One of the many definitions of “noble” is “admirable in dignity of conception, manner of expression, execution or composition. ” All of these aptly apply to Noble American Cookery, 2025 Sansom St., the newest venture of successful restaurant partners Todd Rodgers, Bruno Pouget and chef Steven Cameron. The trio also owns the popular restaurant Blue in Surf City, N.J.
The concept behind Noble is the idea that, in America, food is influenced by “our great-grandmothers, our histories and our hometowns” and conceived of a mix of heritages — German, African, Italian, Chinese, Mexican, Irish and others. For Noble, American cookery comes from local farms, eco-friendly seafood and simple ingredients that maximize the natural flavor of each dish.
Modern and rustic at the same time, the restaurant features a 400-year-old naturally fallen bubinga-wood bar, reclaimed wide-plank hickory floors and exposed ceiling rafters. “We purchased the building that houses Noble back in 2005, because we really believe in investing in this neighborhood and developing it into a dining destination,” said Pouget. “Back in the ’70s, this area was known as Rittenhouse Village, and it was a great place to go out for a meal. Alongside neighbors such as Tinto, Melograno, Tria and Capogiro, we’d like to be a part of bringing that reputation back to this area.”
The Noble experience starts outside, boasting a unique outdoor cafe with alfresco bar seating facing into the restaurant space over a long granite counter. Inside the first floor is a long row of modern banquettes and the aforementioned bubinga bar. We were dining upstairs and quickly climbed the grand staircase to the second floor. It was awe-inspiring: As a former horse person, I almost felt as if I was ascending to a really cool hayloft, but cleaner and hipper than ours ever was. I found out later the staircase was built from reclaimed oak-barn timbers, so I must have instinctively felt the barn vibes. Three beautifully restored skylights enhanced the lighting, bouncing light off the white brick walls. In addition to restoring the dining space, Rodgers and Pouget collaborated with Cameron to create a seasonal rooftop herb garden. I didn’t get to see it, but liked the idea of the ingredients being used in my food growing up there, reaching for the sun just above our heads.
Our server, Meagan, was one of those people who was so enthusiastic about what she does that it was contagious (and not in an obnoxious way). She was so knowledgeable and took such a delight in the food, I was tempted to hand her my pen and start waiting tables for her.
She started us off by recommending the Barnegat Light sea scallops ($15). Brought in from a day boat on Long Beach Island, the scallops are pan roasted and served over an avocado purée, topped with microgreens, asparagus, watercress and English peas and finished with extra-virgin olive oil. As the head chef at Blue, Cameron has already won acclaim for his culinary achievements, including a glowing review in The New York Times that called his cuisine “far-reaching, inspired and ambitious.” In this case, the inspired part was adding a little mint to the dish. Mint is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of scallops, but I will now forever link them together and be sad when they are apart.
My dining companion, Jim, ordered the grilled Portuguese sardines ($12). I’m not a big fan of sardines, but these looked as if they’d just hopped out of the ocean. They were definitely not the little things that come in a tin with a key. Large and grilled, they were deboned, served with a spicy mustard atop sweet-and-sour vegetables and dusted with pistachio.
On the table was freshly made olive bread served with a tomato-ricotta spread with black pepper, salt and sun-dried tomatoes.
For our main dish, Jim ordered the grass-fed braised short ribs ($29). The ribs were so tender, they could be classified as “no utensils needed,” but being as classy as we are, we did manage to keep from going at them with our bare hands (as much as we were tempted to dig in). The ribs are braised overnight in lemon, laurel and other interesting herbs and delicately placed over a rice and onion pudding with a fava-bean relish as the crown.
I had the Alaskan black sable ($28), a thick buttery white fish similar to Chilean sea bass. The sable was prepared with a dusting of rye, caraway and pumpernickel flour and pan-roasted, then served over mussel chowder — a potato purée infused with mussels — and topped with a cold mussel salad with fennel and shaved red onion. Wow! The sable was beautifully tender with a perfectly cooked light crust. The mussels were plump, fresh and flavorful.
For libations, before dinner I tried one of Noble’s specialty cocktails, the Alaska Man’s Luck ($11), a delightful combination of pisco, aquavit, French vermouth, St. Germain and honey. Highly recommended. As I sipped, I dreamt the Alaskan luck would be that Sarah Palin would be trapped in a cave by a big old polar bear. Not hurt, just kept out of the way ... for a long time. Rodgers carefully selected a beverage list of 25 North American wines and 25 craft beers to perfectly pair with the menu. For the meal, I chose a glass of Shooting Star ($9), a sauvignon blanc with “notes of fig, melon, gooseberry and a hint of honey with a palate of fresh grapefruit, gooseberry, tart lime and a crisp acidic finish.”
I should mention that Cameron is so dedicated to environmentally sound ingredients, he often revises the menu items so they do not include fish or meats that are in danger of population depletion. At Noble, he goes out of his way to create a menu of seasonal, fresh, flavorful American fare that leans heavily toward locally grown and raised sustainable products.
“I’m a little obsessed with finding extraordinary regional products and preparing them simply and perfectly,” said Cameron. “I’ve developed close relationships with local farmers and fishermen, so I have access to some very special ingredients. And I pay close attention to what the Environmental Defense Fund says about ingredients’ availability, so my guests can be confident that what they’re eating is truly a ‘green’ meal.”
And green it was: The peas and asparagus that came with my scallops were so vibrant, they almost looked Photoshopped. The tastes throughout the meal were simple and fresh, but rendered interesting through Cameron’s pairings. A nice touch to the décor was the two large tomato plants growing right in the dining room.
Before we wrapped things up, we made room to split a dessert. We went with the Cape gooseberry bread pudding, served slightly warmed with a rich white chocolate briôche and dotted with gooseberries, both in the pudding and on the side served as a jam. It was like something your grandmother would make — not my grandmother, but yours — if she were a really good baker.
As we finished our meal, I asked our server, Meagan, what she liked most about working at Noble. In her quirky and formal way of speaking, she said she loved the fact that patrons cleaned their plates. “I have not once, since the time we opened, taken away a plate that was not completely cleared. I have yet to see a plate leave the table with any detritus left on it. It’s astounding. I feel privileged to work here because I see firsthand all the care and attention to detail that goes into everything that’s done here. Every single plate that comes out of the kitchen is inspiring and gives me complete confidence in my ability to do good job. Their attitude about the quality of the food and their philosophy of hospitality allows me to communicate effectively with the people I am serving.”
We must have made Megan very happy because we certainly became members of the clean-plate club that night.