You can find good food in New York, but you usually pay for it. The flip side of that, though, is if you are looking for a great but cheap restaurant in the United States, you have the most luck in New York. I could write an entire post on unexpectedly good New York restaurant finds, and probably will some day, but this post is about a Manhattan dining experience that we paid for, and happily.
Located in the neighbourhood of the same name, The NoMad Restaurant lies within The NoMad Hotel, a fully restored, turn of the century Beaux-Arts building that reinforces the magnificence of the hotel and restaurant. It is classic, timeless and polished. The soaring ceilings, rich colours and dim lighting fuse flawlessly with the textured, comfortable furniture and decor to create an luxuriously enjoyable staying, meeting or dining experience.
The NoMad Restaurant is casually elegant, comfortably sophisticated, leisurely suave restaurant led by Chef Daniel Humm and Restauranteur Will Guidara. Influenced by Chef Daniel’s three-Michelin-star Eleven Madison Park, The NoMad New York takes his experiences in Switzerland, California and New York to create a restaurant that has it all: one of the best bars in the world, a charming antique library lounge, a world-class barista, multiple sectioned dining rooms, large private dining spaces and a beautiful candlelit fireplace. This was Matt and my one fancy night out during our visit to New York and I couldn’t have wished for a better one.
Upon walking in, I feel the level of sophistication as heavily as you would feel if you walked into the queen’s palace. It is dark and personal, with three people ready and waiting to serve us. We’re seated immediately at a table with at least one table between us any other occupied table; it’s all in the small details. The music stands out to us, not because it’s too loud or too quiet, but because it is unique. Tasteful classic rock is playing softly in the background throughout the evening, far enough behind even a whisper of a conversation, but close enough to recognize Gimme Shelter and Stairway to Heaven.
I start with the wine list – a stuffed two inch binder – and open the dinner menu next to it. The wine list, thankfully for me, perhaps a disappointment for others, only includes about 25 options available by the glass. I crave a recommendation to pair with the unusual roasted cauliflower entree I choose. Our waiter arrives and promptly, almost abruptly, ends our interaction the second I declare I am interested in a glass of wine. A moment later we are greeted by the sommelier.
This was a delightful moment for me as it was the first time in my life that I had been served by a restaurant’s dedicated sommelier. Though they exist in many restaurants, and often spend time in the dining room, I had never been in a situation that warranted their attention. This was momentous.
He immediately points out his recommendation. He explains that he’s tried the cauliflower entree with every other wine offered by the glass and this is by far the best pairing. You can’t argue with that kind of conviction, and why would you?
The crudite, raw vegetables with chive cream, is almost confusingly simple, especially for 16 dollars. But, it is beautifully colourful and fresh and it is a wonderful preview of the care they take with food. If you can treat simple, raw vegetables in this way, I am that much more excited for everything that follows.
Our hot appetizer is a tortelloni with celery root, black truffle and parmesan. The celery root is rendered into a much overdone, overrated foam. It is satisfyingly appropriate here, though, complimenting the dense heaviness of the tortelloni itself. Granulated black truffle appears to be dusted on top, firmly establishing the flavour and aroma, but not so much as to overpower the subtle celeriac. All together, it’s a fascinating bite of creamy, rich parmesan cheese with a slight chew and a weightless celeriac sauce with subtle, lingering notes of black truffle.
The beef is most notably ordinary, with everything executed as you’d expect: a sous vide medium rare temperature on the beef, tender-but-not-mushy red and golden beets, and a silky smooth horseradish puree. What it lacks is interest.
The roasted cauliflower, with almonds, mascarpone and figs, however, is exceptional. A whole roasted cauliflower, presented with parmesan shavings, sat atop of a medley of grains and crushed toasted almonds and fresh quartered figs. The result was an unusually sweet combination of caramelized cauliflower and soft figs with plenty of crunch and varied texture from the grains and almonds. The richness of the mascarpone paired particularly well with the nutty almond flavour and added depth and creaminess to every bite. This turned out to be the most delightful surprise of a main course.
The desserts we select, as it turns out, work famously as a pair. The milk and honey, as they call it, is a beautiful variety of textures: crispy, dehydrated wafers, crunchy oat biscuits, honey milk ice cream and honey brittle. Pour cold milk over a fresh bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios and combine that experience with your late night warm milk with honey. Top it with some sweet caramel sauce and thin honey brittle and you will be graced with this creamy, comforting dessert.
For a bit of brightness, add a lemon tart. The concentrated, appropriately tart lemon curd is surrounded by what appears to be a thin layer of chewy caramel or toffee. Upon further inspection, it actually seems to be a soft, gelatinous shortbread or pie crust. To replace the flaky texture of a traditional pate sucre tart shell, they drop large pieces of soft-but-crunchy almond shortbread, like you’d expect on a buttery apple crumble, on top. Served with rich ricotta ice cream and a paper-thin candied lemon slice, there is something to be enjoyed by everyone.
To finish off the evening, we decide to indulge in a couple of cappuccinos. It was now that I learn about The NoMad’s dedicated barista and their incredible skill in latte art. As the server sets the beverage down in front of me, I see the smiling, coy face of a cat. Though not imperative to a fantastic meal, this treat certainly made for the cherry on top of what has become one of the most memorable dining experiences of my life.
As we collect ourselves and prepare to leave, I can’t help but feel sad that the evening is over. I wish for nothing more than to experience it all over again, immediately. Alas, we exit through the obnoxiously oversized doors into the grand, shiny foyer and thank the hostesses for our wonderful time. I feel out of place, as I did when I entered for the first time, in such a glamorous structure but I feel sure I will warm up to that feeling some day.
Though I am eager to experience many more of the outstanding restaurants that Manhattan has to offer, I will be returning to The NoMad, ready and willing to pay for another phenomenal experience.