Refined Comfort Food and Superb Wine Buoy a “Hotel Environment”
I’m always a bit suspicious of hotel restaurants. Not in the most general sense, as I know many of the world’s finest restaurants take a privileged place within a luxury hotel (but usually with the added touch of an imposing door or other elaborate gateway that separates the fine dining from the fatigued travelers). It shouldn’t really impose on my meal at all–and I certainly don’t mind seeing hotel guests who don’t know any better stagger downstairs in their shorts and tees–but a little piece of my soul dies every time I see a gruff, road-weary father settle in at what he thinks is a “nice” hotel establishment only to be shocked with a menu of crudités, liver, and guinea hen.
With this in mind, chef Daniel Humm and Will Guidara’s second venture bodly forms the very core of the boutiquey NoMad Hotel, sitting under a spectacular open atrium that frames skylight with towering brick walls. Tables are arranged in an open, grid-like manner that creates a view of other guests from every direction (and subjects you to their conversation as well). Nonetheless, polished wood and elegant columns prevent a “lumped together” feel for guests as the room smartly maximizes space and use of the aforementioned glass roof.
Self-described as “casually elegant,” the NoMad’s food program looks to combine Eleven Madison Park’s celebration of simple, seasonal ingredients with Humm’s time working in Switzerland, California, and New York. As it stands, however, the restaurant’s most successful dishes draw largely on that foreign influence rather than presenting a less refined attempt at EMP’s unpretentious rusticity.
Take, for example, a nine-dollar portion of six small, leafy radishes that, while beautifully enrobed in butter and served with fleur de sel, cannot be considered anything more than an oversized, overpriced amuse-bouche. The root vegetables’ freshness was apparent, but the dish offered little more than a burst of solidified butter and salt. The bread, specked with circular slices of zucchini, was hearty but too dry–marking an incredibly rare instance where a bread plate left my table with more than a third of a loaf left. These dishes were far from disasters but relied too heavily on the novelty of their featured produce rather than on building authentically exciting flavors.
While the radishes and bread (both offered compliments of the house) disappointed, the succession of dishes I myself picked from the menu more than redeemed the NoMad’s faltering first steps. A cute jar of chicken liver mousse with berry gelée, pickles, and toasted rye bread hit was comforting, rich, and worth scraping out every speck of it. The unerring smoothness of the mousse joined the (properly) crisp toast and hint of sweetness to deliver bites of intense meatiness cut with just the right amount of fruity acidity and hearty, grainy backing. The pickles, which included smaller radishes alongside carrots and cucumbers, were refreshingly crisp and vibrant in flavor.
A light appetizer of raw hamachi marinated with plums, daikon, and almonds kept the momentum going. The contrast of the wafer-thin radish with the buttery amberjack and crunch of the nuts–all with a pleasantly plummy tang–was highly delicate but impressively satisfying. Equally, in an aptly titled appetizer named “Egg,” an outrageously gooey, peppery sunny side-up egg oozed onto pole beans and frisee lettuce before joining veal ragout with brown butter at the bottom of the dish. In an expert manner, the beans and lettuce–in Humm’s true style–become an essential vehicle and partner for the unrelenting, decadent richness of yolk and veal.
There’s only one option as far as entrees go at the NoMad–a dish the restaurant has built its reputation on and marks a simple, good thing done with the highest care (and a touch of the luxurious). Amish chicken, stuffed under its skin with a mixture of tempered foie gras, black truffle, and brioche and in its cavity with lemon and rosemary, cooked in a stone oven until its skin is the darkest, dirtiest golden-to-dark brown you’ve seen.
The whole bird is teasingly brought before you only to be whisked away. The breasts are neatly cut from the carcass and placed atop smoked grits and wonderfully sweet succotash while the dark meat joins butter, shallots, morels, and chicken stock until reduced and topped with a luscious hollandaise. There’s no need to eat a chicken dish ever again, especially alongside the sommelier’s recommended red Burgundy: Domaine De L’Arlot Clos Des Forets Saint Georges 1996.
The meal ended with a deceptively simple dessert of “Milk & Honey”: sweetened milk ice cream drizzled with Andrew’s Honey from Connecticut and placed atop dehydrated milk foam, honey brittle, and honey oat shortbread. The classic combination is stuns texturally while treading the line between refreshing and syrupy sweet.
Though the NoMad’s early offerings faltered by being too “cute,” Humm’s more casual restaurant hits its stride when it matters, serving up plenty for hotel guests and gourmands to be happy about.
Date Visited: 8/30/2015