NoCo Kitchen Wine and Cocktails
429 N. Country Rd., St. James
SERVICE: Smart, friendly, attentive
AMBIENCE: Polished, relaxed, inviting
ESSENTIALS: Open for dinner, Monday to Thursday 4 to 9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday 4 to 11 p.m., Sunday 4 to 9 p.m.; reservations recommended weekdays, necessary weekends. American Express, Discover, MasterCard, Visa accepted; wheelchair accessible
So much for that resolution.
You know the one. Be disciplined, stick to the diet, exercise restraint.
Then, you visit NoCo, a polished, charming newcomer that immediately makes you want to eat every dish on the menu, plus the nightly specials.
This refreshing restaurant, which uses NoCo to abbreviate North Country, takes over and transforms the former address of Liberty Burger, turning it into a beacon.
Owner Joseph DeNicola is with DeNicola Brothers Concepts, a group that operates seven other Long Island spots, including Ruvo in Greenlawn, Ruvo East in Port Jefferson and La Tavola in Sayville, as well as a quartet of casual, Tex-Mex Del Fuego eateries. One is situated directly across the street from NoCo.
In full, this is NoCo Kitchen Wine and Cocktails. DeNicola and DBC executive chef Anthony D'Amico play a New American theme here, with some Italianate, Gallic and Asian notes. Slip into a comfortable leather booth, order one of the satisfying house drinks and enjoy the show underway in the open kitchen.
It could begin with a terrific, coral-hued, very French lobster bisque that floats a generous amount of shellfish, delivers deep flavor and signs off with a zigzag flourish of tarragon crème fraîche. Travel French-American with the concentrated entertainment of pressure-fried duck-leg confit, alongside a masa corn waffle and stone-fruit jam.
Or consider clams al forno, sparked by fennel, chorizo and toasted rye crumbs. And savor the airy, lush semolina gnocchi backed by chanterelles, English peas, pickled shallots and a hint of truffle. Contemplate twirling strozzapreti pasta, sauced with a wild-boar Bolognese and carrot-top pesto.
Veer Asian via crisp oysters finished with Thai-style green papaya salad, black sesame and soy-miso aioli. Turn west with the lobster-and-corn cake, big enough to cross category from appetizer to main course. It's boosted by a tomato-avocado salad.
And, sure, this might be the right time for a salad.
You can pick the farm salad, headlining baby greens and heirloom cherry tomatoes. But the mandatory choice unquestionably is a still-life of wine-braised red and golden beets, flecked with toasted pine nuts, matched with mache and grapefruit supremes, framed by whipped ricotta, glistening from just enough saba and citrus oil. If that seems too much, then settle for the sweet potato and beluga lentil production, with frisee, goat cheese, candied pecans and sherry-bacon dressing.
As you can see, a four-course meal tops the traditional three, with pastas and salads easily shared before the meat and seafood get going, unless you've already tried the ample shrimp cocktail with both spicy-hot sambal and zesty Huancaina cheese sauces for an Indonesian and Peruvian side trip.
From the Midwest, the kitchen sends out a juicy, Creekstone Farms strip steak; and a special of beer-braised pork shank, each perched atop creamy potatoes. Seared duck breast and leg confit: deftly enriched by chanterelle risotto and a red wine-blackberry reduction. Lighten up with the fillet of fluke, capped with deftly seasoned breadcrumbs and flanked by lobster risotto and baby bok choy.
After all this, you might be tempted to skip dessert. Do not do that.
Maybe it will be the homey, warm apple-and-cranberry cake that will break your resolve. Or perhaps the hibiscus-poached Bosc pear. Lemon-ricotta cheesecake with a honey-and-pine nut crust could do it. What's modestly termed "fallen chocolate souffle" certainly will. Puritans may go for gelati: ouzo-biscotti, fig-espresso, banana-Oreo, vanilla bean, some of which already adorn the cakes and company.
Remember, it's only January.