Noble Kitchen & Cocktails
3112 Lawson Blvd., Oceanside
SERVICE: Always friendly, sometimes besieged
AMBIENCE: Upbeat, no pretense
ESSENTIALS: Dinner, Tuesday to Saturday 5 to 10 p.m., Sunday, 4 to 9 p.m. Reservations suggested on weekends; major credit cards accepted; one step at entrance, slight incline from bar to dining rooms.
It’s peak time on Saturday night and a child is screaming. The rest of the crowd registers only a few decibels lower. And in a few minutes, the sound is mostly laughs. In Oceanside, Noble Kitchen & Cocktails is clearly the place to be.
The weekend experience, of course, is different from the weekday, when your voice may just echo. Still, even quieter, Noble often can be very good — a welcome neighborhood hangout a few Hondas away from the railroad parking lot.
This had been the address of Butera’s and, before that, Lawson Pub, which had two lives on the premises. Noble refreshes the look and you could call it a makeover, but not so extreme that the old layout has been abandoned. Nobody minds. A lot of the crowd, which spans at least three generations, has checked in knowing exactly what to expect.
You enter, appropriately, via the bar, where the drinking selections have improved, and head into either a lounge-like dining room or a more traditional one that requires more than candles on the table plus an iPhone flashlight.
Illuminated, it remains a modestly appointed space, save for a stylized painting above an empty wine rack portraying a nude woman, rear view, PG-rated.
Overseeing all this is Rob DiSanto, an ever-watchful presence, checking what’s going right and what’s not. Most is going right, especially on the plate, thanks to Jonny Manhattan Hancox, a British chef whose résumé includes a stint at Carbone.
The fare generally reflects the alliance of bar food and staples from American and Italian kitchens.
A Reuben egg roll, which can be seen as a cultural crossroads, is one of those concepts that leads to a debate and a second beer. You also may start with crisp drumsticks, meaty, flavor-packed mouthfuls worthy of Buddy Rich. They’re finished with the house’s “signature sauce,” which has some tang and twang.
Baby back ribs are generous, too, though the “habanero gold” barbecue sauce stops at about 10 karats. And the white truffled potato latkes arrive shaped like Scotch eggs. Tasty, but curious on the visuals. On a chilly night, go for the savory onion soup gratinee.
Noble lures you with a long, meaty arm of octopus sparked by Calabrian chili oil and garlic chips. The sharing board led by prosciutto and capicola would be fine if the three cheeses weren’t refrigerator cold. Respectable flatbreads provide worthwhile company if you’re here with a group.
But by now your friends may begin eyeballing the Wagyu burger you wisely picked: cooked perfectly to order, juicy and elevated by tomato chutney and British rarebit Cheddar. To avoid slicing it into sixths, direct them to the thick, house blend burger with pickled Fresno chili peppers.
Noble veers Italian with an ample, satisfying plate of pappardelle alla Bolognese. But the dry special of fettuccine alla carbonara will evoke upstate Rome more than Italy’s. The grilled cauliflower steak is less a center-cut slab than a quartered vegetable marred by overzealous burn marks.
Easily recommended: the hefty, brined Berkshire pork chop, flanked by white bean-and-chorizo braised buttered cabbage. Same for moist roast chicken with farro and peperonata; plump short ribs with pinot noir risotto; and the main catch, a standout production of fish-and-chips, made with cod and sporting chunky, house-made tartar sauce.
That course of crunch and culture is more than rivaled by a special of plump, sweet sea scallops atop corn risotto, shellfish separated by strips of smoky bacon. At $38, it’s the priciest of recent choices.
The wines and beers to accompany all this are familiar and satisfactory. Noble’s cocktails show some irreverence, from the house Manhattan fueled by Buffalo Trace Bourbon rather than rye; and an Old Fashioned with rye instead of bourbon.
Skip the industrial-strength cheesecake and the cold, crackle-free crème brûlée.
Maybe that’s why the kid was crying. Have a sundae.