Review: Noble Rot 2.0

Noble Rot has a somewhat confusing pedigree. As I understand, it was originally started by chef Leather Storrs, and received positive reviews, including from me. I liked the warm, comforting atmosphere and the limited but mostly well executed menu. In 2007, Leather left and opened another restaurant on East Burnside called Rocket. This new restaurant was known for its interesting interior, terrific patio and nice view of Portland, but the food received less than stellar reviews, and it closed in a little over a year.

Fast-forward to 2009. Rocket was still empty, and Noble Rot wanted a new location. The owners thought it could be a perfect match; Leather would go back to the kitchen, and Noble Rot would gain the prestige of the Rocket space. I went back three times to see how things differed from the original location.

The owners made a few updates to the Rocket exterior, all of them good. Signage is greatly improved, with the entrance clearly defined. Once you step off the elevator onto the fourth floor hallway, you’ll find things pretty much unchanged. It opens into a pleasant waiting area that connects to the bar. You’ll either love or hate the interior. While it doesn’t have the clubby warmth of the old location, it has its own faux modern charm. The room is long and narrow, with a large bar running down one side. Tan booths with dark wood trim and windows run the length of the other, giving a nice view of the city. The ceiling is decorated with Jetson’s-like large round orbits turned into pale colored sculptural elements. Sixtyish light fixtures hang here and there. The whole effect is coherent and adult, without being over the top or kitschy.

The music is kept at minimum volume, which is refreshing and rare in the more au courant dining rooms in town. Overall, the restaurant seats about 60, mostly in booths, plus the bar area. On the west side, doors open onto a patio, complete with heaters for chilly nights, and little spots for the tables, which seat about 30. The effect is open and airy, a hip place to see and be seen. The building is “LEED platinum”, which means that it uses 50% less energy than code requires. The staff is happy to point out that it has its own well for water, and raised garden beds on the roof that are used to grow some of the produce used in the kitchen.

While it’s easy to be seduced by the whole concept – the good looking servers, the light, the view, the sophisticated interior, many things still need work to turn Noble Rot into a successful restaurant. At the old location it was first and foremost a wine bar, but now the focus has expanded to cover their full liquor license. The quality of the food seems to have taken a backseat to the liquor. Instead, the new location is all about imbibing.

For the most part, service is excellent, though on one occasion, we were charged higher prices for items on the specials chalkboard than were posted. Servers seem to have a good knowledge of the wine flights, and are able to steer one in the right direction. Four flights are available, ranging in cost from twelve to eighteen dollars for three two-ounce pours. Recent selections included an Oregon Pinot Noir, Australian Reds, and Italian Whites. The list changes frequently, and is a great way to get your feet wet with wines you may not have tried before. Though the price is considerably elevated from the prior location, the quality of the flights seems to be better. Overall, about 25 by-the-glass pours are available, starting at $6. The bottle list is well chosen, with lots of interesting options at a less than average restaurant markup. Selections range from $22 to almost $300.

Given the focus on alcohol, I was surprised to see beer is still a second thought, with Heater Allen Pilsner, Victory HopDevil IPA, or Ninkasi Oatmeal Stout available, at $5 each.

The food menu is also small. For starters there are marinated olives ($4), roasted almonds ($4), a cheese plate ($12), and a small charcuterie plate, that gains nothing by being called the “Rot” charcuterie ($10) – how about the Noble Charcuterie?

On my first visit, they were running a special appetizer: pork meatballs with lemongrass and bok choy. It sounded good, but we didn’t get quite what we expected. The dish consisted of a large round plate, with a small soggy mound of bok choy sitting in a watery flavorless pool of sauce. Orbiting around the outside, were five olive-sized meatballs. Five. Olive-sized. One of our party noted that she preferred the Ikea frozen version. I found no hint of the advertised lemongrass. For this, we paid $13, which was different than the $11 promised on the chalkboard.

A few salads are available. I had a forgettable Caesar which tasted like the lettuce had been left in the field too long – the bitterness overwhelmed the dressing ($9). The Noble salad, composed of butter lettuce, red onion, sunflower seeds and blue cheese was just average, the huge lumps of blue cheese were nothing special, the dressing watery ($8).

Another night, I decided to play things safe with a hamburger; something difficult to screw up. I was wrong. First of all, the meat patty was incredibly dry, as if a grill cook who didn’t know what they were doing had pressed all the juice out of it with a spatula. Unfortunately, it gets worse; the meat tasted like a handful of salt had been worked into it. I took two bites and put it down. A friend reached over and tried it, saying “It can’t possibly be that bad!” Her eyes widened. “It’s so dry I can hardly swallow it!” Accompanying French fries were of the frozen variety, tasteless no matter how much salt we added ($9).

I’ve always liked the macaroni and cheese at the original location, so tried it here. A careful balance of the different cheeses is necessary to prevent one from overwhelming the others. This version had one rather pungent cheese that stomped on the others, making the dish one note. It just didn’t work ($8).

Noble Rot serves three versions of panini, and, based on my recent experiences, are the best choice on the menu. I enjoyed one with ham & cheddar, the bread perfectly toasted, the cheese and ham working well with the sweet mango chutney ($8).A grilled butternut squash version worked equally well, the earthy squash pairing well with sweet caramelized onions and goat cheese ($8).

Crème brûlée was restaurant average, slightly overcooked, but nothing unusual ($6); however, a cake with brown butter and mango stood out from everything else – and not in a good way. Picture a large plate, on one side is a small, round moist cake. Scattered across the rest of the plate are small pools of brown butter, dotted with mango puree. The thing about brown butter is, done right, it can be a wonderful thing, but there is a very fine line between browned and burned, and when it is burned, the result is truly terrible. Unfortunately, that is what we got. You could smell it was burned when they brought it to the table. While the cake itself was good, the acrid taste of the butter made it impossible to eat more than a few bites ($7).

I am particularly disappointed in Noble Rot, because the other location was a favorite place for me to dine when I didn’t want to deal with a big production. The prices were reasonable, and the food was perfectly good. At the new location, the food seems to have been prepared by a first quarter cooking student, who hasn’t mastered the basics, yet wants to throw a dinner to impress his friends. Maybe I’m the only one who feels this way; the restaurant gets quite crowded with happy beautiful people, but watching them slam down drinks, I wonder if they are paying any attention to the food at all.

  • Phone: (503) 233-1999
  • Address: 1111 E Burnside, Fourth floor, Portland, OR 97232
  • Hours: Mon-Wed 5:00pm – 10:00pm, Thur-Sat 5pm-11am
  • Website: NobleRotPdx.com

Noble Rot on Urbanspoon

Your thoughts are welcome

  1. Lur Kerr says

    By the sound of it, I wonder if Leather was actually BEHIND the line, or if he was just out front expediting? Could you tell if he was actually cooking any of the food?

      • Guignol says

        Doesnt matter if he was behind the line, drinking at the bar, or across town doing god knows what. This is a new restaurant that has in the past been great. The owner/chef needs to be on his game, or making sure that his staff is cooking the food the way he would always do. All eyes upon you Leather, we will see what happens. In my opinion, they NEVER should have moved.

        • Lur Kerr says

          Agreed Guignol, and why I wanted to know if he was behind the line or out front. “On his game” should be behind the line! Too many chefs forget this and think, oh, I’ll just expedite, not realizing that the shoemaker/superstar that they hired to grill for them just flat out doesn’t know how to cook. Dear Portland Chef’s, get your happy ass back behind the line! It’s what we pay you dearly for..

          • Guignol says

            Too many chefs in Portland (and elsewhere I imagine) also get there public fame whether it be Chef od the Year, Restaurant of the Year, Ass Kisser of the Year, Or Politically Driven Media Lackies of the Year, then it all goes down hill. They get too comfy knowing there seats will be filled night after night and in my opinion feel they dont have to try anymore. It seems that the cooking is not from the heart and soul any longer. The monoculture of people who dine at these places and use a phrase like “I was shaking after my meal it was so good”, really get under my skin like a sliver of black truffle tucked into a piece of fat. This again is a monoculture of self proclaimed “foodies” (I hate that term BTW) that are told to eat at a place by the media and others who are like brainwashed zombies following each other in rythmic order…..remember Night of the Living Dead?????

  2. Nettie says

    Thanks for the review–I’ve been wondering if it was worth going to the new location. One quibble: I believe the spelling is “Leather Storrs”, not “Leather Stores”.

  3. says

    Great review. I’m happy I found someone who really let it all hang out about the new location. I’d been excited to go for a while but scared that things, the food mainly, had gone down hill. The new style also hits a nerve with me. I feel like I’m back in Scottsdale, fighting off fake money and fake tits.

    • Chris says

      I went to Noble Rot last night (fri). The place was hoppin’ at 9:00 p.m. I ran into two groups of friends unexpectedly, and it was just a fun place to be. The view is great, but that’s not why I go there. We had a fabulous bottle of wine, recommended by our server, and I had a basic linguine bolongese which was excellent. And my friends had sirloin and another had halibut. Plus we shared their endive salad. It was really all great–the food, the crowd, the drink, the service. I’m not sure what all the hubbub is in the food dude review, but I do wonder sometimes whether these online reviewers get their jollies making snooty remarks about minor miniscule culinary (real or manufactured) imperfections. Reminds me of the food reviewer character in that cartoon movie Rattatouile (sp?). Noble Rot is different for sure, and I will miss the neighborhoodyness of the Ankeny digs, but they are still keeping the bar high for Portland restaurants, and this is still a place people should make part of their regular eating/drinking routine.

    • Food Dude says

      Just as I occasionally get a bad meal in otherwise good restaurants, I think it is fair to give the less stellar restaurants the chance to prove my first meal wrong.

      • Kimberly Bernosky says

        I don’t think you came in more than once. I also don’t think you are being fair. You have a lot of your ‘facts’ wrong too.

  4. says

    We stopped by for drinks the other night before a Simpatica dinner, and it was slamming. About 15 people waiting for tables. And Leather did seem to be in the kitchen that night. Even if he’s expediting, he’s the one who’s taking the last look at the food before it goes to the servers, so he has to know what’s going on. Too bad about your experience, because it really is one of the most stunning views in town. We thought it was the kind of place we might stop for a drink before eating someplace else. I agree it had the feel of a B&T crowd where people just want to be seen…and drink….and drink some more……

  5. Linda Boyd says

    I’ve been to the new Noble Rot just once, on a Friday night. The wine flight was good, the $5 happy hour drink was good, the olives were good (only $2 on happy hour I think). All seemed to be a good value. Service was great, and I liked the atmosphere. I would definitely go back and I will try more of the food, although that wasn’t the reason for my first try there. I thought Rocket and Noble Rot were enjoyable in both food and atmosphere. Different, but both enjoyable.

    • Food Dude says

      Yes, but unfortunately they don’t have it posted anywhere. I only had cocktails one time, and the ones I tried were fine. Nothing to make them stand out.

      • Kimberly Bernosky says

        The classic cocktails are listed on our menu under the wine. They are classic cocktails, nothing fuffy. I dare you to come in and have a Rob B. Roy and say it does not stand out. Or a Dark & Stormy. Or an Old Fashioned.

  6. veloveritas says

    No mention of the onion tart, so popular at the former location. Is it gone? It was the best!!!

  7. Reva says

    The onion tart is as good as ever. We (party of 5) were there two or three weeks ago. We arrived on the early side, while the place was still fairly un-busy, and had to ask to have the really loud music turned down, which they did instantly. No complaints about the service. But the food, overall, was nothing special. The limited menu at the old Noble Rot seems kind of disappointing here, perhaps because the space itself signals “Big Deal Destination Restaurant” instead of “Wine Bar with Carefully Chosen Accompaniments.”

    Leather was smart enough to cop to what he did wrong with Rocket. Surely he’ll realize that the Noble Rot concept has to be beefed up (no pun intended) to succeed in the new space.

  8. polarwanderer says

    I had the same horrible experience with the burger and wondered how a burger could be so bad.
    I miss the cosy feel of the old Noble Rot. It was a nice neighborhood place to have a flight at the bar and a small meal on a rainy Portland night. It was a weekly ritual for some time that will be missed.

    On the positive side, the servers have been with Noble Rot for years and are wonderful.

  9. CO says

    No mention of how the overcharges were handled by the staff when it was pointed out by your party? You did bring it to their attention right? As you well know, a mistake cannot be corrected if you are not aware of it. Thus, shouldn’t have been mentioned in your review.

    Aside from that, I like the space but have failed to be impressed by any of the offerings on the menu(so I didnt order any)or any of the cocktails I have had there. The crowd that was present on my couple of visits left something to be desired as well.

    • Yetta Vorobik says

      I am also curious about the overcharge. Also, if you sent your burger back or let your waitress know you didn’t like it? Was there any communication with your server about the food??

      • Food Dude says

        No, I never complain about anything, and never send anything back unless it is undercooked. If they can’t get it right the first time, they shouldn’t be serving it.

        • Yetta Vorobik says

          Are you being sarcastic? If you are not, why do you not complain? Have you ever worked in the industry? As a server it is your job to make sure that the customer is happy with the product. When I ask my customers what they think, I am sincere. I want them to walk out satisfied with the transaction (i.e. good food, good service , worth the price).
          How is the kitchen to know if they are putting out a good product, if they do not receive feedback? I always communicate with my server, regardless of whether my meal — or entire dining experience — was good or bad. I want to be satisfied with the transaction, and also want future patrons to be pleased. If you do not share your displeasure with a restaurant, how do you expect it to improve?

          • Kimberly Bernosky says

            Yetta,

            I agree. I waited two hours once at Prune in NYC for their highly acclaimed eggs benedict and my eggs were overcooked. I never said anything and I’m still mad at myself, not the cook, for not fixing the situation. But in the Food Dude’s defense, here he is saying something, so kudos for that. We do appreciate the feedback.

  10. Catherine Cole says

    Bummer — I liked Noble Rot 1.0 so much. I felt as though I never went there enough. Great detailed review; if I go, I’ll go for the view.

  11. Amoureuse says

    The problem may be keeping the “Noble Rot” name and switching spaces. Noble Rot back in the day was fun and easy. The new space is cool & sophisticated. Although the players are the same, its a differnt tone and world out there.

    There may be more “bridge & tunnel types” or “Scottsdale” types….but isnt that the case with Portland? The dynamic has changed, especially in the past ten years. BTW I am an East Coast transplant, and have a house in Northern Scottsdale…its not that bad here ( you dont deal with people from New Jersey, Brooklyn, or Staten Island on a regular basis.

    Leather is a smart guy who reads this blog. He will fix this…he learned his lesson with Rocket. Also the palce has not gotten into its’ groove yet….wait for the roof top garden to flourish with the the upcoming good weather.

    I do agree that the kitchen is not very consistent. But I am a Leather fan.

    • whatthef says

      “He will fix this…he learned his lesson with Rocket. ”

      How could that possibly be true if the food wasn’t perfect from the first dish out of the kitchen?

      The failure of the chef to deliver consistent, quality food with what seems to be a very achievable menu is inexcusable, especially in this economic climate.

      Instead of keeping this conversation alive by commenting constantly, the front of the house should be holding their chefs feet to the fire, or find someone who can cook and get them in there.

      • Kimberly Bernosky says

        I’ve spent a total of one hour commenting on this blog. And this is my restaurant! I started it, I live it, I breath it. Can’t I spend an hour or two commenting on your comments about my restaurant without you commenting on my commenting? Aargh.

        • Cuisine Bonne Femme says

          Kimberly, that’s what people do here. They talk with each other. It’s dialogue. We love it when industry people chime in so please feel free to take part. But I’ll give you a little tip, and I say this as someone who has a long history of both restaurant work and now new media.

          Don’t get upset when people tell you what to do or what not to do. Don’t get too involved in commenting back on the comments of people commenting on your comments. Don’t feel like you need to respond to each and every criticism. It will eat you alive.

          I know how much of your heart and soul goes into what you do. I know and respect how much you care and how hard you and your staff work. That said, my advice (which of course you can leave or take with a grain of fleur de sel): take note of what people are saying. If many of them are saying similar things, think about if there might be a grain of truth and if you and your staff should and can address it. If someone has a particularly bad experience you might want to comment to them directly. If people are saying grossly untruthful things, feel free to correct those with fact.

          But don’t get too involved in the banter of what you should and shouldn’t do on this site or in your business. It’s your business after all. You can do whatever you want.

          Everyone experiences food, ambiance, service, etc. differently in different situations and on different nights. What is important is the overall patterns. If you are hearing overall patterns that are off in the comments, hearing the same things over and over again from divergent commentors, then there’s probably something to them.

          Thanks

          • Kimberly Bernosky says

            I’m not upset at all. This is kinda fun. I’ve never written on a blog in my life, and this will probably be the extent of it. I do appreciate MOST people’s opinions, and do take them into consideration. Then again some people’s comments are just ridiculous. As are some of mine I’m sure!

            Cheers.

          • whatthef says

            Kimberly,

            Since the most consistent comment throughout this discussion is problems with the quality of the preparation of the food. I am interested in your thoughts on what is going (went) wrong? Since your partner had extensive experience in the kitchen in this location, it doesn’t seem logical that these are “start-up” problems.

            Just curious.

  12. homer's son says

    I was disappointed in the food AND the view and resented being the only person in place over 40! Am I officially a “crumudgeon?”

  13. Kimberly Bernosky says

    Hi Portland,

    This is Kimberly, one of the owners of Noble Rot. We are coming up on our 7 year anniversary and we couldn’t be happier about the move to our new location as well as having Leather back in the kitchen. We’ve been open about 6 weeks now at the new space and things have been going extremely well. The learning curve with the new computer system (price weirdness) as well as dealing with hard liquor has been a little steep, but I think we are finally getting into our groove.

    Things are not perfect here, but we do try our darnedest to be consistent and thoughtful with the food, the service, the cleanliness, the flights and now, the booze. We are sensitive to our customers and to the press and we really try to put out a good product.

    I ask the readers of this blog to please let it all hang out and tell us in any way how we can improve. I also ask to you come into the new space, have a burger or a mac & cheese ($5 Mac’s on Monday nights!) and let us know what you really think. Here on this blog, in person, or via email.

    I think I can speak for Leather and Courtney when I say that our hearts and souls (and monies) are in this restaurant and we plan on being around for a very long time. And frankly, I just love it. I love my job: my space, my food, my wine, my employees, my customers. And my team: GO BLAZERS!

    Hope to see you soon. Cheers. Kimberly Bernosky. Noble Rot.

  14. Laurie says

    I completely disagree with your review and feel you’ve done a disservice to your followers. I’ve eaten at Noble Rot many times since it opened in the new space and have been utterly delighted with the results. In fact I often bring friends visiting Portland to the restaurant for both the food, drinks and the view. The strengths of both places have been brought together – the wine flights, mac ‘n cheese, and onion tart from the old Noble Rot space, and the cocktails (the only place I can get a truly outstanding Dark and Stormy), burger (I think it’s one of the best in PDX and trust me I’ve tasted burgers all over this country),and ambience of Rocket. Plus it’s been hopping since it reopened!

  15. Reva says

    Son of Homer, I don’t know if you’re a “crumudgeon” or not, but everyone in my party of five was/is well over 50, and we felt totally welcome and not out of place. How can you “resent” younger people for sharing your restaurant choice?

  16. Chris says

    I loved the old Noble Rot, but I like the new digs, too. I’ve been a few times. I enjoy seeing the city from the east side, and the new space has its own vibe–not intimate in the same way as the cave-like place on Ankeny, but you can bring a small group and sit at a both and be in your own world. The wine flights are still an adventure, and the food seems as solid as ever. The burger I had, by the way, was as juicy as any I’ve had in Portland, so I guess we just had different experiences. Oh, and one of the commenters mentioned the age of diners–I’m in my 40’s and enjoy being around younger people who are drinking wine and enjoying the city. And this ain’t a bridge and tunnel crowd by any means, at least not the times I’ve been there. I’m sure they are working on a few kinks, including menus and billings, etc., but if you are looking to learn about good wine and have a simple unpretentious meal, this place is still the best spot in town for the red stuff.

  17. bbfoodie says

    I went in with a group of friends last week. Frankly, I don’t get what all the fuss is about. Maybe it is because I have a great view of the city from home. The cocktails were generic. I agree about the burger – it was terrible!! One of the worst I’ve had in a while.

  18. Barento says

    My wife and me went in last night, curious after reading your review. We liked the view, but the food was just mediocre. We don’t always agree with you, but have to on this one

  19. Elizabeth says

    The servers are very good looking, knowledgeable, super friendly and the space is incredible. I remember the cocktails listed on the back of the menu and have not taken a front seat to the wine. There were something like 40 glass pours?
    Cocktails were classic, fresh and delicious. Food was good. I can’t help but wonder if you have a personal vendetta against Leather food dude, why did you mention Rocket in your review of NOBLE ROT? Curious.

    • Food Dude says

      Damn… you caught me. I first gave Noble Rot a good review and even raved about Leather as a person just to throw people off guard. Then I single-handedly embarked on a personal vendetta to bring him down, traveling from newspaper to newspaper working as a freelancer, giving Rocket a bad review at each stop. Finally, I deleted any good comments about Noble Rot on this site, and replaced them with negative ones!

      I feel bad that the game is over, and I have been exposed, but at least I can stop worrying now. Whew!

  20. Lilikoi says

    In all fairness to Noble Rot – it is Noble Rot, not Rocket, not a new restaurant – they moved with the intention of changing spaces, not changing businesses. They have what is pretty much the same menu (all the classics they’ve had on that piece of tagboard for years – paninis, mac, creme brulee), with seasonal chalkboard specials as always, and now there’s a burger. Taking a look at that, I don’t see a lot of justification for such high expectations. It’s still a wine bar – in one of Portland’s most fabulous spaces. Though I am a huge fan of Leather’s cooking (and wish he had more of a fine dining venue to display it in), to be honest – I feel happy that I can stop into a beautiful space like that, and order a meal for under $10 in this economy. For the record, the simple asparagus salad that I had last friday was fantastic. For those wanting something different – sky-high dining with a menu for more elevated tastes, perhaps try Departure.

  21. Tim Lehman says

    When the origional location of “The Rot” opened to much acclaim, I hesitated showing up, feeling that I would only be surrounded by the ‘scene’ of ‘beautiful people.’ For the record, I am waaay over 50. But my fears were misplaced. I’ve dined periodically at the old Rot and again at the new location and welcomed warmly and respectfully. A totally positive experience at both. I may not have the world’s most sophisticated palate but I know that my wife’s is extremely discriminating. We both enjoyed, in fact, were impressed by our Burnside Noble Rot meal. And we will return there this week to introduce a friend to the ‘Rot.’ It does sound like other posters here have legitimate complaints but that has not been our experience at all and we will remain devoted to the owners, chef crew, and servers of this establishment. I do believe they will ultimately ‘get it right.’

    • Kimberly Bernosky says

      I love you Tim! You are one of the loyalest customers I’ve ever had and I know you’d probably defend us no matter what, but I know you are sincere. Hi to Jewel.

      • grapedog says

        Kimberly, I’m glad you’ve been contributing to this website with interesting feedback. You’ve piqued my curiosity and i’ll have to stop in tonight to see what the new place looks like. :-)

  22. bbfoodie says

    Sounds like someone was on a drunken bender last night. Her response reminds me of Ten01 when they first opened. They spent all their time blaming everyone else instead of fixing the problems. When you have a menu this simple, someone has to work hard to screw it up. Someone is working hard at NR!

    • Kimberly Bernosky says

      I had just come home from the Blazer game and was I ever FIRED UP! I think I had some Rudy-itis. Just like the Blazers I’m gonna play some defense, I’m gonna play some offense, but in the end I just want to make some free throws and come out ahead.

  23. pdxyogi says

    Heard Leather on OPB radio yesterday. He called Rocket “overthought & overwrought” and a “case of culinary masturbation”!
    Best brief review I’ve ever seen.

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