Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Aside from two miniature ones in the crudite snack plate, there wasn't a carrot on the menu.  Which is one indication that Daniel Humm has mixed things up from Eleven Madison Park in his latest creation, The NoMad, located in the eponymous hotel just a block south of its distant cousin, The Ace.  The address, which used to be office space, has been transformed into a swanky, seductive locale, lamp-lit and black-lacquered, with red velvet chaises and tapestry curtains.  The blight of the ratty neighborhood streets are shielded by gauzy ivory drapes, and from the walls hang dried herbs and plants, mounted and framed, hinting at exactly what NoMad is all about.  It's produce-driven, to be sure, but not without its share of pomp and braggadocio.

That said, that crudite plate was as minimalist as it comes.  White porcelain bowl with a lot more ice than vegetables, but the beautiful little florets and spears and roots were exquisite examples of their respective taxa, and an herby dip of creme fraiche was probably from what America based ranch dressing.  There are other simple snacks, like breakfast radishes with chilled butter, or something heartier as the fried sweetbreads with parsley.  The wait staff is superlatively helpful and appealing: I would've befriended any of them under more social circumstances.  But do their job they did, which is why I think that my chiffonade of sugar snaps peas with prosciutto and pecorino must have suffered a devolution since it's introduction: I had heard only raves about it from others and now them.  Instead, I found it a disappointing haystack of raw, sliced pods, excessively oiled and partnered with an unfortunately pallid mince of prosciutto.  This is one of those instances when the ingredients actually reached a sum lesser than all if its parts.  Tagliatelle with king crab went great length to make up for that, though.  While the portion looks small, the taste was regal. with big knuckles of pristine crabmeat nestled with slippery lemon-tinged noodles, gently buttered and blitzed with heady pepper.

If I were to return (which would probably take  little convincing) I would try one of the vegetarian options- still a rarity in New York fine dining, and these were obviously created with care and inspiration.  If I was in a bigger party, I definitely would've taken a gander at the much lauded roast chicken for two, but I wanted to sample a little more diversity.  The scallops volunteered themselves enthusiastically, richly seared with maitake mushrooms and refreshed with lemon and sorrel.  I quickly forgot the chiffonade.  While only three scallops made up the plate, they were rich of sauce and big enough to share.  Each bite dipped in the crisp streusel performed as a sandy crust and made it fun to eat as well as delicious.  Meaty maitakes fanned out underneath curled strips of julienned sorrel, which added a distinct brightness.  A lobster "minestrone" was like no minestrone I've ever seen: the shelled crustacean lurked in a foamy bog of lemony creamy studded with fava beans and fresh garbanzos, which are (prior unbeknownst to me) just as green as the fave, and more flavorful and vibrant than their dried version.  Although the menu is a la carte, there were no vegetables sides on offer, which I would've enjoyed since I bypassed the veggie entree, and mushrooms are only controversially vegetative.

At any rate, this left ample room for dessert, which were ample in and of themselves.  The Milk & Honey was recommended un-missable, so we took one of those and a strawberry shortcake as well.  I was fearful, momentarily, of the shortcake having been described as "poundcake", which has the potential to be spongey and insipid, but this version was biscuity and baked to crunchy crust littered with sugar crystals and softened by a chamomile cream.  Greenmarket strawberry halves were their Platonic ideal, and the accompanying strawberry sorbet's flavor was even more concentrated.  It was enough for two, and definitely rendered unnecessary the second dessert, although I wouldn't have missed it for anything after my first bite.  Creamy, milky orbs of ice cream striated with caramel hovered atop a crumble of buttery honey brittle and light, crisp wafers that conjured up a hint of Cap'n Crunch (a Tosi influence?) before melting in your mouth.  Coffee (Intelligentsia) is a sound collaborator, if not quite on par with its rival Stumptown.

Overall, I thought NoMad was really good, with glimmers of excellence.  I guess the only thing missing was the same problem I'm having wrapping up this entry.  The crowd was hip, the room slick, the staff en pointe and the food memorable.  At the same time, nothing stood out to differentiate it from myriad other solid joints, many of which are nearby.  Daniel Humm is a chef that can astound, and I wasn't astounded.  But you'll eat very well at The NoMad, and the bragging rights for actually having been able to get a table, well.. that's not nothing.

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