This Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Restaurant Has “Noble” Goals…But How Does it Live Up to Them?
Review of Noble American Cookery, a Philadelphia restaurant which emphasizes local, seasonal cuisine as well as North American wine and beer.
Noble American Cookery is a restaurant which opened in 2009, on Sansom Street in Philadelphia, west of Rittenhouse Square. Just off the busy restaurant scene which is South 20th Street between Chestnut and South Streets, Noble American Cookery has been on my radar to try for many months, but some mixed reviews made me hesitate. Many reviewers criticized Noble’s high prices and small portions, but recent reviews praised their mixology skills and emphasis on local, seasonal cuisine.
Reviews aside, I decided it was time to finally try out Noble for myself. My frequent Philadelphia dining companion and I made 6pm reservations for a beautiful, slightly cool Spring evening in Philadelphia. Upon entering Noble American Cookery, I was impressed by the modern yet welcoming and warm interior. I had been in the space in its previous incarnation as the Italian restaurant Gioia Mia, and now it was barely recognizable: large canopy windows open onto 20th Street featuring a unique indoor/outdoor granite dining counter, a gorgeous bubinga-wood bar filled much of the first floor, and the entire color-scheme was calming earth neutrals. A narrow row of dining tables lay opposite the bar, with more seating upstairs. Our table was on the first floor, and we were quickly brought menus and water.
The drink menu at Noble is quite impressive, with a lengthy selection of interesting, exclusively North American wines (by the glass and bottle) and beers and signature cocktails. We both started with cocktails, myself ordering the “Nor’easter” ($9), which was an amazingly intense and delicious rum-based drink featuring homemade ginger beer. My companion had a rye, lemon and cinnamon concoction (also $9) which was equally intense, but not quite as successful in both our opinions (she nursed it most of the night, waiting to the ice to melt to dilute it a bit.)
Soon after ordering we were brought four slices of their homemade Ciabatta bread and fresh butter, which was very good and consumed quickly. Almost as quickly, a server descended to ask if he could clear our bread plates and replace our knives. We would have preferred being asked if we could have a second helping of the tasty bread, but that didn’t seem to be expected nor encouraged so we acquiesced and waited for our starting dishes.
I began with the Market Oysters, served with green apple and celery mignonette ($9). The small (I believe Kumamoto, although they were not named on the menu) oysters were beautifully plated on a mound of crushed ice. Their flavor was delightfully strong and full of the fresh, salty-sweet flavor of the ocean, which I love about quality oysters. The mignonette didn’t do much for me, though, as the apple was presented as a pea-sized orb dolloped on each oyster, which tended to roll around and be difficult to slurp down with the oyster meat. I didn’t really taste the celery which was very finely minced on top of each nor any other seasoning or dressing.
I think my companion chose a little better with her starting Sweet Potato-Mango Soup ($7), which looked wonderfully rich, was a decent-sized bowl, and she said tasted excellent. She followed with the Beet & Blood Orange Salad ($11), which looked lovely as well and reasonably sized for the price. At that point I was wishing I had ordered another starter myself as three petite slurps of oysters had not done much to appease my growing appetite.
The room was only about half-full, but we did find ourselves waiting a curiously long time for our second courses to arrive, easily 20-30 minutes. During the break I ordered a glass of what ended up being a wonderful California Cabernet Sauvignon, a steal at the special price of $6 (normally $8). My companion ordered a special pasta “small portion” plate of the night ($14). I do not recall what was in it beyond specialty mushrooms and ramps, but it was indeed quite small – perhaps 3 or 4 good fork-fulls of pasta, and she described the taste as “butter, butter and more butter” – but in a good way. I ordered the Grilled Herb Marinated Hanger Steak served with toasted farro risotto ($25), which was indeed excellent. The steak, from grass-fed beef, was expertly cooked with a crisp, charred exterior and wonderfully rare interior, exactly as I had requested it. The risotto was interesting, but not a risotto I’d rush to eat again as it lacked the creaminess I’m used to in risotto. More exciting was the wonderful side of Wilted Spinach with Garlic Cream ($7) which I was afraid might be too garlic-heavy for my stomach, but instead was truly excellent. It put most steakhouse creamed spinach dishes to shame and was an excellent side dish for the steak. In fact, I found myself mixing in some of the garlic cream with my risotto and steak to accentuate the flavors of each.
We polished off our plates but decided to skip on dessert, as nothing among the short list of four choices really tickled our fancy and Scoop DeVille was just up the street, promising tasty ice cream blends. Our bill at Noble, before tip, was $105.
Overall, I left with a somewhat mixed opinion of the experience at Noble American Cookery. While I understand and appreciate their objectives to support local, seasonal food, and know that this can lead to higher costs, I still have some quibbles with their very modest portion sizes. I don’t subscribe to quantity over quality and believe that many Americans suffer from “portion distortion”, but I do believe that presenting enough food on the plate to make sure diners leave feeling satisfied at a given price point is important. With paying $41 for my three oysters, a side of spinach and a very modest (perhaps 3-4 ounces at best) serving of steak, I did find myself feeling as though I’d overpaid at least to some extent for what I’d received. Recently at Meritage in Philadelphia, I enjoyed a tremendous Hanger Steak entree which was not only more memorable in taste and presentation, it was significantly more generous in size and only $19 as opposed to $25. Also, while I support grass-fed beef both for the flavor and for the more humane treatment of the cattle, Noble still serves foie gras, a food product I have severe ethical objections to and wonder how they justify serving it while trying to promote conscious choices while dining.
I expect that I will happily return to Noble American Cookery to sit at their beautiful bar and sample more of their creative and well-prepared cocktails, as well as taste my way through their wine list. I also hope to sample their bar menu, which seemed to be producing some tempting-looking (and more generous) plates for patrons seated at the bar. But I don’t know that I’ll be rushing back for the full dinner-menu any time soon. With so many choices for dining in Philadelphia that offer both excellent food and excellent price-per-portion value, I find it hard to rank Noble American Cookery among the best.
Noble American Cookery
2025 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
This review was originally published on Associated Content on April 19, 2010. Noble American Cookery closed in August 2011 and owner Todd Rodgers announced the location was sold to Stephen Starr. The space is now home to the Starr Italian restaurant Il Pittore.