It’s with much trepidation that I post my comments on two separate dining experiences at NOCA. I know that the restaurant is well liked and repeatedly praised as some of the best dining in Phoenix. I have been out of the Phoenix dining scene for the past three years as having two kids close together will do that to you!
I have been looking forward to re-entering with my first meal being at NOCA and am sad to say that I was just underwhelmed with both dinners for different reasons.
The first dinner that we had was just my husband and I. We arrived promptly for our 6:00pm reservation and were offered two seats at the counter, which we grabbed. We love to watch the controlled chaos of a great kitchen in action. We both knew that we were going to go the Chef’s tasting route with wine pairings as this was a special occasion (hubby’s 40th birthday). We decided that before our ordering that we wanted to enjoy a glass of champagne and asked our server if he would be ok with that as we didn’t want to take up space if they needed to turn our spots quickly.
He said no problem, to take our time and then mentioned he would go ahead and take our order anyway and hold onto it while we got us our champagne. Perhaps this was our mistake by consenting, as the next thing we knew we had our lobster rolls, no champagne and no wine pairing.
The space was filing up quickly so when we stopped eating to try and get the attention of either server, or manager they all seemed to be back at the bar. At that point two different servers brought us champagne and our wine pairing and looked at each other with the recognition that something went amiss since we had four glasses in front of two people and half eaten food. We got an apology about the timing and at that point I figured they would correct the issue. The Lobster rolls were fantastic, served with I believe duck fat fries. A very solid dish and I would eat this again and again. I should clarify that we added this as an addition before our proper starter as we couldn’t resist and so glad we indulged
Our first starter came without any issue; we still had our wine pairing that was selected for our dishes. My husband had the mussels which were great and I went with a field salad with beets and goat cheese. Salad was decent, nothing stood out that would make me order it again. I should have gone with my 1st instinct and ordered the soup which smelled wonderful.
The next dish was to be our Primi, we both requested the squid ink fettuccine which was great. The problem was again our wine pairing did not come out, we had to request it and then no priority seemed to be put on the request as the pairing showed up as we were almost finished- dropped off by another server who we didn’t recognize.
The next snag we ran into was a 15 minute delay in our mains as the kitchen fired the wrong dish for me. I would have expected that they re-cook a fresh fish for my husband but instead they kept it warm. This misstep resulted in my husband’s fish being a bit over and my dish seemed rushed to be put on the plate as it was now the height of service. We did get a apology from the manager, who delivered our mains.
We were waiting for Desert and a I believe a man who was Elliot Wexler stopped by and said thank you for coming, I was about to say something about our overall experience and he was pulled in another direction and then gone for the evening.
Our initial server reappeared offered us dessert and with selections made we waited.. and waited.. and waited some more. When we approached the manager he said he would look into and came back and told us our again he was sorry but our desserts were sent to another table. At this point, I was so disappointed with service we requested the bill, ate our dessert, and wanted to pay to leave however waited another 10 minutes for our check to be run.
I approached the manager and let him know that the food was great, however the missteps with service and wine service were something I was not expecting as so many people had great things to say overall about NOCA, especially the service. He again apologized curtly, gave us our shortbread and we left… underwhelmed. Please note, that I did not expect a free dinner, or anything to be gifted to our table, I merely wanted to feel like I was heard and perhaps shown some empathy, neither occurred.
I am not one to discount a restaurant for one bad experience. So this week, when selecting a place for a business dinner, I choose NOCA. We had 6:00pm reservations and when arrived we were greeted warmly, and seated immediately. Menu’s presented; we ordered drinks and perused what to have. I will say straight away that our server was great, she checked in on us often and everything except bar service was timed appropriately (I am not sure what is up with their bar!) We ordered three starters, three mains, and three desserts.
The starters were: Burrata, fried clam slider and pork belly. The burrata was fantastic, the clam slider was sent back (something I very rarely do) and the pork belly disappointed.
For our mains we had filet mignon, scallops, and rotini with Berkshire pork. My rotini was very salty, the scallops were done very nicely and the steak was cooked properly and the bean ragout served with it was tasty. Deserts were fine. Overall a decent dinner, however again I was underwhelmed.
This time at the creativity and flavor profiles of the dishes. I really want to like NOCA, and perhaps we will give it a third shot and have a winning combination of both service and food, but for now I am off to try other places that I have missed in the last few years. If asked if I would recommend NOCA, I would say sure, but with some caveats in place to be sure.
3118 E. Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85016