Photographs by Danny Kim
In the old, genteel world of restaurants, maybe you hired a few more cooks when you hit the big time, or, if you were feeling rash, expanded into the space next door after a year or two. But in the upper echelons of today’s multimillion-dollar restaurant industry, success is almost more complicated than failure. After a chef has his first big triumph, he will be all but obligated by his business partners and investors to expand. But which among the thousands of suitors begging you for franchise deals do you choose? How many cookbooks should you write (or have written for you)? Should you open a lavish branch of your smash New York restaurant in Vegas or Macao, or capitalize on your newfound fame by lending your name to a string of profitable, though potentially humiliating, burger bars in New Jersey? How, in short, do you “monetize” your good fortune (i.e., make piles of cash) in the most effective and tasteful way, without ruining your brand?
Many of these delicate calculations are on display at Daniel Humm’s posh, coolly impersonal new restaurant, NoMad, which opened recently off the lobby of the NoMad Hotel on Broadway. NoMad has clearly been designed as a “casual” bookend to Eleven Madison Park, which Humm and his partners purchased from Danny Meyer last year after Humm helped turn it (in the estimation of this bilious critic) into the finest restaurant in the city. Instead of trying to appeal to a single new audience, however, Humm (who was named James Beard Outstanding Chef last week) and his partner, the restaurateur Will Guidara, have decided to jam a hodgepodge of styles under one roof. There’s a glass-ceiling Atrium for the ladies who lunch and a clamorous, stand-up bar area for the cocktail crowd. If you wish to sit with your bespoke cocktails and French wines and pick at casual snacks, you can do that in the Library, and if you’re looking for something more intimate, there’s the Parlour, which is appointed, like a Victorian sitting room, with burgundy-colored rugs and velvet chairs trimmed with gold.
Thanks to this eclectic, circus-tent arrangement, the enjoyment of your meal at NoMad can vary drastically according to your taste, and where you happened to be seated (I liked the Parlour the best; Ms. Platt thought it felt “fake”). The full menu is available in the Atrium and Parlour rooms (snacks only in the Library and at the bar)—all of it carefully calibrated to suit every taste. The snacks include salmon rillettes served in fashionable mini–Mason jars, tiny boutique radishes coated in butter, and baskets of gourmet fried chicken with yogurt sauce on the side. There are fancy vegetable entrées for New Age vegivores (the carrot entrée costs $20), old-fashioned French classics for the traditionalists (foie gras torchons, bone-marrow gratinée), surf and turf dishes for the business/hotel crowd ($36 for the beef, $39 for the lobster), and a seven-course tasting menu for fancy gourmets ($125) comprising all of the above.
The weakest part of the menu are the snacks, especially the radishes (too buttery) and the fried chicken (no spice). But after that, Humm’s cooking begins to click into high gear, like a well-engineered European sedan. My friend the French Snob had nothing but kind things to say about the pleasingly smooth torchon of foie gras ($24), with bits of delicately mashed tête de cochon at its center, or the dainty, canoe-shaped marrow bones ($17), which the chefs soften, like some exotic form of stuffing, with shallots, parsley, and a buttery gratinée of bread crumbs. If you feel like grazing on something lighter and more seasonal, I suggest the roasted beets (garnished with slivers of pear), or the flawlessly executed egg appetizer (poached over a bed of quinoa and Parmesan), or, best of all, the crunchy chiffonade of snow peas, flavored with mint, Pecorino, and little hidden nuggets of pancetta.
With one or two exceptions, the main courses at NoMad are similarly accomplished, although none of them are cheap. “I think I could turn vegetarian for this,” said the French Snob as she nibbled at a $24 helping of spring asparagus, which are plated ingeniously with chunks of truffled bread salad and tiny honshimeji mushrooms floating in a dashi broth. The extravagantly priced cracked lobster ($39) tasted bland and soggy by comparison, so if you don’t mind paying $20 for those carrots (and some at my table did mind), I recommend you order them with the duck ($32), or the crunchy-topped confit of suckling pig ($34, with a scattering of apricots). None of these grand, pricey barnyard creations are quite as satisfying, though, as the chicken for two ($78), which Humm’s army of cooks roast in a wood-burning oven and serve, as at Eleven Madison, pre-carved, with deposits of foie gras–rich brioche inserted under the crackly skin.