Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The NoMad Bar: Stunning Gastropub/Cocktail Bar Hybrid (food)

With only one dish above $20 and no reservations, the new NoMad Bar is meant to be the most accessible of the group of dining establishments operated by the Made Nice Hospitality Group, which include the 3 Michelin Star Eleven Madison Park and the 1 Michelin Star NoMad hotel restaurant.


The stunning bi-level space consists of a gorgeous back-lit bar on the ground floor and a comfortable dining room upstairs. It's pretty amazing how disparate the two are, as the volume from the mostly standing room bar doesn't seem to make much of an impact on the separate dining room. In a way, it reinforces my view that the NoMad Bar is a hybrid that is hard to classify as just a cocktail bar or just a gastropub.

The cocktail bar aspect is evident with two pages of the menu highlighting over 30 house cocktails as well as a few specialty reserve cocktails. Cocktails are currently priced at $16 each, and my favorite is the Repossession, although they probably have something for every mood and taste. And while many other places have large format meals, the NoMad bar has large format cocktails. But the NoMad bar is also a gastropub in the sense that there is also a strong focus on beer, and the food is still overseen by and rooted in the foundation of the NoMad hotel restaurant. In fact, some of the dishes come straight off the original restaurant's menu.

While people tend to associate gastropub fare with refined traditional pub food, that does not appear the case here. There is a burger, but there are no fancy versions of mac n' cheese, shepherd's pie, fish and chips, wings, or other bar favorites. Instead, I think the aim of the menu is to provide dishes that one would enjoy with either beer, wine, or cocktails, and that can be ordered a la carte and shared. While still elegant, the food is meant to be simple and comforting.

Food critics have so far been mixed on the NoMad bar, and while some dishes did in fact stand out more than others, I found my experiences to be consistently good. In fact, with multiple visits covering over two-thirds of the menu, this may be one of the most thorough reviews of the NoMad bar you'll come across. However, with Labor Day just around the corner, it wouldn't surprise me to see some of the dishes reviewed here changing with the season.

CRUDITE; RAW VEGETABLES WITH CHIVE CREAM ($13)
Available on both the bar menu and the original restaurant's menu, this is good for those who are specifically trying to eat some raw vegetables, but I wouldn't go out of my way to order it.

BROCCOLI RABE; SALAD WITH ANCHOVY AND PARMESAN ($12)
I wouldn't have thought to order this just looking at the menu, but this was absolutely delicious. The broccoli rabe didn't have an overpowering bitterness, and the classic anchovy and parmesan combo packed a nice clean umami punch.

BAY SCALLOPS; MARINATED WITH YUZU AND PISTACHIO ($14)
This was originally one of my favorite pieces from the original restaurant's fruits de mer platter (right behind the hamachi with horseradish), so it was nice being able to order just the scallops a la carte. It's simple, bright, and sweet, with a nice nuttiness and crunch from the pistachio.

EGGPLANT; BEIGNET WITH PINE NUTS AND MINTED YOGURT ($12)
These were more like small empanadas than beignets, and did not really stand out in any way. At these prices, just that alone was enough to elicit disappointment, but expecting hot fried goodness made it much, much worse.

SCOTCH OLIVES; LAMB SAUSAGE AND SHEEPS' MILK CHEESE ($11)
These have proven to be so popular that they made their way onto the NoMad hotel's main restaurant menu despite starting out on the new bar menu. I found these to be remarkable in that the salinity hit me immediately upon the first bite, but the savoriness continued without any lingering feelings of saltiness. It was hard to reconcile the overwhelming savoriness with the lack of moisture-draining mouth feel that usually accompanies salty foods. Those sensitive to salt, however, would probably still consider this dish to be too salty.

ASPARAGUS; ROASTED WITH QUINOA AND PARMESAN ($12)
I did not taste this as my friend ordered it, but I imagine that it's the same as the original NoMad restaurant's egg dish (which was delicious) minus the egg.

SWISS CHEESE; BEER MUSTARD, PICKLES, AND PRETZEL CHIPS ($15)
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this, given that it was essentially a hunk of cheese, after all. Everything went so well together, from the nutty, flavorful cheese, to the slight kick of the mustard sauce, to the excellent pickles, that I just wanted to keep eating it. The only thing missing was that there weren't enough pretzel chips, but my guess is that more would have been provided if I'd asked.

CARROT TARTARE; SUNFLOWER SEEDS AND MUSTARD ($15)
This may have been inspired by the carrot tartare at Eleven Madison Park, but the flavors were more reminiscent of a traditional tartare. The use of small strips of raw carrot gave it a nice sweetness and a texture which went well with the rye crisps.


CLAMS
BAKED; BREADCRUMBS, BACON, AND GARLIC ($16)
IN BROTH; CORN, BACON, AND TOMATO ($19)
Clams are offered on the menu in three different preparations. The baked version is tasty, simple, and rather traditional. But the dish that stood out to me was the clams in broth. Brushing aside the pieces of toast placed on top revealed a treasure trove of clams in a tasty broth that reminded me of the stunning tomato and corn broth I had in an earlier version of Eleven Madison Park's clambake dish. This delicious essence of summer in a bowl is also one of the best values on the menu.


SKEWERS
SKIRT STEAK; PARSLEY AND LIME ($17)
STRIPED BASS; A LA PLANCHA WITH FENNEL AND ORANGE ($19)
Both sets of skewers are served on more pieces of toast, and work well in sandwich form if you wanted to use your hands. The skirt steak was cooked nicely and featured a good but not particularly noteworthy chimichurri sauce. The striped bass, on the other hand, was on another level. The fish had real flavor, unlike the bland pieces of protein that merely serve as vessels for sauce often found elsewhere. Some might consider that flavor to lean a bit onto the "fishy" or "muddy" side, but I loved it. The fennel and orange also worked well with the fish, providing a great balance of texture and flavor and making for a great bite.

SHRIMP; TOAST WITH TOMATO AND BASIL ($18)
The flavors were fresh, clean, and tasty. However, there just wasn't enough shrimp to justify the price.

HOT DOG; BACON-WRAPPED WITH BLACK TRUFFLE AND CELERY ($14)
This is essentially the same hot dog as the Humm dog served at PDT, but with real truffles. It's delicious, but the value proposition here solely depends on how much you like truffles and how much truffle you happen to get. Both times I've had it the truffle smell was evident as soon as it hit the table.

DUCK; SAUSAGE WITH PICKLED RAMPS AND CHERRIES ($19)
This was probably the most composed dish that I had at the NoMad bar. The coarsely ground, meaty duck sausage might have been too salty by itself, but the balance of sweet and tart from the pickles and cherries worked well with it.


BURGER; DRY-AGED WITH CHEDDAR, RED ONIONS, AND PICKLES ($18)
A juicy, sizeable, 6-ounce burger cooked beautifully and full of aged beef flavor. I've ordered it every time I've been at the NoMad bar, and it's just as satisfying every time. Large enough to share, I consider the burger one of the best values on the menu. Also of note is that every group of people I've brought to the NoMad bar has remarked on not just how good the burger was, but also how much they liked the accompanying pickle.


CHICKEN POT PIE; BLACK TRUFFLE AND FOIE GRAS ($36)
The pot pie arrived at the table accompanied by a skewer of foie gras and a quenelle of truffle mousse/butter. The server then broke open the pot pie, mixed in the foie and truffle, and the smell was heavenly. Inside the pot pie were pieces of chicken, aromatic vegetables, potatoes, and morels. The puff pastry was buttery and flaky, and was terrific dipped into the absolutely delicious stew. It was very rich and luscious, but still evoked the comfort of a more traditional chicken pot pie. At $36, this is the most expensive item on the food menu, but still a great value in my mind when you consider the ingredients. Foie and truffle aside, morels are not cheap!


COOKIES AND CREAM; ICE CREAM WITH CHOCOLATE CRUNCH ($12)
CHEESECAKE; STRAWBERRY AND SHORTBREAD ($12)
BANANA; PUDDING WITH RUM AND BRIOCHE ($11)
CANDY BAR; LITERALLY, WITH DARK CHOCOLATE AND CARAMEL ($14)
The desserts as a whole were simple and tasty, and I liked the whimsical (and portable) idea of the candy bar. But for a few dollars more, I'd much rather have the desserts next door at the original NoMad restaurant, which I find much more complex and satisfying.

BONUS:

CANLIS SALAD; ROMAINE, BACON, MINT, OREGANO AND ROMANO CHEESE, DRESSED WITH LEMON, OLIVE OIL, AND CODDLED EGG ($12)
For two weeks a while back they offered their version of Seattle's famous Canlis salad. It was a nice salad, but I didn't quite get the hype as the only thing that really ended up standing out was the mint.

THE HUMM BURGER
You know, if you order both the burger and the hot dog from the menu, all the ingredients are there to make your own upgraded Shake Shack 10th Anniversary Humm Burger!

Overall, the new NoMad bar is a great addition and complements the group's other two restaurants. I believe they've achieved their goal of accessibility as I've brought more friends to the new NoMad bar in the past month than I had brought to EMP and the NoMad hotel restaurant combined in the last two years. While there's little room for error at these prices, I feel that as an overall food and drink experience the NoMad bar trumps many other bars/restaurants/lounges in the city at comparable prices. Obviously, I highly recommend the place, but even I haven't been back alone by myself. I think this is one of those places where the more people you have and the more drinking they do the more fun it is. Perhaps that's one of the reasons why it wasn't so well received by some of the critics.

NoMad Bar
10 W28th Street (entrance on 28th, no name, just a symbol on the door)
Manhattan, New York

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Momofuku Late Night Dinner Series: The Publican at Momofuku Ssam Bar (food)

One of my favorite meals of all time was when Pascal Barbot of L'Astrance did a guest stint at Momofuku Ko some years ago, so I was very excited to try another Momofuku-hosted chef guest stint. Last Tuesday night was the second in Momofuku's late night dinner series, and featured the chef de cuisine and crew of the Publican, the flagship of a mini-empire of restaurants in Chicago with a keen focus on sustainable ingredient sourcing (EDIT: The flagship of the One Off Hospitality Group is actually Blackbird, their fine dining restaurant). Dinner began at 11pm, the first of the two seatings that night (the other one started right after at 1am).

Tables were put together into one long communal table that stretched the distance of the restaurant from the door to the kitchen.

Since this was a unique event, I'll start with my general thoughts on the whole experience. Even though diners sat at one communal table, there wasn't much interaction and people seemed to keep to their own groups. This wasn't like a supper club where you meet and chat with other foodies. Also, it was loud. While this might be the normal decibel level at Momofuku Ssam on a busy night, it was definitely noticeable if you aren't especially used to it. Service was ok, but the whole setup did not seem like something they had taken a lot of time to prepare for. I had some leftovers boxed up, but at the end of the night they had a mix-up and gave me someone else's box instead.

Almost none of that mattered because of how great the food was. My friends who'd been to the Publican had nothing but good things to say about it, and this meal definitely lived up to that hype. While I wouldn't say any of their cooking methods or flavor combinations were very novel, the quality of the ingredients definitely shown through, especially the charcuterie which was mind-blowing at times. Based on this meal, which I guess was quite representative of the food at the Publican, I would highly recommend eating there.

LAMBIC DOUX
The meal came with extremely well thought out beverage pairings. The sour notes of the lambic were very evident at first, and made perfect sense once the charcuterie plate arrived.


CHARCUTERIE - from Publican Quality Meats, Chicago, Illinois
PQM prosciutto, salam d'al duja, spicy coppa, blood mortadella, pork pie, prune pate, snail boudin, and morteau sausage
I've always liked charcuterie but never craved it, but this whole plate was amazing. A great variety of textures and deep flavors that expanded in the mouth. Literally everything was great, but the one thing that I could just keep on eating was the blood mortadella, while I would have preferred the dough on the pork pie to have been thinner.

GOOSE ISLAND BEER CO., CLASS OF '88
Celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Goose Island Beer Company, this beer had an awesome finish and strong aftertaste. It's not for everyone, but I loved it.

HEIRLOOM TOMATOES - from Eckerton Hill Farms, Hamburg, Pennsylvania
Howard's miracle plum, buttermilk, poppy seed, and watercress
The buttermilk and poppy seed combination is one that fans of Momofuku know well. Although I'm personally not enthralled by this combination, it worked well here. The chef made a point to notice the plum, which has an extremely short harvesting season. It was good with the rest of the salad, but I don't eat enough plums to be able to comment on how it compares to others.

SPANISH MACKEREL - from Charleston, South Carolina
Piri piri and chimichurri
I don't recall having had chimichurri with fish before, but it made perfect sense with such a meaty and oily fish. The addition of pine nuts was also nice, and overall this was just a delicious dish, the type that will pretty much satisfy anyone.

SUMMER SQUASH - from Blooming Hill Farm, Monroe, New York
Harissa, feta, fried quinoa, and sunflower seed
This was a nice dish but not as exciting as the other stuff we'd had up to that point. I found the progression of the dishes interesting, because it wasn't a steady move from light to heavy. It was more that many of the dishes were heavy in general, and a salad would be thrown in between heavy dishes to cleanse the palate a bit.

GRILLED SQUID - from F/V Teresa Ann, Monterey Bay, California
Blood sausage, new potato, shishito, and caramelized aioli
Even though I have no problems eating Chinese blood pudding, I don't particularly enjoy morcilla. But the blood sausage here was (I shouldn't have been surprised at this point) amazing. Solid texture and chew without any extraneous fillers or herbs. It was a well composed dish, but to me the blood sausage was the star of the show.

VIRTUE CIDER, THE LEDBURY
Another tart drink which proved necessary when the final course showed itself.


HAM CHOP "IN HAY" - from Heritage Foods USA, Trimble, Missouri
Corn, cranberry bean, and sorrel
BARBEQUE[sic] CARROTS - from Phillips Farms, Milford, New Jersey
Dill and pecan
Simple, well done, and delicious. From the looks of it, it was unclear how the slabs of pork belly would taste, but as soon as it hit the taste buds, the comforting taste of smoked ham was the first thing that came to mind. The carrots were a good accompaniment, although I would have preferred them less crunchy.


BRAISED CHERRIES - from Red Jacket Orchards, Geneva, New York
Anna's sour cream coffee cake, creme legere
"KYLE'S AFTER PORK" DIGESTIF
Staying with the overall theme of the menu, the dessert was a simple, yet substantial and delicious cake. The digestif tasted like Chinese herbal medicine, one of those things that you drink only because someone tells you it's good for you. I'm used to it but it certainly wasn't for everyone.

Overall, I would highly recommend trying the next one. I have plenty of faith that the quality of invitees will continue to be stellar, and the food easily made up for the shortcomings in the dining experience that weren't to my liking. At $123 all-in including tax, service, and beverage pairing, it was a very good value even discounting the hour at which we had to eat. There's no guarantee that the next dinner in the series will feature comparable quality and quantity, but I'd be shocked if there was a big drop off.

The Publican
837 W Fulton Market
Chicago, IL 60607

Momofuku Ssam Bar
207 2nd Ave between 13th St & 12th St
Manhattan, NY 10003

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Large Format Aged Prime Rib at the Breslin (food)

Large format meals at restaurants are a great and easy way for a big group to eat in NYC. There's no additional private dining charge, people know ahead of time what they're going to eat, and you can rest assured that the staff is experienced in dealing with a large group. In the case of the Breslin or Momofuku Ssam Bar, it also allows you to make a reservation at a restaurant that otherwise doesn't take them.

Some large format meals may be ambitious and kind of a spectacle, while some are just great family-style dinners. The prime rib meal at the Breslin belongs in the latter category, as it is primarily chef April Bloomfield's version of a Sunday roast.

MARKET VEGETABLE SALAD WITH CARROT, RADISH, FETA, AND HERB VINAIGRETTE
The meal started off with a delicious and satisfying salad. The flavors of the vegetables were clean and clear and not overpowered by the feta and vinaigrette. There was great skill on display as the vegetables were cut purposefully into sizes which enhanced the different textural contrasts and flavor combinations in each bite.

RIB OF BEEF
The main course is presented to us as it rests before being carved and served.


DRY AGED PRIME RIB OF BEEF WITH RED WINE SAUCE AND HORSERADISH CREAM
Everyone dig in! There were about 9 slices of prime rib each cut to about 1.5cm thick for the 7 of us (the meal is charged per person at an 8 person minimum), with a few very delicious bones served in a separate bowl. The steak was very tender, and while there wasn't an strong aged funk in the flavor of the meat, its presence was noticeable in the fat. The red wine sauce was nice, but I loved the horseradish cream, which was creamy and delicious, providing a nice kick that didn't overwhelm as horseradish often does.


BABY BEETS WITH GRATED HORSERADISH AND HERB VINAIGRETTE
ROASTED BROCCOLI WITH CALABRIAN CHILI AND ANCHOVY
Both vegetable sides were excellent. The beets were not too sweet, and the broccoli retained an excellent texture.

YORKSHIRE PUDDING
A staple of the British Sunday roast, this was delicious and perfect for mopping up all the sauces and meat juices.

CHOCOLATE MOUSE[sic] WITH STRAWBERRY AND PISTACHIO
I'm usually not a mousse fan, but I enjoyed this as it was very light and airy and the chocolate flavor was not too sweet.

The large format meals at the Breslin have now expanded to two availabilities per time slot, with the primary seating done at the large "chef's table" right in front of the open kitchen, as well as a set of tables put together upstairs. Overall, it was a delicious meal that I would recommend for large group get-togethers. However, it is still just a fancy Sunday roast, so for foodies looking for more than just a nice meal together, some of the Breslin's other large format choices might be better.

The Breslin (inside Ace Hotel)
20 W 29th St
Manhattan, NY 10001