Committing to a meal composed by the chef is usually the right move. It’s your way of saying, “Show me your best,” in exchange for a few more dollars and a little more time.
And you’d think the odds are in your favor at The NoMad.
The two-month-old spot, tucked into the garment-district hotel of the same name, has instantly become one of the city’s most satisfying brasseries, with affordable butter-dipped radishes to begin ($8) and probably New York’s most expensive chicken ($78) to finish. The chicken will rock your socks.
All this is what we’ve come to expect from Will Guidara and Daniel Humm, who have turned Eleven Madison Park into one of the world’s top restaurants.
The NoMad charges $125 for its tasting menu -- the same price as the entry-level option as Eleven Madison. Must be the deal of the century, right?
Wrong, sorry to say. Chef Humm sends out four of his worst dishes on the seven-course meal.
True to form, the family-style tasting requires at least two people. So if you’re stuck with the bill, dinner actually starts around $322 after tax and tip. Add two wine pairings and you’re at $516.
The evening begins with a two-tiered shellfish tray, including a small mound of sea urchin flanked by apple gelee and sturgeon caviar. It’s meant to be consumed with a flute of bubbly, and four of the fine sparklers on the by-the-glass list are Champagnes ($19-$30). Very fancy.
After radishes with sweetbread croustillants and tete de cochon canapes, a server hands you brown paper packages filled with three forgettable meats: Mortadella, Rosette de Lyon and coppa. You’re instructed to open up the parcels and serve the greasy cuts to your companion -- a contrivance that might be cuter if you were selling the stuff from behind a deli counter.
The fourth course is an egg with parmesan foam and crunchy quinoa. It tastes like boredom and breakfast. The fifth course is under-seasoned rack of lamb in a communal pot, also boring.
The final course is a duo of disasters: Rhubarb cobbler so sour you’d think it’s sugar free, and bay leaf ice cream that tastes like a bad herbal cough drop. The latter is served as a full pint, violating the rule that degustation dishes be smaller than portions at competitive eating contests.
The included utensil is an ice cream scoop. You shovel the goop onto your date’s plate. It’s not pretty.
NoMad’s a la carte menu, by contrast, is fine. The action takes places in a civilized space, a parlour room of bordello reds, velvety chairs and tiny tables for two with enough space between them, yet not enough space on them. Your entrees might hang over the edge.
Start with little jars of raw beef tenderloin, which Humm spikes with tomato juice for a sly acid kick. Lovely. If only he had a similar trick for salmon rillettes, a mayonnaise-y mess that tastes more like tuna salad than salmon.
Order foie gras ($24). Humm takes a creamy pink torchon and wraps it around pig’s face pate; just when you think the livery exterior is too rich, the meaty center jolts your palate with a shock of sherry vinegar. The sommelier suggests a bone-dry Bloomer Creek Riesling ($12) to counteract all the fat.
Eleven Madison Park groupies will remember that foie dish from years past. The NoMad features some of Humm’s greatest hits. Suckling pig confit ($34), for example, is back with its sticky, crackling skin and delicately musky meat. Really, it’s a pork candy bar.
Not all the choices make sense. Humm brings back his sleepy beef tenderloin ($36) to star as NoMad’s only steak. He crusts the cut with bone marrow breadcrumbs, catering to those who like the texture of sand.
All is forgiven when your “minestrone” arrives. The bowl is filled with fresh fava beans, firm garganelli and soft lobster mitts poached in lemon verbena butter ($39).
Omnivorous vegetable lovers will eat well here. Cumin carrots ($20) arrive with crispy duck skin -- the side dish of the decade. And black truffles (my favorite vegetable) justify the $24 cost of an asparagus and crushed potato salad.
Then there’s that chicken. It feeds two, no more. The breast has a distinctly neutral flavor, all the better to show off a luxuriant foie gras stuffing. The skin is perfectly crisp and ashen.
Humm then throws in a little pot of truffled chicken thigh, as well as some truffled potatoes. It’s outstanding. Pair it with a light Gilles Gelin gamay ($13).
Finish with a tart lemon curd that’s been dipped in liquid nitrogen and glazed in shortbread puree. It’s precisely the type of impossible-to-get-anywhere-else type of dish that might sway diners to order a longer tasting. Until then, I’ll take it alone for $13 and skip the $125 family-style mess.
The Bloomberg Questions
Price: A la carte $8-78; Tasting at $125.
Sound Level: Reasonable, around 70-75 decibels.
Date Place: Yes, especially the cozy library bar.
Inside Tip: Order the heady, cumin-scented carrots ($20) for the table.
Special Feature: Excellent snow pea and mint salad.
Back on My Own Dime: For the chicken.
The NoMad is at 1170 Broadway. Information: +1-212-796-1500 or http://www.thenomadhotel.com.
What the Stars Mean: **** Incomparable food, service, ambience. *** First-class of its kind. ** Good, reliable. * Fair. (No stars) Poor
(Ryan Sutton writes about New York City restaurants for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include Jeremy Gerard on theater and James Pressley on books.