Proud To Be a Noble American Cookery

By Brian Freedman
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Mar. 16, 2011

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Tantalizing tentacles:

Photo by Ryan Strand

Noble is finally living up to the potential it held in reserve for far too long. In the beginning, the space itself demanded the lion’s share of attention. And while it’s always been a remarkably appealing restaurant aesthetically—its much-discussed bubinga-wood bar and concrete floors marrying the natural and the urban in a seamless embodiment of the farm-to-table ethos that so many spots aim for with far less success—the food, in the beginning, played backup. An odd combination of over-conceiving and under-delivering marred the experience of too many meals.

But now that Chef Brinn Sinnott has been here for more than a year, it’s fair to say that Noble is operating at the level so many of us wished it had all along.

And it’s doing so in a way that’s both true to the guiding philosophy of owners Bruno Pouget and Todd Rodgers, as well as to the impressive pedigree of Sinnott, who’s found himself in kitchens ranging from Lacroix and the Fountain to Amada and Supper, a wide-ranging work experience whose breadth informs virtually everything he sends out to the dining room each night.

So much here is more than it seems on the menu. Small-cupped shibumi oysters, a dainty three to an order, anchor a range of cool flavors, from snappy cucumber and the herbal zip of shiso to the real focus of the dish, a tosa vinegar foam rising from the shell and covering it all like the head of a particularly frothy beer.

Octopus at Noble goes right where so many other restaurants doing it go wrong. It’s shipped in fresh from Spain several times a week and gently poached in a court bouillon before being marinated for a full day and grilled to create a thin smoky crust. It’s handled gently enough at all stations of its journey to the plate that its inherent meatiness never has the chance to turn mealy. The real highlight of the dish, however, is the squid-ink croquettes, ingenious little orbs the color of night and the fluffy texture of the best matzoh ball you’ve ever bitten into. Set against the sunset-toned butternut squash romesco streaked across the plate, its visual appeal is every bit as intense as its flavor.

Those croquettes highlight how adept Sinnott is with starches. His gnocchi—made in-house from the same pate a choux—are among the best in the city, fluffy to the point of creaminess and as sexy as so many others are plodding and gummy. And while the mushrooms accompanying them were underseasoned and oddly waterlogged, it almost didn’t matter: Between the gnocchi itself and the herb-singing house-cured pancetta curling up on every couple of forkfuls, this is emblematic of the new Noble as anything here.

So, too, is the pan-roasted fluke, a standard-sounding preparation that’s infinitely more exciting than it sounds. Depending upon where your fork lands on the plate, each bite of fish—perfectly roasted to a crisp top and still-moist flesh—is either brightened up by a Meyer lemon gel, brought to a more savory place with a gel made from the dashi and sake cooking liquid of accompanying clams, spiced with a miso mustard, or sweetened in the context of a celery root puree. Fluke rarely sees this much love, or generates as much excitement.

Both the duck breast and the beef cheeks benefit from a sous-vide bath to thoroughly successful ends. The bird, a velvety, vivid pink in the center, is topped with snappy skin. The other flavors on the plate—from persimmon to braised sweet-and-sour red cabbage to sweet potato—call to mind Thanksgiving.

As for the cheeks, the plating is the first thing you’ll notice: It’s a study in blacks and deep-winter tones that, in less adept hands, might come off as drab. Here, however, it is bracingly ballsy. I especially love the dense-purple Okinawa sweet potato.

Desserts are less consistent. Rice pudding, folded with fresh whipped cream and perfumed with ras al hanout, is an unexpected and complex treat, its flavors both familiar and exotic; but coffee—cardamom pot de creme, fabulous on its own—is marred by a crown of pumpkin ice cream that has an unfortunate medicinal character. And no matter how well-informed the service is, a dissertation on each dish isn’t strictly necessary. Still, I’d rather that than an absentee waiter, especially given the complexity of so many of the offerings here.

Because, and this is important, you will pay for a dinner at Noble—a recent bill for three, including two cocktails and a 750ml bottle of Stillwater beer, topped $200 before tip. But the payoff is worth it if you don’t mind spending that much, and you can absolutely get by without hemorrhaging funds by having a well-made drink and a bite at the comfortable bar.

It’s been three years since Noble opened its lovely wooden doors on the 2000 block of Sansom, but it’s finally grown into itself. From the concept to the space to the food, Noble has, under Sinnott’s leadership in the kitchen, become what it always had the potential to be: A unified, utterly enjoyable experience, and another reason to head to this part of town for a meal.

2025 Sansom St.

Cuisine type: American, but with plenty of twists and turns.
Hours: Tues.-Thurs., 5-10pm; Fri.-Sat., 5pm-11pm; Brunch: Sat.-Sun., 11am-2:30pm.
Price range: $6-$30.
Atmosphere: Urbane and comfortable.
Food: Interesting on the menu, with serious payoffs on the plate.
Service: Very helpful and well-informed, if occasionally a touch verbose.

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