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Cowboy Ciao, NOCA, and J & G Steakhouse - long

We had a marvelous time in Scottsdale (I got new boots, woo hoo!) and had some great dinners - thanks to the Chowhounds on the Southwest board.

The first night we really enjoyed Cowboy Ciao. Our waitress was Morgan, she was very patient with us and our search through the wine list. What a wine list! Wow, we are so jealous! We finally chose a Ramey Russian River Chardonnay '06, half bottle and the Littorai Hirsch Vineyard '04.

We started with the All American Cheese platter - the Crave Brothers Petit Frere was our favorite of the 5 cheeses. I didn't write down the other cheeses... but we also liked the one with nuts and the one with cranberries. This came with toast and a little triangle of a marvelous fruitcake (? I'm not sure what they called it), filled with dates and apricots - so good.

We decided to have several small plates rather than limit ourselves so we also had:

Ciabatta with green olive tapenade and garlic custard - The bread. Was. Fabulous! As was the olive tapenade and garlic custard.
'Chicken & Waffles' - fried chicken drummies with a sweet corn waffle, sage butter and Arizona honey.
Mini Mushroom Pan Fry - this was the only thing we didn't care for... it had a butane/old school flambe taste that turned us away.
Quesadilla del Dia - bits of pork loin, peppers, cheddar and salsa. The person who delivered said it was beef and not pork,but what ever it was, it was very good.

Morgan brought us a sample of the bacon pecan brittle - which didn't sound good... but it was. So we bought a bag to take home. ;-)

Dessert was the Boda-licious Bread Pudding and Sugar cookies with ice cream - the flavors were: Guiness, Bourbon- chocolate and 5 Spice. They were a big success especially the 5 spice ice cream.

We really enjoyed ourselves!

Our second dinner was at NOCA. We were very much looking forward to dinner here based on what we had read. It is a gorgeous spot (once you get parked and inside) and the menus on the clipboard is a cute touch. However we didn't get off to a real good start.

We were greeted right away and then seated directly across from the hall where the service swinging door and bathrooms are, at a small table. The waiters/service area (water, extra plates & silverware) was directly behind us. I'm 6 feet tall and wearing heels, Mr CF is not a small man - we were not a good fit for this table. I know we aren't regulars and there is a large possibility that we won't be return dinners since we are from out of state - but there were empty tables. It sparked a debate between Mr CF and I - would we have had a better table if the Concierge had booked? We don't know but we leave Wednesday for Newport Beach and we're going to let them take care of our reservations.

I could have said something, but I didn't and I take responsibilty for that.

Things dramically improved once we started eating. Everything was stellar.

I ordered the Pierre Gimonnel & Fil Champagne (split so I didn't get silly) and Mr CF had a large bourbon with extra ice.

The amuse was a tiny sausage meatball with a lovely sauce.

A tiny cup of butternut squash soup - cream salt & butter (what's not to like?), it was delicious. It was brought because the Bacon & Eggs, and the duck confit dishes take longer and they didn't want us sitting with empty-ness in front of us. This was a very nice touch.

I started with the Bacon & Eggs - pork belly, 'crunchy' poached egg, onion jam, and maple syrup. Wow, all of it was fabulous. The egg amused us with the 'crunchy' part, and I will say that at first I was disappointed, the egg looked hard boiled so I was pleasantly surprised when I cut into it, the yolk ran out and got that loveliness all over.

Mr CF had the Duck Confit... PERFECT. The huckleberry waffle was perfect and the frisee salad with dates was perfect. This is a dish we will remember for a long time. A dish I wish every chef/restauranteur had to do, exactly this way, before they could claim they have duck confit on their menu. This is the way it should be. PERFECT.

Next was the Black Bass with crispy gnocchi, broccoli rabe, chopped chorizo, and little drops of mashed creamy potato. Mmmmmm.

Mr CF had the Steak Frites - I think he enjoyed it but the fries had a hint of rosemary - so he didn't eat many of those.

We ended with French press coffee and doughnuts with chocolate, strawberry jam, and dulce de leche caramel for dipping. I love this type of dessert - thought it must be said that I like doughnuts in general. How could they be resisted?

We were brought pink cotton candy - which always makes me smile - and were given little bags of chocolate chunk shortbread to enjoy later. I also took home (all the way on the plane) the cotton candy.

While we didn't get off to a good start, the food was stellar and definitely took my mind off our seating arrangements... I bet the champagne helped too... :-)

Our last dinner was at the J & G Steakhouse. When I set the reservation I told the hostess that I had heard they had a lovely view and asked if we could be seated where we could enjoy this view. We were seated at a round table looking out the windows - and it was a helluva view - we watched the sunset.

We started off with a split of Taittinger champagne while watching the sunset. We ordered the Jumbo shrimp cocktail (Mr CF only, he said it was delicious) the Fois Gras Terrine with grilled country bread and an apple jalapeno compote and the Salmon Tartare with warm garlic toasts and mustard oil. The Fois Gras terrine, once it thawed and we got the butter cap off was wonderful. But, yeah... it was pretty solid and our waiter should have taken care of the butter cap... the apple jalapeno compote was a nice accent to the richness of the fois. Mmm fois gras... The Salmon tartare was okay - but I probably wouldn't order it again.

We ordered a bottle of the Behrens and Hitchcock "Everything But the Kitchen Sink" but it was unavailable. So we tried the 2005 Frank Family Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon - which was delicious and exactly what Mr CF wanted.

At this point the dining room was packed, and service went a bit downhill - my Champagne glass was taken with out making sure the Champagne was gone, the Salad cart couldn't get through to make the Ceasar salads tableside, my chair was bumped by each passing server and the noise level went way up. New restaurant bugs I'm guessing - they are pretty new. BTW - those chairs are monster heavy!

Anyway, we each had a Ceasar salad - maybe a bit of horseradish in the dressing? Interesting and good.

We split the New York steak with peppercorns. We were brought all of the sauces - soy miso mustard, steak sauce, bbq sauce, and peppercorn sauce so that we could try them all. My favorite was the peppercorn sauce. We also had the creamed spinach and French fries, which were quite good.

The dining room was packed and our waiter said we could step outside and enjoy the rest of our wine - so we did. It was lovely outside, what a wonderful way to end our evening and enjoy a ... warm chocolate cake with salted caramel ice cream and the rest of my Champagne, marvelously chilled.

Now I'm back in IN (I'm supposed to be working... cough cough) and I'm wishing we had such marvelous dining options here. And such nice weather!
Thanks again, and thanks for reading.

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  1. Thank you for reporting back! I think you did very well for yourselves -- I also prefer grazing at Cowboy Ciao, I feel their small plates are their strengths. And I also agree that the duck confit at noca is perfect. Truly, if they served that and nothing but two other dishes I would still see fit to eat there. Judging from what I know of the owner, a concierge booking would not have automatically netted you more suitable table there. They seem to treat everyone with the same gracious courtesy, whether they are known to be 'in the scene' or not. I am sure if you'd demurred the first table they would have been happy to find something better suited.

    1 Reply
    1. re: themis

      They were very gracious.

      When Mr CF and I were debating on the concierge issue, I said that if the reservation had been booked from the hotel - it would have been definite that we were from out of town. My feeling was that it wouldn't have made any difference one way or the other. I also felt that if I had asked to be seated somewhere else, they would have done so with no problem. I was just having a momentary hizzy. ;-)

      In the end - we had a marvelous dinner. Truly.

    2. What a nice detailed report, and you hit three of my favorite restaurants. The bacon and panko-crusted egg, and duck confit with huckleberry waffles are two of my favorite appetizers at Noca. I always appreciate it when people report back on their visit. Thanks for the great reviews!

      1. Good review, glad you had a nice trip. Shame about the table at NOCA, I know how frustrating that can be (I seem to ALWAYS be shoved into the back of dining rooms, saddled up next to the bathroom or kitchen doors). If unhappy with a table, I almost always ask for a new one if possible--you're paying the same amount per dish as everyone else, you don't need to just "suck it up" if not happy. Also, from what I've heard of NOCA's service, it sounds like they would have been more than happy to accomidate a switch.

        I also love the CC grazing menu and am always torn between doing that and full entrees. Every quesadilla I've had there has been some sort of a slow-cooked, tender pork and they're always incredibly delicious (last one was sort of stewed with cherries...really great).

        1. I've always wanted to order the chicken & waffle dish at Cowboy Ciao-how was it?

          1 Reply
          1. re: Jess321

            It was really good.

            There were 5 or 6 large chicken 'drummies', with a nice light batter, fried crisp. We thought they could have been cooked a tad longer - they were very juicy - but that's probably just a personal thing. The waffle was like a small Belgium waffle (1/4th of a whole one) with corn kernels, a dab of sage butter (cold so it didn't spread very well) and a little bowl of honey on the side.

            You should try it!

          2. Often restaurants will try to seat diners at the worst tables, all you have to do is ask for a different table. We do it all the time.

            10 Replies
            1. re: DriverPhil

              Seating has little to do with "good" and "bad" tables in terms of locations, but rather what server is up next in the rotation. It may be true that a weaker server has a section including a "bad" table because they tend to get less guests that will sit there, but I doubt that's the case at NOCA where the servers (at least those I've encountered) are all pretty good at what they do.

              1. re: DriverPhil

                We had a simpler solution where I work: We got rid of the tables that were universally despised. There's no pleasing everyone on the rest of the tables: There's one in particular that's in a little alcove on the edge of the dining room. On one side is a brick wall and just enough space for the waiter to stand, and on the other side is a picture window. A large number of people look at it and wonder why anyone would want to sit there. However, I have more than a few people who specifically request that table every time they come in.

                Moral of the story: Telling the maître d' that you want "a nice table" means bupkis. Telling the maître d' what kind of table you prefer is much more effective.

                1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

                  Everyone has different perceptions, the table in question is the most requested table by our regulars in the restaurant...that is the truth.

                  1. re: Molto E

                    It's the first table I ever sat at and we loved it because you can sit next to eachother instead of across from. Other than at the chef's counter, I think it's the best seat in the house.

                    1. re: Molto E

                      Congrats, E., on your Best New Restaurant nod in this year's Beard awards. I'm glad the care you take in selecting ingredients and crafting a great experience for your diners has not gone unnoticed.

                      1. re: themis

                        Here's a second. Well-deserved, IMHO.

                        Hunt

                        1. re: themis

                          "Congrats, E., on your Best New Restaurant nod in this year's Beard awards. "

                          themis, for those of us not in the know (and I may be the only one), would you mind mentioning to whom are you referring? and which restaurant?

                          Thanks!

                          1. re: Deenso

                            Hi Deenso -

                            Themis is referring to one of the CHs in this discussion who owns the restaurant being discussed - Noca - which is up for a well-deserved James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant.

                            (list of 2009 JB award semi-finalists):
                            http://www.jamesbeard.org/files/2009_...

                            1. re: Deenso

                              Like Rubee said, I was responding to Molto E, one of the proprietors of noca and a longtime Chowhound. He posted above to clarify the seating issue experienced by the OP.

                        2. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

                          JK,

                          Good point. A table is in the eye of the beholders.

                          I usually try to give as much useful info, as is possible. At some restaurants, I have table numbers, provided by kindly servers for later use.

                          As it is often just the two of us dining, I also mention that we do a lot of wines, so there will be plenty of glasses and bottles, or half-bottles. I am pleasently surprised at the number of times that we have been seated at a 4-top, with only two chairs. Most 2-tops get over-filled in no time.

                          Thanks for the background and the details,

                          Hunt

                      2. Thank you for the report and reviews.

                        Probably the one rub that I have had with NOCA is the seating in general. Our first experience was a tad bit disappointing, with a "semi-bistro" table and banquette seating for my wife. She almost needed a booster chair. Things seem to be changing with each month, so I expect many changes in the dining room. As for your particular table, I have it on good confidence, that much will change in that area of the restaurant. I also do not think that the concierge could have secured you a better table. I also doubt that it would have helped if you were a "return diner," or a local. They inherited much of the seating and decor, with their purchase. They have finally added the al fresco dining, just in time for some really cool PHX weather, so it should only be time, before the interior gets its redo.

                        Now, if both NOCA and Cowboy Ciao could add large tapestries on all walls to absorb the noise... I love the food. I love the wines. I love the service. Still, I love to hear all of my guests, when they speak in normal tones.

                        Have not made it to J & G Steakhouse, but it sounds nice.

                        I also notice that you two did a fair number of half-bottles. I seek out wine lists with these, when it is just my lovely wife, and me, dining. I always share my pleasure with the sommelier, even if we have more guests and are ordering full bottles. Halves are just so nice, to allow more wines, with our multi-course meals. Glad that you do these too. Hope you mentioned this to the server, or the sommelier, to keep them adding to their wine list.

                        Now, the Southern CA board should have good recs. for Newport Beach.

                        Thanks,

                        Hunt

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                          If only half bottles were more available! They're a marvelous idea, perfect for the evenings when 2 bottles is too much but you'd like both a white and a red.

                          Or, as it happened at NOCA, Champagne was perfect for everything I ordered, but Mr CF didn't feel like wine that night. So since I shouldn't drink a full bottle by myself (I could... but I shouldn't), a lovely split was an excellent choice! ;-)

                          The Ramey Chardonnay at Cowboy Ciao was wonderful. CC's wine list was amazing, what a selection!

                          Bill, this is off-topic but, did I miss your posts on your recent trip to Maui? I've been checking but haven't seen anything.

                          I've got several ideas for Newport Beach - thanks to the Los Angelos Area board. It's so nice to get out of Indiana during February (our grayest month) and travel to warm and sunny places.

                          Thanks!

                          1. re: Cookiefiend

                            Keep the "faith." Half-bottles are the right choice for dining couples, and we are all too often in that group. Trying to find the quintessential wine to go with all dishes for two, is nearly impossible, even for a well-trained sommelier. That's why I applaud a good selection of halves, even when we do not avail ourselves. I want the management to know how much I appreciate them on a list.

                            As to Maui, I had a major computer crash, where the notes were stored and being worked on. A new power supply is on its way, and I hope to have that promised post up by mid-week next. Please bear with me on this. Unfortunately, my laptop does not have the info, and the main uint is DOA, so even my LAN will not work. I've added some of the high points from that trip in other threads, but that's not quite the same. Hope that I can get back to the reviews in enough time to help others heading to that island, prior to their trips. Right now, tech support is on the case and working hard. Fed-X does come into play, and only time will tell.

                            Where were the Newport recs? We've been on several trips, and the LA board has never failed me yet. As I do not like to drive much for dinner and wine, I am usually specific to a particular resort, or neighborhood. So far, great CH-worthy dining. I always try to do a followup report/review, for others.

                            Hunt

                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                              I'll be posting later this week about Newport Beach, both the positive and the not-so-positive.

                              There were several places near our hotel I wanted to try but we didn't have enough time, and since one of the days was Valentine's Day - I didn't make reservations early enough.

                              I wish we had been able to get to Sage, The Crow Bar and Marche Moderne... next time!

                              1. re: Cookiefiend

                                Usually, I only show up on that board, when we have a trip upcoming. For your reviews, I'll be there, in hopes of seeing the reports.

                                Thanks,

                                Hunt

                                1. re: Bill Hunt

                                  Here's my 'review' :

                                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/597299

                                  I was just checking the Elsewhere in America board and saw your list of restaurants in Maui from December - looks good! I love The Gazebo's pancakes - totally worth standing in line for. I'll be interested in what you have to say about both Chez Paul and Gerard's. We leave next week for Maui - I am so looking forward to warm weather, golf and some great meals.

                                  I'd be spazzing out if my computer had a melt-down like yours! Good luck!