankly, I don't think I could have possibly enjoyed this meal more if I were with a group. I had a blast getting to learn about their backgrounds, how they came to NOCA, and what they like about the place.

I won't talk about the food, because I really don't have anything else to add to what has already been written, but the thing that struck with me is that every single thing put in front of me made me break out in a smile. Sometimes it was the sheer folly of the dish's concept, like the bacon and eggs. Or the blue raspberry cotton candy. Other times it was because the dish had an element that was pretty cool and different. Adding potato chips to a dish that includes potatoes is not unusual, but using fingerling potato chips was a nice twist. Or house-made smoked-paprika oil on a peekytoe crab salad intermezzo.

This kitchen knows its stuff, and they have fun, too. And that's just the kind of restaurant I want to dine in.

Congrats, NOCA, and good luck.


Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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Well, I have been to every themed Simple Sunday Supper except BBQ night, but I plan to be there this Sunday 12/7.

The second Fried Chicken night even surpassed the first. Friends with me that Sunday said it was the best Fried Chicken they have eaten. I don't disagree and NOCA says they can do even better next time.

Pictures of last Sunday's Home Style Italian Night. NOCA provided the comfort food I needed when the Suns lost after leading virtually the entire game.

Blue cheese foam apple butter Amuse

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Antipasto - Assorted organic vegetables, Iitoi onion fritatta, Bresaola, and cheese.

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Spaghetti and Meatballs (Chitarra con Polpetini) Garlic Brioche Toast (not pictured)

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NOCA's take on Spumoni (Pistachio creme, walnut sable, black cherry gelato, roasted walnut foam)

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And by the way. 4.5 Stars from the Arizona Republic

http://www.azcentral.com/ent/dining/articl...081117noca.html

NOCA'S Simple Supper has evolved and it is not so "simple" anymore. The overall format is still the same with 3 courses including a choice of entree for $35 but now there are supplements to the "Simple" menu as well. I have been to a bunch of the suppers and it definitely has developed a following. On a few of the Fried Chicken Night's that I have been to, there was not a seat to be had by 7:00 pm and that is not a typical scene for Sunday night dining at least in Phoenix.

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April 5 Simple Supper Menu

After watching the Suns get pasted by the Mavericks, I was down in the area and slid into NOCA for an early dinner...I started with the Simple Cocktail which was their take on the Bellini and it had peach and raspberry puree, Effen Vodka and a prosecco float...very good.

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NOCA Bellini

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Amuse...Bruschetta with Olive Tapenade, Oven Dried Tomatoes and Chives

The soup's at NOCA are always a favorite of mine (I miss the Roasted Chestnut)

so I started with the Organic Cheddar Cauliflower.

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Organic Cheddar Cauliflower Soup

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Spicy Sausage Stuffed Calamari-shaved fennel and arugula salad, balsamic vinaigrette, shaved parmigiano-reggiano and preserved lemon

The first time I had stuffed calamari was at Degustation in NY and I became a fan but I do not see this dish that often so I was psyched when it was a first course option. The texture of the calamari was just right and the spicy sausage had just the right kick so it did not over power the dish.

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Organic Golden Cauliflower Florets, Shaved Garlic, White Anchovy, Chili Flakes, Meyer Lemon Zest

When burrata is on a menu somehow it finds the way to my table :huh: , this was a great dish. I was seated at the Chef's counter and watched this dish come together. The anchovy was sauteed with the golden cauliflower florets, shaved garlic and chili flakes so the anchovy just melted in to the pan so the other ingredients would absorb it's essence. The burrata was a great medium to transfer the flavors into the burrata's creamy goodness.

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Polpettini en Brodo

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Braised Veal Tagliatelle, Herbed Bread Crumbs, Meyer Lemon Zest

The pasta was house-made and the braised veal and the braising liquid had a deep rich flavor that was nicely popped by the lemon zest and that made this dish truly Italian comfort food. My problem was that I had ordered the polpettini supplement before this and that really filled me up so that prevented me from finishing the dish with dessert to follow.

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Ricotta Zeppole's, Lemon Curd, Honey Foam, Bee Pollen

The doughnuts on NOCA's standard dessert menu are addictive but I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite between the zeppole and them. I liked the soft interior of the zeppole and smearing them thru the lemon curd and honey foam made a killer bite :biggrin: .

The moral of this story is: don't bet on the Suns if they are playing on a Sunday and it is Italian Simple Supper at NOCA.

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Had another great Sunday Simple Super last night. We also opted for the egg yolk ravioli, which is a must-eat. I have attached the menu as well as a photo of the malted vanilla ice cream sundae with blood orange caramel, strawberry, candied pine nuts, cherries, chocolate and whipped cream.

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gallery_64317_6603_9071.jpg


Find me online at:

EricEatsOut

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A big congrats to my friend Eliot, chef Curtiss and the entire Noca team, as Noca has been named Best New Restaurant by the Arizona Republic.

It's not only us - even the James Beard judges think Noca is one of America's best new restaurants of 2008.

Chef Chris Curtiss starts with top-of-the-line ingredients, and then adds imagination and technique to the mix. His contemporary seasonal fare is sophisticated enough to attract demanding gastronomes, yet accessible enough to reassure skittish mainstreamers.

Way to go, Noca! :smile:

=R=


"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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It has been a while since anyone posted on noca, so I'll mention a few unique meals I had there recently:

1. The held a tasting menu featuring the seafood from Ingrid Bengis. The scallops and butter poached lobsster were the highlights for me. I've posted photos on my blog at www.ericeatsout.com

2. On Thursday nights they are starting "Bar Bites" which are tapas-sized portions of menu items, ranging from $8-$10 ea. I particularly enjoyed the Columbia River Salmon Tartar...fabulous. The bone marrow was also great, as was the BBLT - Burrata Bacon Lettuce Tomato. Again, photos on my blog.

I'm a big Noca fan because these guys continue to experiment and innovate and don't seem to be resting on their laurels.

Photos at www.ericeatsout.com


Find me online at:

EricEatsOut

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We just got back from a wonderful meal at NOCA. What a treat. I posted in the general Phoenix forum, so won't repeat myself here, but, if you have a night in Phoenix, I suggest you visit NOCA. Exceptional on all fronts.

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More, not entirely surprising, plaudits for Noca. They just received a glowing, 5-star review from The Arizona Republic . . .

Named for its north of Camelback location, Noca is the urban-vibed restaurant that's won the hearts and minds of hard-core foodies this year. Although there's an entire staff of polished professionals to credit for this success story, it's possible to boil it down to two talented people - owner Eliot Wexler and chef Chris Curtiss - who share the same birthday and the same philosophy about the restaurant experience: make it phenomenal on every level.

How do they do it? Let me count the ways. Curtiss builds his modern American menu around superb ingredients, using the best purveyors he can find. And his refined but playful food proves he's having as much fun as a guy who works non-stop possibly can.

Noca Sunday Simple Supper, 5 stars

Congrats again, to the entire Noca team!

=R=


"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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On a short visit to Phoenix, I had a wonderful dinner at Noca on Saturday night. My hosts had suggested Noca based on a very positive review they had read, but it was only after I looked it up on egullet that I realized it was owned by Molto E. Our experience was positive from the moment we stepped in the door. Unbeknownst to us, we were greeted by Eliot (Molto E) at the door and then seated at a central table near the large open kitchen.

I started with the parsnip soup, which was incredible. It was served with roasted root vegetables in the bottom of the bowl and a drizzle of honey and then the parsnip soup based was poured over tableside. A truly, truly delicious example of a homey winter soup. Following the soup I had the flatiron steak, which was perfectly cooked to the medium rare I had requested. It was served over what I believe was a potato puree but tasted more complex (perhaps a turnip or two mashed in there?) and a delicious creamed spinach. The bordelaise reduction proved a bit sweet for me, but was still tasty. I had a tasty bite of a dining companion's scallop crudo, but I can't recall specific details of the dish. I did get the chance to taste an absolutely delicious cheese-filled spinach tortellini ordered by one of my hosts, which was pretty spectacular. The pasta was bright green in color- inspiring me to go home and play with my spinach pasta- and had a really nice toothsomeness to it (sometimes hard to achieve with stuffed pastas). The texture was perfect and complimented the gooey creamy interior. The skate dish also proved exceptionally delicious. The pan fried skate was reminiscent of Ssam Bar's skate, though less aggressively breaded/seasoned. It was served over a mix of corn, beans, and bacon and had a wonderful smoky flavor. I'd definitely love to have either of these courses as my main on another visit.

We drank a bottle of Friulano Bianco Scarpetta 2007, which was not as complex or unusual tasting as some friulian whites I've had. A bit cidery, but in a nice way. $48. There was a nice selection of reasonably priced wines on the menu, which was a nice change from New York.

As many of you know, I'm not usually a dessert person. In fact, we weren't even going to order dessert, but then our waiter mentioned that they have wonderful coffee. Well, I'm a sucker for wonderful coffee, especially wonderful restaurant coffee (a rarity). I suggested that I could have some coffee if someone else wanted something and then my hostess graciously offered to have some tea (although she was secretly hoping for some donuts). Tea for one turned into tea for 2 as another guest joined her. Our waiter suggested the coconut/passionfruit or cherry bombe desserts, but we originally declined, since we were already quite full. At the last minute, though, we decided that we couldn't miss the donuts (mentioned very favorably in the review that my hosts had read). Miraculously, both the donuts and the passionfruit dessert (coconut sorbet, passionfruit pudding, almond dacquoise) appeared at our table, along with our teas and coffee. To further delight us, a sample of the salted butter gelato and a mini vanilla milkshakes were also distributed around our table. Wow! Quite a bit more than a cup of coffee...Everything was delicious- and that's coming from someone who isn't a dessert person. Nothing was overly sweet. The toppings to go with the donuts (dulce de leche, strawberry and dark chocolate) complimented the cakey goodness. The passionfruit was tart and the dacquoise was broken up into crunchy pieces. The milkshake made me want to grab a cheeseburger to go with it (although I was stuffed). And the nonbelievers at the table (those would be the two who don't eat Otto olive oil gelato regularly) loved the salted butter gelato. In a word, great.

The place that this restaurant really gets it right is with the details. Beyond the wonderful food, the staff was gracious and friendly. Eliot spent at least 20 minutes talking to us at our table (one Chicago family connection, a long discussion about LA and Phoenix restaurants, and an egullet friendship). It was clear that he truly embodies the love for food and restaurants that Noca reflects. It seems to be a true expression of his (and Chris') philosophy and aesthetic. Little tastes abound: We started with a wonderful goat cheese/pear amuse, had a delicious sampling of mushroom soup between the first and second courses, and received a playful bowl of bright blue cotton candy prior to dessert.

This restaurant really gets it right, in a way that restaurants in much bigger cities often don't manage to. Kudos to Molto E for that. If you're in Phoenix, you'd be nuts not to go.

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