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Noble Endeavor



One of the variables inherent to restaurants is change. Servers change. Chefs change. Managers change. Owners change. Sometimes even locations change. At better restaurants, menus and wine lists change. Restaurants are dynamic and change is part of the game. Sometimes change is necessary. Even though the 212-seat, 8000-square-foot Noble's opened last December, some changes have occurred recently. Last month one of the chefs was promoted to executive chef and currently Noble's is replacing the general manager. Owner Jimmy Noble, a trained chef, has three other restaurants in North Carolina: J. Basul Noble's in High Point, Noble's Grille in Winston Salem, and Noble's Restaurant in Greensboro. His High Point restaurant has been in business for 16 years. Noble's is one of Charlotte's latest adventures in showpiece dining and tries hard to provide a virtual escape from its Morrocroft office building setting. The expansive main dining area is reminiscent of an outdoor Italian piazza on an early summer's evening. Wooden trellises frame the ceiling. One section has a painted cloudy sky overhead. Separating the dining sections are river stone half walls bedecked with topiaries. Large floral upholstered chairs and tables form movable circular dining areas while smaller seating arrangements line the wall and the center. A large, open kitchen faces the dining room. Mark Brantley created the remarkable faux finish on all the walls and floors. The 40-seat bar area, off to one side, is styled as an old Italian farm shed complete with antique farm tools and roosters, the emblem of all the Noble restaurants. The international wine list, primarily French, Italian, and Californian, has approximately 150 selections, and the collection is located in a glassed in wine cellar separating the bar area and the dining room. In the kitchen is Executive Chef Brian Stockholm, a 1995 graduate of Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. With him is Sous Chef James Reden, another CIA graduate. Stockholm came on board in December, but only became executive chef in April upon the departure of Eric Halvorsen, who had previously worked in all the Noble locations. Stockholm says that since owner Jimmy Noble is Tuscan the cuisine has a definite Italian-French-Mediterranean influence, but adds Noble's dishes are New American, "focusing on a more organic food driven menu." Stockholm continues, "The owner is very big on clean flavors, on fresh ingredients. I try to use local farmers and use the food that is coming into season. All the product is fresh product. In fact we don't have a freezer, except the one we use for ice cream." Soon after arriving, our linen laden table was attended by a black vested server who poured Noble's own brand of extra virgin olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar into a dipping bowl. He explained that both were made on property Noble owns in Tuscany. The olive oil and balsamic vinegar are listed for sale on the menu: a 500ml bottle of olive oil is $22 and the balsamic vinegar, also 500ml, is $18. Before long our entire table was covered edge to edge with large plates. The food at Noble's comes stylishly plated and the serving portions are enormous. Some of these jumbo items, though, succeed better than others. Although the menu changes daily, some items appear with regularity: pan seared angus filet, wood grilled free range chicken, grilled top loin of lamb, and wood grilled pork tenderloin, for example. Another such dish is their signature fried oyster salad. In that salad the Asian greens, roasted red peppers, and lardons are drenched in a heavy balsamic vinaigrette and then ringed with a circle of fried oysters. It was a bit much and the oysters were mushy. A second salad was just plain busy. Arugula was bathed in a potion of fried shallots, grilled pancetta, and a creamy macadamia nut dressing and then dotted with port-marinated cherries and Roquefort croute. The strong flavors competed with each other without achieving any heightened taste sensation. The best part of this salad was the singular leaves of fresh tasting arugula. A better dish was the tower of tuna appetizer: the tuna tartar timbale. The horseradish creme fraiche added a buoyant note to the potato blinis, but, again, the tuna could have just as easily gone solo. Noble's is known in the Triad for their wood burning oven, not an unusual feature in Charlotte restaurants. In any case I opted for the wood roasted salmon. I'm never sure why a server would try to dissuade a diner from having a dish cooked to the diner's preference. My server tried unsuccessfully to have the salmon cooked much further than I wanted -- and this is after I had the tuna tartare. Thoroughly cooking the fish would have diminished the delightfully delicate taste which I really enjoyed. The most perplexing dish was the lobster medallions with the veal sweetbreads. Both lobster and sweetbreads have their own intrinsic and distinct tastes. But in this dish the lemon-thyme sauce was so overpowering that the clear notes of sweetbread and lobster were drowned. Add to this mix hazelnut potato pancakes, tangy goat cheese, and wilted spinach and you have a fatal concept. Convoluted originality does not alone make a good tasting dish. Desserts, however, deserve a nod. Pastry chef John Michael Hamlet, a graduate of the CIA, produces wondrous homemade ice cream and nightly specials. Noble's is not shy with their prices. Appetizers range from $8 to $15. Entree prices vary, too, and range from a $13 roasted and sauteed vegetable plate to $31 for steaks. During the winter, Noble's had a $35 veal chop on their menu. Most entrees are $20 plus. Even though Noble's is a Triad clone, the Charlotte version has been changing. Change is a good thing; in fact, it is a noble endeavor. Noble's 6801 Morrison Boulevard, 704-367-9463. Monday through Thursday 5pm until 10:30pm; Friday and Saturday 5pm until 11pm. AmEx, MC, Visa, Discover. Complimentary valet parking available.

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