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Mar 14, 2011 12:35 AM

Noca - Sunday Simple Supper - Worst dining experience in Phoenix

We had out of town friends who were told to go to Noca, since it was rated one of the best restaurants in Phoenix. The location is in a strip mall next to a Safeway, so the street appeal is zero. they even have patio seating, where you can look at the cars driving by 3 feet from you in the parking lot.

The tables are very close to each other, so there's no room or privacy. The music was a weird mix of oldies, opera and other stuff that was noticeably odd but not too loud. The restaurant was FREEZING and the A/C vent was blowing directly on us, so we were all grumbling about the cold all through dinner.

We didn't know that Sunday night is a fixed-price menu and we were not pleased with the selection or the price of the dinner - $35 per person, with $10 more if you wanted some risotto or some tuna tartare. The salad was minimal but edible and the manhattan clam chowder was actually very good. Portions are VERY small. The risotto was the only good dish we ate that night.

The main dish choices were sparse - a Cioppino fish dish that none of us was interested in, a tasting of farm vegetables (who wants to spend $35 for dinner and get a plate of a few vegetables?) and braised short ribs, which was the only acceptable choice on the menu. The short ribs came out and were a small chunk of barely edible meat, about 12 beans, and some slimy green unknown vegetable that barely filled a quarter of the plate. The women couldn't even eat the meat.

The dessert was an apple cobbler - that's it - no other choices! The dessert plate was a rectangular plate almost a foot wide with a piece of cobbler about 2 inches square and a half-inch high. It looked ridiculous on the plate. The cobbler was about two spoonfuls of food.

With soft drinks only, the dinner was over $200 for the four of us. I don't mind spending that kind of money for an excellent dinner and dining experience, but this was the worst case of over-priced, over-indulgent dining I have ever had. Yes, we were disappointed not to be able to order from the regular menu, but that will never happen, as I will never go back to Noca again, ever!

3118 E. Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85016

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  1. Hello there, welcome to Chowhound. With the pleasantries out of the way, I have some issues with your review of one of my very favorite restaurants in town.

    Street appeal? Who judges a restaurant on street appeal? Much like with people, it's what's inside that counts. I can only guess you haven't been in the Phoenix area for a very long time. The more you dine out in Phoenix, the more you find that there are a hell of a lot of very good (and sometimes very fancy) restaurants situated in shopping malls, strip malls and the occasional converted convenience store. If you don't like the view out the window, just have a seat with your back to the window.

    In the future, please PLEASE tell the people at the restaurant, ANY restaurant, if you have issues during a meal, right when you have the issues. It's much more effective than passive-aggressive complaining after you leave. Eliot, the owner, is one of the most accommodating people in the Phoenix restaurant industry: A friend of mine went there and mentioned that the table was a little bit wobbly; three people including Eliot were all over the situation, apologizing as profusely as if a waiter spilled red wine on a guest's white dress. If you had bothered to tell them that you were cold sitting under the air vent, Eliot would have been happy to move you to a table that suited you. Likewise, did the ladies mention that their dinner was inedible? Judging by your review, it sounds like they didn't. They would have made things right for you, but they can only do that if you TELL THEM.

    If you weren't pleased with the selection or price on the menu, why did you stay in the first place? Unless they've started chaining guests to the table, there's nothing wrong with changing your mind once you've seen the menu and going elsewhere. Staying when you don't like the menu is foolish. It almost sounds like once you were there, you decided to stay just so you could have a horrible time and complain about it later.

    Look up two things: Prix fixe, and amuse bouche. You say you knew the menu was prix-fixe, yet you complain here that the selections were sparse. Guess what: A prix-fixe menu is supposed to have limited selection. I looked at the menu, and the crab salad they served you was an amuse bouche. An amuse bouche is a very small course, typically just a bite, not something to judge regarding portion size.

    Yes, compared to many other restaurants around town, the portions at Noca are on the small side. This is because you're having three or four courses, plus the amuse bouche and their customary cotton candy intermezzo. If the portions there were the standard size of a restaurant dish in this country, everyone would leave feeling stuffed to the gills. Were you still hungry were you left, or did you feel sated?

    3118 E. Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85016

    1 Reply
    1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester


      Well-stated, as always. You have covered most of the high-points, and done so well.

      If one were to look at the NOCA Web site, or read any of the myriad reviews here, the Simple Sunday would not (or should not) have been a surprise.

      Now, I have to admit that I am a much bigger fan of the full menu, and have only done Simple Sunday a few times. It has been good, BUT has paled in comparison to the full menu, which I greatly appreciate.

      I also agree with the OP, that the surfaces are highly reflective, and that the music is a bit too loud, however, I must admit that I come from a time, and a place, where diners sat, engulfed in virtual silence, but could easily whisper to each other. There are still a few such spots around the globe, though their numbers are dwindling by the hour, as more diners want a "lively atmosphere." Eliot knows how I feel, but then he is catering to a larger crowd, than just this old fud, who really likes quite to the Nth degree. Same for Peter Kasperski of Cowboy Ciao. Each is keeping their bases satisfied, and I understand. Also, NOCA is the quieter of the two.

      @ the OP,

      Eliot Wexler was most probably the gentleman, who opened the door for you, and likely seated your party. He was also the gentleman, who stopped by several times, to inquire how the experience was progressing. With zero hesitation, I can tell you that he sincerely wanted to hear your comments. He cares deeply, and is very active in making things as good, as he can.

      I know of no other owner, who takes such an active role in the day-to-day running of a restaurant, and to me, it shows greatly.

      When I did my first review, not THAT long after the hard-opening, I was amazed to see the changes enacted, in less than two weeks! Just simply amazing. Now, I feel that it had little to do with MY reviews, but he was keeping a list, and did make my "vote" count.

      As for restaurants with "curb appeal," please take a slow ride up Camelback, and look at some lovely, albeit empty, shells. Those were once restaurants, and many in the media touted them highly. Too bad that they did not offer good food, locked into a "concept," that did not deliver, or offer service that a patron could embrace.

      In case you cannot tell, I love NOCA, and still applaud Eliot for his work with that restaurant. Is it perfect? No, and not in my mind, or Eliot's, but every visit shows that he's busy making changes, and most of those count as improvements to me.

      Sorry that you were blind-sided, and that you experienced NOCA with the limited menu. That prix fixe menu has been very popular, though I would always opt for the full - and I do, when I make my reservations. That does not mean that Simple Sunday offers lesser food - just a smaller set of choices, and at a very good price.

      As for "portion size," well maybe it's me, but I have never left hungry, and never left feeling that I had been slighted in any way. Heck, I can seldom do more than manage a spoonful of my wife's dessert. I think that the portions are just about perfect, but then do not dine out, in hopes of taking home left-overs to feed a family of six for a week. Matter-of-fact, I usually grade restaurants' portions DOWN, if too large. I'd rather taste many dishes, in smaller portions, then have giant bowls of food sitting on my table.

      Sorry that it did not work out for you, and for your guests. Were it me, I'd give them another chance, on a full-menu night, just to see what Eliot and Chef Curtiss can do.


      Cowboy Ciao
      7133 East Stetson Drive, Scottsdale, AZ 85251

    2. Thanks for your report, but I am bit perplexed as to why you didn't ask for the AC to be adjusted if it was cold. I have been to so many restaurants that need a temperature change and I simply ask my server to cool or heat the room accordingly and have never had a problem.

      Along the same lines, I would have hoped that if your meal was "inedible" you would have immediately summoned your server and asked to speak with the manager.

      As for the food at NOCA, the portions are small because the food is quite rich and there are several courses. As a very hefty eater, I always leave NOCA quite satisfied. To me, portion size is always a bit of a ruse because a huge plate of mediocre food is still mediocre food.

      Regarding the location, since you indicated you had out of town guests, I am assuming you live in Phoenix metro. So, I am a bit surprised by your criticism of NOCA's strip mall location. So many restaurants in the Valley are located in strip malls because that is usually the most economical location for a restaurant to open. Most restauranteurs don't have the capital to move into a stand alone building nor have one built. I have dined at NOCA many times and once inside, the fact that I am in a strip mall is gone from my mind as I sit and enjoy my meal and the company I am with.

      While I understand that prix fixe menus are not everyone's cup of tea, there is nothing wrong with simply indicating to the staff that you were hoping to order off the regular menu and would return another time. I have done that on multiple occasions at many restaurants because I want the options to create my own menu for the evening. Every time I have done so, I have been treated with graciousness and understanding because I wouldn't be the first to not want a prix fixe menu and I wouldn't be the last.

      I am sorry you did not like your experience at NOCA. I have never had anything less than a stellar experience there.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Seth Chadwick

        I have to agree with the replies. Two of my favorite restaurants are located in "strip malls" - Noca in Phoenix and Rosemary's in Las Vegas.

        3118 E. Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85016

      2. The original comment has been removed
        1. I think some benefit of the doubt should be given to the poster, some people do feel uncomfortable mentioning issues to management, including myself (depending on the issue), and yes they should have gotten up and left when they saw prix fixe but the poster did say what they did and did not enjoy about the food specifically.

          I personally have always enjoyed Noca however I have had bad reports - most notably being from my mom who is very tolerant of service and said when she went the service was terrible as the server was spread so thin that it took them over 15 minutes to even be able to ask for coffee after their meals. Yes I told her to call Elliot as he is definitely the type of owner to want to respond to this but she is the type that does not want to complain at the end of meal or get special treatment as the evening had already been disappointing and a refund of the meal would not have changed that.

          It is odd that this is their first post but I think for most people it takes an exemplary or disappointing experience to break into the online review world - hopefully this is not a competitor posting. To tsm3 I urge you to report problems to management as I'm sure they would have assisted you. At this point you may not be returning to Noca but do give other restaurants in strip malls a chance - some of the best dining in Arizona is in a strip mall setting.

          No restaurant is perfect and although this review may not be the "best" hopefully the poster will take this as friendly discussion of what to do when an experience at a restaurant is not as expected.

          3118 E. Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85016

          1. I"m the original poster. I am not a competitor, I'm a regular person who doesn't mind paying top dollar for great food and service. I just didn't get either at Noca on this trip. And, I won't go back to give them a second chance.

            I don't have any problem with a restaurant in a strip center. I have some very nice restaurants near me in shopping centers. I didn't put up a fuss with the waiter about the food or the air conditioning as we were guests of the other couple who stayed with us while they were in town and were treating us to a nice dinner for hosting them. I didn't want to put up a stink when they were paying for the meal. I do feel bad for our friends, however, as they are surely disappointed in the experience and at the cost for a mediocre meal.

            3118 E. Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85016

            2 Replies
            1. re: tsm3

              I have been there multiple times and always had good if not amazing food and service

              I have been under the cold air vent in the middle of the restaurant and it was a bit cool but a quick reshuffle of seating of everyone at the table and everyone was happy temp, certainly can ask them to turn it down

              as far as the owner / management staff goes to make sure everyone is happy there:

              the mrs was out with some of her girlfriends and they had to wait an extra 15-20 min for their table, which was not a big deal and they didnt even say anything, the staff there offered some free drinks and in the end, ended up coming all 3 of their meals - so they will certainly go way above and beyond to make sure you have a great evening

              there are lots of pre fixe menu's that i would not be that "excited" for - a bit of research into the restaurant like looking at their menu before going would have told you what you are in for, imo you set yourself up for failure

              their menu changes often, plan accordingly and give it another try, ask for a table in the back away from the street and window since you dont like the strip mall vibe (which really shouldnt matter) and you should have a great evening

              1. re: tsm3

                "And, I won't go back to give them a second chance."

                Between you and me, that is your loss.