By Sylvan Hardy
Friends had been telling me for months about a classy sushi restaurant tucked away in a residential neighborhood, a block off of Av. Solano. In fact, they were heaping so many superlatives on the place that it was veritably groaning under the complimentary weight.
After finally giving it a try, I have to agree that Noe deserves its raves. It’s in a class by itself in Cuenca, and not just because it’s a sushi bar. It’s probably the closest thing the city has to truly world-class dining.
Noe Sushi Bar, as it is formally known, is part of a 12-restaurant chain that opened its first location in Quito in 2011. It is aimed primarily at the upscale Ecuador market, although it attracts some tourists in Quito and, in Cuenca, has been discovered by handful of devoted expats. In addition to the locations in Quito and Cuenca, there are others in Guayaquil.
Noe’s location, out of El Centro and off of a main drag, gives it a best-kept-secret feel and the restaurant itself provides more intrigue with its sleek Oriental look, with lots of wood, bamboo and glass. There’s a bar right off the entry and two dining areas, one in the front and another in back. For those who frequent high-end sushi restaurants in the U.S. and Europe, the look should be familiar.
The menu is extensive and matches the offerings you would find at sushi bars anywhere in the world. Most of the dishes display the personal touch of the owner, Chef Noe Carmona, and some are unique. To see the full menu, click here.
The cocktail selection is probably the most sophisticated in Cuenca, and mixes the old standards, some of them with an oriental twist, with Japanese specials. Prices range from $7.30 to $9.90.
The saki is good and smooth and there’s a respectable selection of Chilean and Argentine wines.
Noe offers a good choice of salads (including Midori, Kobe, Tuna Tataki, and Kani Tartar) and soups (including Suimono, Masakari and Kamazuki.
There’s a large selection of sashimi and sushi rolls, both traditional and specials of the Noe kitchen. Full orders run from $7.50 to $16.50; half orders, $5 to $10.
According to the wait staff, the overwhelming favorite for most diners are the dinners for two, three and four. The popular Bonsai Sushi and Sashimi platter is $48 for two, $64.40 for three, and $84.20 for four. On the evening I was there, most of the crowd seemed to be in a sharing mood.
Like all good sushi restaurants, there are good options for non-sushi eaters, including steamed Japanese dishes. Noe is well-known for its steaks. I’ve been told that the Argentinian Lomo Kobe is the best in town but, at $39.90, it’s the most expensive. A very good alternative, at $19, is the house steak, the Lomo Noe.
The desserts are also excellent, the chocolate torte and lemon cheese cake being the most popular.
The presentation of all dishes is exceptional, reflecting the artistry of Chef Noe. Sushi aficionados will find the fish and other fixin’s exceptionally fresh (we know what they taste like when they’re not). My first impression is that Noe would fit comfortably in the U.S. and, I have to say it’s a cut above what I was accustomed to Miami and Atlanta. It should be noted too, that the well-trained, highly attentive wait staff could find work at any sushi bar worldwide.
Noe is easily the most expensive restaurant in town and is not a place for bargain diners. For most customers, particularly the expats I’ve talked to, it’s a place for special occasions, and the ambiance fits the special-occasion mood. Those special-occasion regulars will tell you that an evening at Noe is well worth the price.
Noe Sushi Bar, Padre Julio Matovelle 2-25 and Federico Proaño, near Junto Parque de Las Candelas; Hours: Monday to Wednesday, 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.; Thursday to Saturday, 12 noon to 11 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 9 p.m. Tel. 281 2757 / 288 9308; Website; Facebook Page | Listing in Directory