Fresher all around

Roasted duck breast, foie gras bread pudding, cider jus. As Noble approaches its first birthday, the stuffiness seems to be lifting.
Roasted duck breast, foie gras bread pudding, cider jus. As Noble approaches its first birthday, the stuffiness seems to be lifting.

With new chef, new garden, new drinks, Noble on Sansom settles in, gets its sensual on.

Posted: April 11, 2010

You could detect a new step in the spring last week at Noble on Sansom - Grace Wicks, an "edible gardener," pacing the rooftop, plotting a themed kitchen garden (lemon verbena, lemongrass, lemon balm, lemon thyme); the new chef Brinn Sinnott (well-seasoned at Lacroix and, later, Supper) looking to lighter treatments of lamb and Alaskan halibut; the bartender, Christian Gaal, making his own tonic water, for goodness sake, and recasting old-school rum drinks - into the Nor'easter, for one - for an inventive, borderline geeky cocktail menu.

It was still a month shy of Noble's first birthday (that would be May 5) and to say it had endured some rough sledding and a bit of a struggle would be to belabor the obvious. But it was a new season here on Sansom, west of 20th, and, in this villagelike stretch near the venerable Roxy theater, finally the tumblers appeared to be falling quietly into place.

It was always a handsome room, long and narrow and on the rustic side. The front window opens wide to reveal a dining counter with half the seating on the inside and half out on the sidewalk. The bar is a polished slab of 400-year-old African rosewood. Chunky stairs to the second-floor dining room are hewn from white oak barn timbers. (That second floor looks out on Sansom Street and, after sundown, up to the stars, through a series of pitched skylights cut in the roof where, a couple of months from now, the mini-urban farm should be providing herbs, a few cukes, and heirloom cherry tomatoes for the kitchen and, not incidentally, the bar.)

Still, in its early months a certain fussiness, or overly precious quality could make the food on the plate seem distant and aloof, more cerebral than sensual - the flavor lost in action.

So the good news is that on recent visits, chef Sinnott's offerings (he came on board in January) seem more in sync with the honesty, warmth, and rusticity of the space.

A duck breast was roasted perfectly, situated next to homey foie gras bread pudding with a cider jus. A steaky, satisfying block of Alaskan halibut was paired with creamy butternut squash and crunchy braised romaine. The Barnegat Light sea scallops were fresh, pristine, and, yes, abidingly sensual.

Sinnott is a hands-on chef: He bakes the ciabatta bread for the bread basket and the buns for the burgers. He trims the lamb saddles. He grinds the pork shoulder and pork fat for a robust but subtly spiced house-made chorizo: Resting on a lush red pepper-onion piperade and "fork-crushed" potatoes and served with a fried egg, it is as gutsy a bar-menu plate as you're likely to find in this town.

Chris Gaal, the creative force behind the bar, is from that new school of mixologists who treat the craft with a reverence bordering on obsession. That Nor'easter, for instance, is his take on the Dark and Stormy, his rendition involving Cruzan Black Strap rum, molasses, fresh lime, and house-made ginger beer. (Did I mention that the tonic in the Bluecoat gin and tonic is also his own?)

We shall see soon enough how the new leaf plays at Noble on Sansom.

Grace Wicks' (yes, she's the daughter of White Dog Cafe founder Judy Wicks) rooftop garden, all 16 by 45 feet of it, is due for planting this month, the first harvest predicted for June.

Chef Sinnott's spring menu is taking shape: Braised pork belly with saffron chickpea stew, baby turnips with their greens, and apricot vinaigrette just replaced the cod brandade as a first course.

Gaal is manfully manning his post.

You could detect a new season at Noble last week, indeed.

And it wasn't just the change in the weather.


Noble

2025 Sansom St.

215-568-7000

www.noblecookery.com


Contact Rick Nichols at 215-854-2715 or rnichols@phillynews.com.

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