In the golden age of robber baron New York—we’re talking turn of the last century—there were hotel restaurants like the NoMad all across the city, their grand dining rooms buzzing with beau monde patrons morning till night. The recent return of the all-day hotel clubhouse began with hip reinventions of the form at the Standard, Ace and Gramercy Park Hotels. But the NoMad, with its rich mahogany bar and dining rooms shrouded in red velvet curtains, is our first truly opulent throwback.
The luxurious setting, flawless service, and preponderance of foie gras and truffles call to mind an haute cuisine titan like Jean-Georges Vongerichten or Daniel Boulud. But with its fashionable crowd and cool, voluptuous vibe—the decor is by hot Parisian designer Jacques Garcia—there are clearly some young Turks behind the wheel.
The NoMad is the sophomore effort from chef Daniel Humm and front-of-house partner Will Guidara, who’ve been in cahoots at Eleven Madison Park since 2006. Last year they inherited the lease and the reins of the place from their former boss Danny Meyer, capping a meteoric rise through New York’s fine-dining ranks (following a James Beard Award and maximum star ratings from the Times and the Michelin Guide).
Their slightly more accessible follow-up features plush armchairs around well-spaced tables and a stylish return to three-course dining. Humm and Guidara— rejecting zeitgeisty restaurant tropes like pass-around plates, counter seating and spare Greenmarket cooking—have created an old-fashioned restaurant that’s also exciting and new.
Like Meyer, Humm and Guidara know how to inspire a team. Their whole staff is as focused as they are on getting every detail right. Even the complimentary bread is knock-your-socks-off delicious, baked to order and topped in translucent potato and zucchini medallions. But despite the restaurant’s fastidious vibe, there’s enough whimsy in the food to appease the rock & roll gods said to be the muse for the place—it’s dedicated to the spirit of the Rolling Stones (whose concert portraits hang in the kitchen).
The haute bistro menu is, across the board, much more unplugged than it seems. A dead-simple snack of radishes and butter is elevated here to high art, the crisp crudités dipped like chocolate-cloaked strawberries in good melted butter—a still life on a wood board beside a sprinkle of salt. And you’ve never had sweetbreads like Humm’s bar bite croustillants—crispy cigars filled with a delicate, peppery mix of sweetbreads, parsley, shallots and cream.
Humm turns up the volume on classic dishes, molding his super-silky foie gras torchon around a Tootsie Roll core of pig’s-head terrine, with an edible flower and salsa verde garnish. Split marrowbones are filled with a rich and briny anchovy, bread and warm marrow stuffing, with fried parsley salad and bordelaise sauce. Even the fruits de mer platter is unlike any other: individually plated portions of the most stunning seafood, each element its own composed triumph (raw scallop with pistachio and yuzu; king crab with avocado and lime; sea urchin with green apple gelée).
The food, like the space, exudes unbuttoned decadence—like wearing a tux with no socks. A poached egg stars in one over-the-top starter, its barely contained yolk melting into a sweet, velvety soup of brown butter and Parmesan, with shaved white asparagus and toasted quinoa for crunch. And while there are plenty of rich-man roasted chickens for two in New York, the amber-hued bird here—with a foie gras, brioche and black truffle stuffing under the skin—is surely the new gold standard. It’s an art-directed beauty, well worth its $78 price tag, the succulent breasts delivered on potato puree with black truffles, dark meat shredded into a communal bowl with morels, more truffles and foamy brown butter.
Other entrées are nearly as memorable, anointed in power chords of intense and elegant flavors. Pink duck breast, as tender as any, has the exotic perfume of Vadouvan curry, with beautifully caramelized roasted lady apples and a punchy apple vinegar jus. A split, roasted lobster, meanwhile, arrives bathed in lobster roe and crème fraîche, with pools of tarragon butter in its cavities and house-made potato chips—an improbably delicious populist touch—showered on top.
Desserts, as thoughtfully elevated as everything else here, come courtesy of Mark Welker, Eleven Madison Park’s former sugar lieutenant. The many elements in each work toward singular themes—like a study in apples featuring baked-to-order apple brioche with apple caramel, apple brandy and wake-you-up tangy apple sorbet among its components. Honey is the driving force in another glorious, nuanced creation, featuring honey shortbread and honey brittle with dehydrated milk foam crisps (like eggless meringues), with super-floral buckwheat honey drizzled on top.
Eleven Madison Park might be the best restaurant in New York right now, but the NoMad is certainly not far behind. If you suddenly came into a great deal of cash, you might think of it as the everyday version of its even more extravagant sibling (dinner here doesn’t come cheap). The food will haunt you, in the best possible way—the minute you leave, you’ll pine to come back.
Eat this: Radishes with butter, sweetbread croustillants, foie gras with pig’s head, fruits de mer platter, egg with quinoa, roasted chicken for two, lobster with potato chips, apple brioche, milk and honey
Drink this: Eleven Madison alum Leo Robitschek has crafted one of the most exciting cocktail programs anywhere, an iconoclastic roster of updated classics, as nuanced as Humm’s food. Start with a Badminton Cup, a robust spin on a Pimm’s cup made with red wine and sherry, or an herbaceous Gilsey, a super-complex gin martini of sorts with kirschwasser and green Chartreuse (each $15). The Fortune Teller (also $15) is a rich, funky blend of Venezuelan rum, gentian quina and Cynar. While this is mostly wine-drinking food, the Brooklyn Brewery developed a sweet amber Le Poulet brew to be paired with the chicken. The wine list is as impressive—and pricey—as you’d expect, but features a few moderate finds, including a beautifully earthy Domaine du Cayron Gigondas red ($65) from the Rhone.
Sit here: An ideal evening would begin with a stand-up drink at the bar, followed by a few snacks in the bustling atrium dining room. The plush parlor in back is a more hushed environment to appreciate serious food and good company (and tends to draw a more VIP crowd). Finish the night with a postprandial snifter of something brown in the beautiful library.
Conversation piece: While the restaurant’s designer is French, so much here has a New York identity. The uniforms are by New York collective Bespoken, run by two sets of young brothers. The plates and dinnerware come courtesy of local designer Jono Pandolfi. Brooklyn artisan Alex Kravchuk did the bronze serving trays and wine buckets. Book designer Thatcher Wine (son of former Quilted Giraffe chef Barry) curated the library. For a time there were free bottles of booze hidden among the books (until the treasure hunt got out of hand).
By Jay Cheshes