Not only is the NoMad a shiny new restaurant in a shiny new hotel, it’s the reason Danny Meyer sold Eleven Madison Park, to avoid the competition from another high-end place up the street. And the buyer of Eleven Madison Park, Daniel Humm, who just won the James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef, is now in the kitchen at the NoMad. The buzz about this place has been huge, and the stakes are high.
So when Marie Fromage and I walked into the NoMad, the latest project by Daniel Humm and restauranteur Will Guidara, I was expecting the Space Mountain of restaurants – something totally mind-blowing. The unusual design already sets the place apart: a lofty central dining room under an atrium several stories high, a clubby bar in back, and two posh dining rooms on the side. The NoMad feels a lot like London, Claridges to be exact, with its plush, cosseted anterooms opening up to a larger, lighter, see-and-be-seen dining room.
We started at the bar. The cocktails are complex and well mixed, like the intriguingly herbal Gilsey ($15), made with gin, sherry, kirsch, and chartreuse. And yes, it was as strong as it sounds.
The bestselling Paris Is Burning ($15), combines gin with mezcal, St. Germain, pineapple and bitters, to excellent effect. The downside is the wait time: many of the cocktails have six or more ingredients, there are only three bartenders, dozens of people in the bar, even more in the restaurant, and one cash register. When an ambitious cocktail program hits the reality of a big after-work crowd, sometimes you wish everyone were just ordering a vodka soda.
Fortunately, calm descends once again when you step into the dining room. It really is a beautiful place, even on a dreary, London-esque night with the rain falling on the huge skylight high above. You could be in a social club on the other side of the pond. The sophisticated, business-y crowd that night included Dorothy Cann Hamilton, CEO of the French Culinary Institute (now re-branded as the International Culinary Center).
As at Eleven Madison Park, there’s a tasting menu here ($125), but we went à la carte, starting with the crudité of spring vegetables with chive cream ($12). The tiny, perfectly curated and prepared spring vegetables, cooked until just barely tender, the delicate cream: this dish is very Dan Barber.
So too are the micro-julienned snow peas with pancetta, pecorino and mint ($15). The peas are brilliantly fresh and crisp, but since pancetta is really the interloper in the traditional pea-mint flavor mix, we wished there had been more of it, instead of a mere scattering of micro cubes.
I am still dreaming about the buttery, rich smoked trout ($18) dressed with tangy, herb-flecked buttermilk and ribbons cucumber and garnished with lacy rye crisps and saline beads of salmon roe. This was one of the best dishes of the night.
Another winner came gratis: the fantastic bread that started off the meal, still hot from the oven, encrusted and stuffed with baby spring onions. This bread could topple even the most steadfast of carb-phobes.
There are a number of ways to prepare lobster, but I’ve never been a fan of grilling it, since the char often overwhelms the delicate taste of lobster. But roasted slowly, as it is at the NoMad, lobster ($39) seems to become the essence of itself, especially when it’s roasted out of the shell, as the claws are here. Cloaked in a buttery sheen, they were delectable, as was the flavor brought on by just placing an oiled-up tarragon sprig on top of the rest, which was almost as good but had a slightly more stewed flavor than the bare claws. The potato chips on top didn’t really add much, but they didn’t detract, either.
But the beef bone marrow crusted with ramps and morels ($36) had us wondering: Where’s the beef? The marrow had been mashed up with a lot of breading as well as those ramps and morels, which detracted from the beefy flavor and particular gelatinous texture you find when the bone marrow is left alone (see the Minetta Tavern for an excellent example). This entree was a disappointment, especially for the price.
Fortunately we saved room for dessert by pastry chef Mark Welker. A peanut butter palette with milk chocolate and popcorn ($14) is like a high-low mash up of a fancy French praline chocolate and a good old Butterfinger bar, and doubly tempting at that. A lemon custard ($13) was one of the most usual desserts we’d ever tasted. Beneath the caramel exterior is a pouf of whipped cream that’s just slightly salty. It sounds bizarre, but eaten all as one bite, it’s quite successful.
All in all, the experience at the NoMad is worth the price. Service is attentive and knowledgable, though our waiter disappeared when it came time to get the check. Though there will probably be several big reviewers who bedazzle the NoMad with a zillion stars, to me a four or five star place should basically blow your head off as you watch in stunned silence as it lands on the table next to you. This did not happen. I still wonder if I should have ordered the supposedly spectacular carrot entree. But the much-buzzed-about NoMad is very good and definitely worth a try.
1170 Broadway, between 27th and 28th Streets
New York, NY