Noma opens in Downtown WS

by Brian Clarey


What, exactly, constitutes an “urban” bar and grill? Graffiti on the walls? Hip-hop music and a live DJ? Trendy ingredients and pricey entrees? Models and bottles? Or is an urban grill delineated simply by its presence in a downtown area and its ability to give off a sophisticated, citified vibe without being too pretentious? That’s what I think, and, happily, so do the owners of downtown Winston-Salem’s newest bistro, Noma. Located on 4 th Street, right in the heart of all the action, Noma opened quickly and quietly about three weeks ago and has already garnered a relatively decent lunchtime following. A recent visit saw several full tables even after the lunch time rush had ended and fairly solid action at the bar. The place looks great, with exposed brick walls, clean lines and a magnificent hammered-tin ceiling that looks like it was salvaged piece by piece from a speakeasy and reastored to its former luster. The bar is classy, too — a simple L-shaped expanse towards the rear with enough spirits to make most of the trendy cocktails and all of the classics. It’s a good move to eat at the bar here. It’s informal enough to be relaxing, and many of the menu items could be classified as elegant bar food — which I mean as a compliment. Also, you can smoke. Noma’s menu is broken up into appetizers, a few soups and salads, some hot entrees and brunch selections. And there is much here to discuss. The entrees are mostly tried-and true dishes like steaks and seafood, pork tenderloin and spaghetti and meatballs — the most adventurous is probably the Kobe beef and Portobello meatloaf. The brunch menu is likewise loaded with classics like stuffed French toast, latkes, crepes and huevos rancheros, though if I’m going in on a Sunday morning I will definitely be ordering the Bloody Mary Benedict, featuring eggs poached in my favorite Sunday morning drink. Or maybe the tempura strawberries. But today we’re at the bar, my lunch companions and I, and we feel it prudent to share a few of the appetizers and then go with something on the lighter side. I came within an inch of ordering the Kobe beef sliders (and I will return for them) or maybe the paella egg roll, the oysters casino or the sashimi du jour. But instead we go with the conch fritters, fried ravioli and a Caprese pizza. The dishes are tastefully presented, artfully prepared and delicious. Dark-fried conch fritters treat the shellfish with delicacy instead of turning it into a chewy mess, with a bit of heat in the finish. The fried ravioli, a St. Louis thing, is also handled gingerly, and the pasta shells are not fried so hardily that they hurt your teeth. Pizzas are served Sicilan style: four square slices on a long plate., The Caprese is made with excellent mozzarella, fresh tomato and basil. Excellent, though next time I believe I will try the seafood pizza with shellfish, artichoke, ricotta and red onion. After knocking all this food out, my lunch companions looked to be finished with the eating portion of the visit; I was not. I tackled my B(A)LT — a bacon, avocado, lettuce and tomato — with gusto. The avocado manifested itself in a mash, spread on the wheatberry toast, a fine addition to a classic sandwich. But the finest touch of all was the inclusion of a spicy, bitter lettuce — escarole? — which always scores bonus points with me. Iceberg lettuce is for losers. Prices here are as reasonable as you want them to be; you can get out of there for $7 a head if you do it right or you can spend $20 a person or more if you desire. And that, as much as location, is what an “urban” bar and grill should be all about: a downtown joint suitable for a quick afternoon bite, afterwork drinks, a celebration meal, a first date or just to watch the game at the bar. Noma gets it right.

Clockwise from top left: A B(A)LT on wheatberry toast, fried ravioliwith dipping sauce, Caprese pizza and conch fritters, all fromWinston-Salem’s Noma Urban Bar & Grill. They m ake for fine farebarside, but are not out of place at a table or booth. (photos byAshley Waters)