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Noca - Sunday Simple Supper - Worst dining experience in Phoenix

  • t

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. 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.



            2. Give noca another try. I've been a happy noca diner since their opening and cannot believe that you and I are eating in the same restaurant. The staff has always bent over backwards to accomodate. Instead of your "grumbling about the cold all through dinner" the AC problem could have been handled quickly and easily.

              In your post, you mention the apple cobbler as the only available dessert, yet you neglect to include the Cinnamon Stick Gelato that accompanies it.

              The vegetable choice for the main course is a delicious option and one that many of us value. I am not a vegetarian - having enjoyed the beef short ribs and other meat entrees - but often choose the vegetable plate. These are head & shoulders above what one usually gets for veg. They're imaginatively prepared and delicious.

              Checking the menu at an unfamiliar restaurant will prevent surprises in the future. noca is well-known for their Simple Sunday Suppers. By neglecting this bit of research, you were disappointed. Don't blame the restaurant.

              1. That's too bad. Like others here, Noca is also one of my favorites.

                To me though, it seems that it was quite evident to the OP right away that Noca wasn't what they were looking for, even before they ordered: location (the point was made that "you can look at the cars driving by 3 feet from you in the parking lot") and fact that it was a prix-fixe, "we were not pleased with the selection" "main dish choices were sparse", and that there was only one choice for dessert. Again, it was a prix-fixe (maybe the OP is unfamiliar with this concept?) and they were given the menu and choices when seated. It's also no secret regarding Noca's "Sunday Suppers", something they've been doing since at least 2008.

                3118 E. Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85016

                1. Let me just defend the OP for a minute here.

                  I'm not the biggest fan of NOCA, and certainly am sort of puzzled by the universal love given NOCA on this board. That said, I do think it's a good restaurant, but not great.

                  Depending on one's perspective, the portions at NOCA could be considered on the smaller side (even if you are plating 3 or 4 courses). The same refrain was levied at PastaBar (rip), fair or not.

                  Re: the A/C. Even if the OP had asked that the air be turned down, I'm not so sure the restaurant would've (or could've) obliged. Turning down the vent because it's blowing directly on a particular patron would mean the rest of the restaurant might become uncomfortably warm, or hot.

                  As to why the OP didn't just leave? As has now been clarified, the OP was a guest -- a captive audience if you will. Yes, maybe complaining that the choices were limited or "sparse" might not be fair or apt because of the prix-fixe menu on Sundays, but the OP did explain why each of the dishes were subpar -- i.e., the short ribs were "barely edible".

                  I don't pretend to be NOCA's biggest supporters -- even though I do think they do have some high points like their Philly Cheesesteak -- but I also wouldn't go as far as the OP to characterize NOCA as the "worst case of over-priced, over-indulgent dining."

                  NOCA definitely has its warts, and perhaps for the OP she had unfortunate luck of kissing all of them.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    As a point of reference, we experienced a chilly restaurant interior at NOCA last year. I asked our waiter if the temperature could be adjusted. He apologized for the temperature and immediately asked the owner to make the adjustment and it was done immediately.

                  2. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Yours doesn't happen to match my own, but I know I've been disappointed in other very popular restaurants.

                    Anyway, I just had to laugh when I read your comment that the portions are very small. Every time I go to Noca, I have engorgement anxiety. I have a hard time stopping myself from eating everything on my plate and wind up in pain afterward! Maybe I'm a wimp.

                    3118 E. Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85016

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: PopcornSally

                      I, personally, find their portions on the smaller side.

                    2. Thank you for your review, TSM3. I think the setting of a restaurant is fair game for a critique. Yes, there are some great strip mall restaurants, but who really wants to sit in a parking lot patio? If patrons are seated directly under an a/c duct, I again feel that's a valid criticism. Servers should anticipate your needs, not react to them after you complain. You said the portion sizes are small, and some people have now agreed with you. You can't complain to the staff about everything, and who am I to suggest how you conduct yourself at a restaurant? Most importantly, the food was not to your liking, and regardless of the other considerations or what kind of a menu it was, the food should have been amazing and made up for everything else. Clearly it didn't. Having a negative restaurant experience and writing an appropriate review - well, I thought that's why we had this board. The advice provided by this board's regular, passionate, and knowledgable members is invaluable, but I do sometimes feel like there is something of a bandwagon effect which results in some places being over-hyped and others being overlooked. I plan to try Noca despite the occasional negative review...but maybe now my expectations will be tempered to something more realistic.

                      3118 E. Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85016

                      15 Replies
                      1. re: aricat

                        Call me doubly perplexed because I can't find anything in this thread suggesting the OP shouldn't have posted. However, if a critique is made, a counter critique is complete appropriate, particularly with a title like "Worst Dining Experience."

                        Regardless, my concern comes from taking NOCA to task for its location when a myriad of restaurants follow the same model. Al fresco dining, by definition, is about dining outdoors in the fresh air, not outside with a view. The view would be nice, but that is gravy, and in a relatively flat Valley, getting a view with every outdoor table is impossible.

                        1. re: aricat

                          I think that the "bandwagon effect," might come from many excellent experiences at NOCA.

                          After about 4 - 5 reviews, I ceased, except when there was something "new" to report. Other than perhaps being newer, to do basically the same review, except for the dishes ordered and served, does not do that much to help a future diner - especially as the menu changes, as often as it does.

                          As for the venue, I have to admit that two of my favorite restaurants, Alan Wong's and Chef Mavro's in Honolulu, HI (an area noted for "views"), have zero views. With AW's, if one is seated by a window, they have a view of the traffic on King Street (not exciting), and at Chef Mavro's they have a street-level view of King Street, foot traffic and all. Do I grade either down on their location? No way, but do point out to folk, looking for great "view restaurants" in Hawai`i, that neither has ANY view.

                          Just had a wonderful experience at Restaurant Daniel, NYC. It's in a lovely old brownstone, right off of Central Park. However, there are NO windows, so no view - other than an elegant dining room.

                          In Phoenix, two of my favorite "views," have slipped horribly in the recent past - A Different Pointe of View, and elements (at Sanctuary Resort). Once, IMHO, each was quite good, to very good, and each has a killer view. However, there is so much more to dining, than a view, or the facade that you enter through.

                          Pointing out that al fresco dining might not yield panoramas of Camelback Mountain at sunset is one thing, but taking a restaurant to task for not providing a view is another.

                          Let's take a look at another Phoenix restaurant, worth mentioning - Binkley's. What kind of "view" does one get of the Carefree Hwy?

                          You want a restaurant with a view, and great food, look to La Mer, at the Halekulani, Waikiki, HI, and get a table overlooking the patio with House Without a Key, and not the Pacific Ocean. Life does not get much better that La Mer.


                          Different Pointe of View
                          11111 N. 7th Street, Phoenix, AZ 85020

                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                            My experience is that the best views and mediocre food often walk hand in hand. Give me a s**thole with fabulous food over stunning vistas and a mediocre dinner any day of the week and twice on Sundays.

                            I think part of the visceral reaction is how much of the OP's critique is spent on non-food issues. Are they all fair game? Sure. But at the risk of going all "get off my lawn," back in the day community food boards were far less concerned with things like the AC vents, location, portions, etc. Perhaps I'm reading too much into it, but getting frustrated with posts like this is as much about getting frustrated with changing board culture as it is about the actual review.

                            What about the food? The OP calls the risotto "good" and the chowder "very good." The salad is deemed simply "edible." And the dessert was criticized for being too small. As far as I can tell, one of five courses was bad. But it's hard to tell, because there's no elaboration whatsoever. No description, not even the most cursory description of flavors involved... nothing.

                            In short, on a board that at one time was all about the food, here's a post that spends almost no time or energy on the food.

                            For me, that's far more frustrating than the opinion itself.

                            1. re: Dmnkly

                              Good points all.

                              Now, I have to admit that in my many critiques of NOCA, I have covered more than the dishes served, at that time, but then that is what I see a "restaurant review" to be.

                              Still, after many great meals, with very few mis-steps, it did become a review of each dish, and if one went the next week, it would likely be moot.

                              For me, I am saddened that the OP was disappointed, and also held "captive." Still, I would have raised my hand to trade places, even if the "Simple Supper," is not my first choice at NOCA.

                              On another thread, where a poster wanted the "ultimate foie gras," I did not hesitate to recommend NOCA, providing that Chef Curtiss is doing one of his foie gras dishes that night. Having had foie gras around the world, and at many Michelin "starred" restaurants, Chef Curtiss' versions have come out on top - and at 1/10th the price of many. Just flat the best! With a great foie gras dish, I do not care if I am overlooking the parking lot at Cardinal's Stadium.


                              1. re: Bill Hunt

                                when does / has noca had foie on their menu...it sounds like something i need to try!

                                1. re: Dapuma

                                  I'd have to go to the reviews, to get the dates, but "in the beginning" they always had one foie gras dish. They were each sublime. In their first Winter, there were many nights, when they had the regular foie gras course, plus another in the menu rotations.

                                  Last time I dined there, I do not recall a foie gras course, but it was Fall, and perhaps just not on that menu.

                                  As mentioned on another thread, their Wild Huckleberry Infused Seared Foie Gras was my all time favorite, and I "sold" it to many, who felt the same way. Theirs topped many Michelin starred chefs' versions, plus all the rest. I've had foie gras all over, and most dishes have been good to great, but NOCA still holds the "crown" for me. Were I requesting a "last meal," their foie gras would be one course, along with a lovely Sauternes (first time I had their foie gras, they had a bottle of Ch. d'Yquem '94, that they sold me B-T-G!!!!). Now, they have not had a Sauternes on the B-T-G wine list for some time, and the d'Yquem was only for the first couple of visits (you just cannot pour a wine like that - costs too much, and even with a 0.375, will go bad, before you pour it all).

                                  I'd call ahead, and inquire. Provided that Chef Curtiss can access high-quality foie gras, I would like to think that they would include it for you. Back in Denver, my favorite chef, Michael Dagenhart, would do any of his dishes, with about 5 day notice to source the ingredients. The only issue was his Pecan Crusted, Garlic Sauteed Softshell Crabs, as softshells are highly seasonal, and do not do well frozen. To do the foie gras properly, and NOCA-style, there is time to prep, so a polite request, with a few days notice, should yield great results.

                                  Maybe Eliot will drop by, and comment on any plans for foie gras on the menu. From my reviews, he knows how I feel.


                            2. re: Bill Hunt

                              The OP said there was zero street appeal, and the patio was right on a busy street. I don't see why this can't be considered relevant information to include in a review. We all have our favorite hole-in-the-wall places, but if someone were looking for a place with a decent patio, it might be helpful to know that Noca would not be a first choice. I personally don't enjoy patios with loud traffic nearby, and I don't think it has been suggested that a mountain view is a prerequisite, or the only other option, for a good restaurant.

                              Again, had the food redeemed the situation, then I'm sure we wouldn't be having this chat. But the food fell short according to the OP, and that is what a large part of the review was about. Responses to the review seem to have been a critique of the reviewer - he was passive aggressive for not complaining about his seating, he didn't understand the menu, he didn't realize that many restaurants in the GPA are situated in strip malls. But at the end of the day, he didn't enjoy the food, and the OP's other comments are not, in my opinion, completely out of line for a review, be it the music selection or the crowded seating.

                              I respect and value the opinions of the regular Phoenix Chowhound contributors who have much more dining experience in the area than I do, and I also recognize that tsm3's review is a little over-the-top in its criticisms, not to mention lacking in specifics with respect to the food. I therefore weigh the review accordingly. But efforts to go after the OP's credibility have, for me, had the opposite effect. Are we encouraging people to share their experiences if our response is, 'You just don't get it', every time we happen to disagree with their assessment?

                              3118 E. Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85016

                              1. re: aricat

                                Well, NOCA is not located on a busy street. Not sure where that came from. They are at the turn of a parking lot, and are not, in any way, on a street.

                                My guess is that the "busy street" made for a more exciting review, or maybe the OP was just confused?


                                1. re: Bill Hunt

                                  sorry, parking lot patio, not busy street - still, I'm not a fan of either one.

                                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                                    Well, NOCA is not located on a busy street. Not sure where that came from. They are at the turn of a parking lot, and are not, in any way, on a street.

                                    How about we split the difference? "Busy parking lot" would seem like a fair description of the patio area of NOCA.

                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                      Whatever you wish, so long as you agree that it is NOT on a "busy street." [Grin]


                                  2. re: aricat

                                    "But efforts to go after the OP's credibility have, for me, had the opposite effect. Are we encouraging people to share their experiences if our response is, 'You just don't get it', every time we happen to disagree with their assessment?"

                                    If anyone here supports personal tastes, it is me. I go head-to-head with many locals on their favorite restaurants, that I just do not get, though I have tried them many times.

                                    Same for restaurants, that many of the regulars hate, but which I enjoy.

                                    It is about personal tastes, and not a "mob mentality." What turns you on, at a culinary level, might well leave me asking "does the King really have clothing?"

                                    Why is that? I think that it is because we have different tastes.

                                    I see the same thing on a half-dozen CH boards. Places that others just flat love, and to the Nth degree, I just scratch my head. It is exactly the same for restaurants, that have been in the upper 90% for me, and on many occasions. Many hate them, and with a passion (though there are never any reviews to support their contentions?) That is life.


                                  3. re: Bill Hunt

                                    While at Halekulani for drinks at House without a Key..I said to my husband, here's to Bill...and he said who's Bill?
                                    Told him you are one of the beloved posters from Chowhound that loves La Mer and he raised his glass and said, 'Here's to you Bill...Aloha'...loved that!

                                    1. re: Beach Chick

                                      Cool. I was getting scared, when you hit the "who's Bill" part...

                                      At La Mer, we had dined there for maybe 10 trips, before I ever realized that in another area of the restaurant, they actually had an "ocean view." We did that for either an anniversary, or maybe my wife's b'day, but quickly went back to the tables right over HWAK. The dark Pacific is fine, and the sea breezes wonderful, but those tables over the little stage, with the wonderful Hawai`ian music coming up to the table, is just NOT to be missed.

                                      Still, with all of its wonderful charm, Chef Ives Granier, and the elegance, it's our #3, behind Alan Wong's and Chef Mavro's, and neither has any sort of a view, though the evening lights coming on, up the Moana Rise in the Ko`olaus, from AW's, can be nice - just don't look down to King Street.

                                      Now, and sort of like NOCA, but with a difference, Mariposa is lovely. The "view" is the Ala Moana shopping center's parking lot, and then Ala Moana Blvd and 8 lanes of traffic. However, the wall is just high enough, that one looks over all of that, and sees the Ali Wai harbor, and the Pacific. Still, we all know what is slightly below that wall. Great food, and if one never "looks down" a beautiful view. Perhaps NOCA could build a wall?


                                      PS - since all worked out well, and I did not come between you and your hubby, here's a toast (Macon-Villages) to him, as well - plus one to you.

                                      PPS - I'm trying to get some dates from my wife, for our next Hawai`i trip. Not sure when/if that will happen. If so, we need to meet up on some tropical golf course, play a fun round, and then head to the finest restaurant near-by. Life could not be much better.

                                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                                        'Who's Bill'...hee hee
                                        It's all good..
                                        We'll be in PHX for a week of fun and sun and of course golf for the Memorial Day.
                                        Keep me posted if you have any new restaurants you want to share..
                                        Aloha to you Bill..

                                2. I agree that the OP has a right to express opinions and that NOCA is a bit of a Phoenix sacred cow.
                                  HOWEVER, what I don't like about the review, and possibly why people didn't respond to it in an entirely friendly manner, is that it doesn't take NOCA for what it is.
                                  Yes it is in a strip mall, yes it is small and can be loud, yes the menu is limited during the week and extremely limited in prix fixe form on sundays, but those things help DEFINE what NOCA is as a restaurant: excellent quality food at reasonable prices; in a casual atmosphere. If NOCA was on Scottsdale road, in a prime location, with a massive menu, with sky-high prices, I would never go there and it would be just another high end scottsdale restaurant.
                                  So what I'm getting at is that "worst dining experience ever" is totally unfair. I could say the same thing about ANY restaurant just because I don't like the way they chose to define their business, e.g., "Binkley's totally sucks because it is in the middle of nowhere" or "that place sucks because the menu is so large I can never decide on something".
                                  Not every place is going to fit your preferences, but it doens't mean they are the worst place ever. For people whose preference is the food, NOCA hits the spot and IMO they have earned their excellent reputation. I'm admittedly a bit of a fanboi; since our first visit in July 2009, we've eaten there 15 times (per my opentable account history) and only once did I walk away somewhat disappointed. I can't think of any other restaurant I have been to in my life that is as consistently excellent and does it so affordably.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: dombey

                                    So the one time you walked away disappointed from Noca, had that been your first visit - with no history and no background knowledge on the restaurant - would that disappointment perhaps dampened your first impression of the restaurant?

                                    Disclaimer: I love Noca myself like others here. It's my favorite special occasion restaurant and we've turned many of our friends on to as well. I've never had a bad experience there. I don't agree with this review, but I wasn't with the OP the night they dined, did not experience the experience they had, and at this point have a history with the restaurant that might allow me to say "well, that was an off night but it's usually great so we'll be back."

                                    Hyperbole in the title of the review - sure. A review that goes against most here. Sure. The restaurant is well-reviewed in many places. Not everyone is going to like it but this one review - being an anomaly review as even negative reviews have more substantive critiques than this one - is not going to put Noca out of business. Like reading reviews for products most people know can really get a feel for over the top reviews - both positive and negative - and find the truth somewhere in the middle.

                                    OP, sorry you didn't enjoy your meal. That's a shame to spend money and be disappointed. Hopefully your next evening out you'll be able to find a place that better suits your needs and preferences as clearly Noca didn't align with them. Cheers.

                                    3118 E. Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85016

                                  2. I have always been a Noca fan. After my visit last night I still like it, but realize the restaurant could improve.
                                    Why do so many people defend Noca so earnestly? I think it is because Noca management and staff are very attentive and really try to do a great job. But, I digress.
                                    Last night the four of us were seated promptly and asked about beverage desires. The waiter provided helpful advice regarding wine selections; delivering the wine throughout the meal was another story. When he announced that our appetizers would be out in a minute, I ordered a glass of the wine he suggested to go with my dish (mussels). I waited. I finally started on the dish. After I had finished it my glass of wine appeared. This delay in fulfilling beverage orders continued during the meal.
                                    Now as to my first course, it was great. And I agree with all the things others have written about the attentive service, tasty bread, etc. that are part of the Noca experience.
                                    My major disappointment was with my main course. I ordered Rigatoni and it was salty…very salty…extremely salty. The waiter noticed that I was not eating my main course I told him I didn’t like the dish. He was very concerned and asked if he could bring me something else. I mentioned one alternative and he seemed hesitant. I asked and he said the dish I mentioned (Hanger Steak) would take some time to prepare. We had been there awhile so I just told him not to bother. A few minutes later he told me he was sorry I did not like my meal and that it would be removed from our bill. He politely asked if I would tell him what I didn’t like about the dish and I told him. He shook his head knowingly and I asked, “You have heard this complaint before?” He told me he didn’t want to speak ill of the kitchen, but it was clear they are fond of the saltshaker. I appreciated his candor.
                                    I am still a Noca fan and agree the original post to which I am responding may be the result of the experience of one who would have been better off visiting Noca when there was not a fixed menu. But am not sure that Noca currently deserves the extreme praise it gets on Chowhound.

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: Arizphil

                                      Maybe there is a moral here.

                                      We all know that a restaurant is only as good as its last plate. In this case, one improperly seasoned dish along with wine pairings that never happened (quite an egregious error) produced a somewhat negative review on a foodie website. Yet that comment by the server - "they are fond of the saltshaker" - suggests a more systemic problem. Do two less than exemplary reviews in a matter of days suggest a decline at Noca, or just bad luck, the randomness of the internet, or a backlash to the staunch Noca defenders?

                                      Not flavor alone, not creativity, but service, consistency and quality control are the pillars of a great restaurant, and maybe we all have to remember just how specific to an occasion, and just how transitory, a restaurant review really is. Of course this works both ways, both for the positive reviews and the negative. The salty dish of this review should have been tasted and rejected, assuming of course it really was too salty for the typical or discerning palate (is there a difference?).

                                      But truly, one has to concede, it may be only one particular dish, pulled off repeatedly by the same chef, that can be recommended at a restaurant, in terms of the food served (Chef Curtiss' fois gras, for example). In terms of service, is the whole staff on the same page, or did you happen to catch the right person on the right night?

                                      I have eaten at Barrio Cafe several times, and it's usually been amazing. On one occasion, though, it was absolutely dreadful. That one experience is enough to make me really question the quality of this well-liked restaurant. I'll be back, but I will never again be as trusting.

                                      I believe that a restaurant review is highly contingent on circumstances and environment. A meal served on a patio in beautiful downtown Rome identical to a meal served in a strip mall in Detroit will be perceived completely differently. So don't say that setting and ambience make no difference, or that a patio in a parking lot is just a "model" of restaurant in Phoenix that, because it is so common, is a-ok. It's really not, it sucks.

                                      The OP of this thread wrote a questionable review in terms of specificity and locution. However, I have no reason to disbelieve the essential sentiment of the review, namely, that he or she had a miserable experience. Maybe, relative to how it is billed, the expectations that came with it, and the price tag, Noca really was the worst dining experience for the reviewer. I kind of doubt it, but this latest review gives one pause, no?

                                      3118 E. Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85016

                                      1. re: aricat

                                        As I have said to a number of restaurateurs who have, to put it charitably, a dim view of amateur online food criticism, the only restaurants that should fear the internet are lousy restaurants, because if you run a great place, for every person who pans you, twenty others will back you up.

                                        No restaurant, no matter how great, will be a great experience for every person every time. The sheer numbers involved combined with the inherent subjectivity of the dining experience make that impossible. But much (not all) of what has happened in this thread is *precisely why* online restaurant discussion works. This is exactly what gives it legitimacy. Though some have decried the strength and volume of the response, it has done exactly what it should: demonstrate that the OPs feelings about Noca, while perfectly legitimate (it's an opinion, after all), are atypical. If somebody's opinion is out of the mainstream, they'll be challenged. They *should* be challenged. Which doesn't mean they're wrong! But that act of discussion, of refuting a bad experience, of pointing out questionable conclusions, of seeking elaboration... that's what separates the reality of online food discussion from the "anonymous uneducated diner who can screw my restaurant" bogeyman that many restaurateurs decry.

                                        In short, yeah, it's messy, but a thread like this is precisely why online food criticism works.

                                        3118 E. Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85016

                                        1. re: aricat

                                          Reviews that are rich in information about a restaurant's food can give me pause. Here, however, I feel like I learned more about the OP than I did about the kind of dining experience one might expect at Noca.

                                          I don't doubt that the OP had a bad time at Noca, or that s/he didn't enjoy the meal, but with so much non-information in the post, that is the only message that comes through with any clarity.

                                          3118 E. Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85016

                                          1. re: aricat

                                            I think your post also goes to show that the staff at noca are there to make sure you have a great time and if something goes wrong they are going to remedy the situation and they are commited to making sure you have a great experience. Can everyone be perfect all the time, no...however they are commited to making that their goal, and what more can you ask of any business.

                                          2. re: Arizphil

                                            "When he announced that our appetizers would be out in a minute, I ordered a glass of the wine he suggested to go with my dish (mussels). I waited. I finally started on the dish. After I had finished it my glass of wine appeared. This delay in fulfilling beverage orders continued during the meal. "

                                            This is a pet peeve of mine, as well, and happens all too often, even at high-end restaurants, that pride themselves on their service and on their chef's tasting menus and sommelier's pairing selections - a favorite concept of ours. Luckily, this has never happened at NOCA, though we once did have a bit of a "pause" in the flow of one meal.

                                            For the overly-salty dish, we've not had that issue with NOCA, but did at Roy's Desert Ridge, and with one replacement, but the follow-up alternate - that's three dishes, before my guest finally got something edible. The staff tried to get the replacements out quickly, comped this diner's entire meal and apologized profusely. Still, that was a lot of strikes, and I also understand the timing, as there were three other diners, who held off eating their meals, while the corrections were made. That really puts a damper on the flow of an evening, but other than magically providing a properly seasoned main, I am not sure what could have been done - other than pull the cook, assigned to those dishes aside, for a bit of re-education. I just hate when something like this happens. Sorry that it happened to you, and at NOCA.

                                            Mention was made up-thread of less than stellar meals at NOCA. In my dining experiences there, I have never had one, though I have had a less than stellar dish, or two. These stood out for me, as I had recently had the same, but much better version.

                                            Then, there was that one meal, where things seemed to break down in the service, which was atypical, at least in our experiences. Normally, the service "sings," and is just the right blend of attentiveness, but not over-bearing, or cloying - like Goldilocks - just right.

                                            Only my observations,


                                          3. Interesting read on how to take the original poster. I also have posted contrary reviews of board favorites, and been challenged, but that's part of the discussion. I have a problem with the review bcause the post is a one off rant. The OP has never posted anything else on the board, just this one hand grenade at what we all agree is a fine establishment. I can't tell if it is a serious critique,or just a rant from an unreasonalble individual. If they want to present a serious opinion, they need to be less inflammatory and show that they have a basis to compare.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: kmarg

                                              " I also have posted contrary reviews of board favorites, and been challenged, but that's part of the discussion."

                                              Many of us have done the same. I have had many bad meals at some "sacred cows" here, and especially on the New Orleans Board. I just do a straight-up review, and let the chips fall, where they may. Regardless of how disastrous the meal was, or how bad my experience was, I try to do a review of the good, the bad and the ugly. Some reviews do come out as ONLY the bad and the ugly, as no matter how much I try, there is sometimes no good.

                                              Interesting observation on the OP. I did not attempt to follow them here, and just gave them the benefit of the doubt, as to what displeased them on their visit. Though a fan of NOCA, I am less a fan of the Simple Supper concept, though others really enjoy it. I just like the full menu much better, and that is one of the reasons that I dine there. Perhaps if I knew nothing of NOCA, had read no reviews, and then showed up on a Sunday evening, I might not have been quite so pleased on all aspects. However, I would also not have expectations. I would probably question the staff, when the pre fixe menu was presented, to learn if that was the way they did it every night. It almost sounds like the OP read a bunch of reviews, but missed the Simple Supper concept for Sunday nights. I could see how that might happen, though wonder how the limitations of the location were also missed. Seems that the vast majority of reviews that I have read, have discussed the location, architecture and layout, plus many have found, as have I, that the ambient noise level was a bit higher, than ideal. To have so many surprises, is a bit odd, but certainly could happen.


                                              PS - while I am less a fan of the Simple Supper menu, the quality of the dishes has been very good, with zero complaints from me on them. I just like the full menu, so normally dine on another night.

                                              During March, I posted a reply to the original message on this thread that described my disappointment with my then most recent experience at NOCA. I wrote that the drink service was slow and the food very salty. Well, I dined there tonight and I feel guilty about my March report.
                                              I should not have let a hiccup cause me to weigh in with barbs.
                                              My dinner tonight at NOCA was G-R-E-A-T.

                                              Let me get the service question out of the way, because it contains my only continuing criticism: our waitress was attentive, but not intrusive, helpful with explanations and suggestions (more about this below), and gave that “extra” that makes her memorable (ditto on the more later). BUT, NOCA just can’t seem to deliver beverages as timely as they should. Now let me be clear: this problem only happened once during tonight’s visit and our great waitress told me of the problem and made sure it did not happen again. So I mean to say we had great service, which included the waitress recognizing a small error, fixing it and letting us know of her work before we could think to even contemplate a complaint.
                                              And I want to mention that there was a “black pasta” dish on the menu that intrigued my wife and me. We decided not to order it and said we might do so on our next visit. When our waitress brought the check she also brought us a sample of this dish. I was very impressed.
                                              One of the dishes I wanted to order was duck comfit. I told the waitress about my last sodium saturated sojourn at NOCA. She handled me perfectly and explained that the chef would be happy to reduce the salt, which was done and….YUM.

                                              I am not a big duck fan ( no offense to Univ. of Oregon fans)
                                              because I often find it oily/fatty. This dish was crispy with intense, wonderful flavors that mixed perfectly with the accompanying greens.
                                              Now let me share my mouth explosion experience. The Arizona Republic’s food critic listed an open-faced pastrami sandwich served at NOCA as on of the city’s greatest treats. I read the review and looked at the provided photo and thought, “ it looks to small for my ‘I love big Rueben’s’ appetite”. This reviewer, whom I respect very much, also sings the praises of Binkley’s . And I understand why many love Binkley’s. But I always leave there hungry. I am not a big fan of very small, albeit very delicious, portions.
                                              I was wrong about the pastrami sandwich at NOCA. Yes it is not a gut-filling monstrosity . But, it is six or seven bites of sandwich heaven that I have never experienced. I ate each successive bite more slowly that its predecessor because I was so happy. [My wife points out that this treat is not listed as a main dish and I should not lament that I wanted two or three servings. O.K. fine :-)]
                                              I sound giddy. I was not. I was just one who has lived here for 30 years who tonight had a big smile because his faith was renewed in an establishment where it appears everyone is really trying every day to do something really special.
                                              Bravo Noca. We will be back.

                                              6920 E. Cave Creek Rd., Cave Creek, AZ 85331

                                              3118 E. Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85016

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: Arizphil

                                                Interesting report, and glad that they mostly came through for you on the second look.

                                                We always do wines, so really have no experience with other "drink services." For us, the starter wine comes first, and then we'll work through the courses, and have only had one lag, and that might have been our fault.

                                                For us, the portions are about right, or maybe a tad large. However, I have to admit that we really love small portions, and many courses, and that can be tougher, than we'd like at NOCA. Still, I feel that Eliot is doing his best to accommodate ALL tastes, and not just ours. We've been known to do 4 apps., and left very full, often having to pass on dessert.

                                                Though I was an early advocate of a "chef's tasting menu," I have to admit that we've not done it, as we always found things more to our tastes on the a la carte menu. Shame on me!

                                                Just did the 9-course tasting menu at Restaurant Daniel, and not that long before, the 14-course tasting menu at Chef Mavro's, and they were each great - small portions, but oh so very varied and flavorful, plus the "sommelier's pairings" for every course. OK, Restaurant Daniel was really an 8-course, but for other reasons, we ended up with 9, plus the extra wine.

                                                Glad that things went better. Do not feel badly for reporting your exact experiences. That is what CH is about. For any restaurant, every night will likely not be 100% - heck, that is why we did 9 courses at Daniel...