NoMad: Daniel Humm Lets His Hair Down
In the Nomad Hotel, 1170 Broadway New York NY 10001 (b/n 27th and 28th; map); 212-796-1500; thenomadhotel.com
Service: Practiced and somewhat formal
Setting: Airy, open atrium in the Nomad Hotel
Must-Haves: Poached egg, chicken, lemon shortbread dessert
Cost: Apps $14-24, mains $20-39
It's hard to imagine a restaurant more eagerly anticipated than The Nomad. Because it's hard to imagine a more celebrated chef than the man behind it, Daniel Humm. The Swiss-born chef has racked up just about every top accolade in the business for his work at Eleven Madison Park: three Michelin stars, four stars in the New York Times, a James Beard award for Best Chef: NYC—the list goes on. Humm and partner Will Guidara purchased Eleven Madison from Danny Meyer last year, and opened NoMad, a more accessible counterpart, last month. Humm tells us that his second restaurant is certainly derived from his work at Eleven Madison, but intentionally brought down to earth; "our food, but maybe not plated with tweezers," is how he put it. A place where it's possible to have a meal more than, say, once a year, because how often can you really go to Eleven Madison Park?
And the new NoMad has plenty of places to visit. There's the Library lounge, warm and softly lit; there's the imposing mahogany bar (we've already investigated Leo Robitschek's ambitious cocktail program) and the "parlour" next to the open hearth. But we settled happily in the atrium, the sunroofed space we found quite comfortable for this sort of dining, elegant but airy—relaxed in an appealing way, a tie loosened just slightly at the first sip of a cocktail.
Cocktails range widely across spirits and styles, helpfully designated by aperitifs, "light-spirited" drinks, and "dark-spirited" ones. (Read more about the cocktails here). The Haymarket ($13) was particularly refreshing, a pale ale whose bitter elements are brought out by Suze, a cinchona-based liqueur, plus cucumber and lime. A Beau Four ($15) poured tableside is a take on a cocktail once served at Eleven Madison Park, with prominent Amaro CioCiaro and Nardini Amaro backed up by bourbon.
No amuses at Nomad; it's bread that kicks off your meal, though I should probably call it a bread course because I ate enough of it to count as one. It arrives on the table in a long, slim loaf, steaming as you pull it apart, its crust delicate and crisp. Potato and onion mingle on top. It's warm enough to burn your fingers and instantly melt the softened butter, and no sooner is a piece in your hands than it's gone, and you reach for another.
House-smoked Trout ($18) feels a very New York dish, smoked fish with something creamy, something fresh, something rye, with roe crowning the top. To say that this gorgeous plate of food was the least memorable of the appetizers is only to show how fantastic the others were. The simple, supple Tagliatelle ($19) shone for the quality of its fresh noodles and the Alaskan king crab, with butter, Meyer lemon, and black pepper to bring it together; with starring ingredients this strong, nothing else is needed. (Some at the table felt it was a bit too simple, but I didn't mind a bit.)
There's very little in the world I love more than a good chef doing good things with eggs, and this Egg ($17) easily earns a place on my Top 5 Egg Dishes of All Time. (Joining the ranks of Manresa and Blue Hill Stone Barns.) The poached egg sits atop a brown butter sabayon, and when the egg is poked, the two run and swirl together, amplifying each other's richness and coating the spring asparagus below. Quinoa comes in two forms: some just boiled; some boiled, dehydrated, then fried, resulting in a nutty, appealing crunch throughout the dish. I'd never seen quinoa used as effectively as an accent, and have enjoyed very little more than the lick of a spoon coated in this glorious golden swirl of egg yolk and brown butter. We scraped our spoons on the bottom of this bowl long after we could really get anything more out of it.
And on the opposite side of the appetizer spectrum, the vibrant Snow Peas ($15) show off that vegetable in a very pure way, a bright green chiffonade with pancetta, pecorino and mint, very lightly dressed in a white balsamic vinaigrette. The pecorino, pancetta, and mint remind me of Italy; the peas themselves just remind me, most happily, of spring.
I think we've entered an era in which Carrots ($20) actually seem like a logical main course, joining the ranks of halibut, beef, and chicken. These are oven-roasted with cumin and the spices of madras curry, with wheatberries underneath and crispy duck skin as an accent. We found these a bit overspiced—really, you'd just call them "cumin carrots" after the first bite—but I love how seriously vegetables are taken here. Halibut ($32) is slow-cooked on the stovetop with spring peas; it's served in a fish nage with saffron and lemon thyme. It's a joyful jumble of spring, the peas vibrant in their own flavor, a bright crunch against the delicate fish.
But nothing can compare to the Chicken ($78, serves two), a very close relative of a dish Humm served at Eleven Madison Park. $78 for a chicken dish? Yes, we thought that, too. But you can't just think of this as a chicken dish: it's also a foie gras and morel and black truffle dish. Especially the last of those. Brioche, black truffles, and foie gras are stuffed under the skin, such that the foie gras liquifies and seeps into the brioche for a layer of soft substance that tastes of nothing but foie and truffles. (It's hard not to think of what else foie, brioche, and truffles might improve.) So even at this point, it's not "just" chicken.
The bird is roasted whole, a preparation with which it's often hard to nail both the dark meat and the white; if the dark's cooked through, the white is generally overcooked. So NoMad's chicken is presented as an intact stunner, but then dismantled in the kitchen.
The dark meat? It keeps cooking, with morels, other mushrooms (we spotted maitake), no shortage of butter, and no shortage of truffles. But the plated white meat, in its way, is still more decadent. The skin perfectly crisp, the meat as moist and tender as any we've ever had; and it's served over a bed of truffle-laced and impossibly rich mashed potatoes (white asparagus on the side).
How committed to this dish are they? Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery brewed the "Nomad de Poulet" just to pair with the chicken. It's a full-bodied, slightly bitter Belgian-style rendition of a brown ale: rich enough to coexist with a dish this intense, but bitter enough to cut through it.
This chicken is an indulgence. It's an experience. But it's without question the best chicken dish I've ever had. Good chicken is great; but good chicken with foie and truffles—I don't need to waste more words telling you how special it is.
Of pastry chef Mark Welker's desserts, we all enjoyed the chocolate tart ($14) with caramel and hazelnuts brought alive by fleur de sel; but the Lemon ($13) was the real showstopper. Its soft, supple and intensely tart custard is encased in a seamless shell of shortbread. We had to ask how they managed this feat: the shortbread is actually puréed with oil, and the lemon custard is frozen, then dipped into the "liquid" shortbread—which then re-sets around the custard in a buttery, crumbly cookie. It's impressive as a feat of engineering, but it's impressive as a pairing of flavors, too: gut-level appealing, like the best lemon bar you've ever had.
That could be said of much of NoMad's fare: precisely designed, meticulously plated dishes that nonetheless satisfy in a very basic way. The pasta is just good pasta; the bread is just really good bread. The team has managed to create a restaurant on the very precise point of crowd-pleasing but ambitious, accessible but sophisticated—it is a hotel restaurant, after all. Beef tartar and seared scallops make an appearance, but NoMad has a sufficiently modern sensibility to call carrots an entree and trust that it will be appreciated.
What, to me, makes NoMad a success is the number of niches it fills: you could imagine a blowout celebration meal here, truffle-laden chicken and foie to start. But you could equally imagine settling in for an under-$50 bottle of wine (of which there are many) and an entree in the $20s. It's not quite a neighborhood restaurant; but it's one I'd see myself returning to much more often than an Eleven Madison Park. And that's a restaurant that's good to know about.