August 14, 2017 | BITE: My Journal

NoMad’s Lobster Quadrille: Will You, Won’t You? Will You Join the Dance?

Lobster-corn chowder tastes like summer at the beach in a bowl. Definitely, a shallow bowl.

          I say you should. Better walk a little faster because NoMad’s Summer Lobster Fest only lasts through Labor Day. Yes, it costs $125, drat, but trust me, it’s worth the money if you’ve got it. Go with a friend. Be two or four or up to eight, but be sure they’re lobster fans. This is a serious obsession.  



This is Ruby, a yellow giant Burger&Lobster’s manager saved and sent to the Long Island Aquarium.


          I crave lobster, especially because I’m not renting at the beach this summer. In my crowd, Hampton days used to mean oversized crustaceans, grilled on the back porch. One August my friend Harley Baldwin brought home an eight-pound monster from the Seafood Shop in Wainscott.



Pierre Franey (right) seems not to notice the wayward hand of Craig Claiborne in this photo by Dan Wynn.


          How long should we steam it? I called Pierre Franey, one-time master toque at the famed Le Pavilion, later the chef of Howard Johnson’s. Less time than you’d think. It should get seven minutes in boiling seawater plus three minutes per pound, he advised.



Wilfred’s photo of the tomato-artichoke salad is a little pale but the NoMad parlor dining room is dark.


          I tied a blue ribbon about the critter’s neck and walked it around the kitchen. Then I closed the door and went out to sip Myer’s rum and OJ with our friends while Harley did the deed. Yes, there was corn, too, and tomatoes drizzled with olive oil. The lobster was perfect.  


          So as soon as I saw the notice of NoMad’s summer intentions, I was on it. Imagine, not just a lobster roll but lobster six or seven ways. “Is this for you?” I asked Wilfred, a dining warrior who’s always game for high-concept excursions and occasionally springs for a great bottle.


When the first course lobster “Snacks” arrive the tiny bare table quickly fills up. My wine glass barely fits.


         He responded by grabbing a 7:15 table and emailing me, “yes.” Last Wednesday, I find him in a velvet slipper chair, sipping his usual bespoke Tom Collins at a small bare mahogany table in the Victorian fuss of the main dining room. Not much room for oceanic excess on this tiny two-top, it strikes me.



The sommelier with his Victorian beard goes well with the vintage look of the room.


          The sommelier, looking properly period, almost Tolstoyan, with his dark and dramatic beard, stops by to discuss oenophiliac affairs. What wines by the glass go with lobster?  Wilfred chooses a Sardinian white Pero Longo. I taste two reds and go with the Syrah, just because I like the taste.



It’s easy to eat too much of this irresistible dill-onion bread while waiting for the lobster fest to emerge.


          I’ve forgotten how much I like the house bread -- a crusty onion dill loaf arrives on a wooden board with a knife for slicing. Time for a wedge or two. Then soon enough our waiter arrives, trailed by a young woman carrying a tray with our first course. Moving our glasses and the breadboard and some forks, this dude somehow manages to set down a collection of four dishes in the limited circle of space.



I try to put morsels of lobster ceviche with corn into lettuce wrappers that immediately tear and spill.


          “Is this the tasting?” I ask. “Is this the whole thing?” I imagine a meager feast. “Four courses,” is how the menu describes the Lobster Fest.


          “No, it’s just your first course,” he assures us.



Oh, did the server say to wrap the lobster tempura chunks in lettuce? I’ll try that too.


          It’s Snacks, as the menu promises. He recites the roll call.  Lobster ceviche with corn in a bowl on ice, ribbons of miso-gazed tail, tempura-fried chunks with a side of sorrel aïoli and a little bowl of spices (powdered nori and vinegar, I learn later) and lettuce and radish thins for wrapping. I’m distracted with my camera and miss most of the dialogue.



Lettuce leaves and radish thins make a lovely bouquet on the table, but not for long. I’m inspired to use them.


          “Did he say to wrap the miso lobster?” I ask. Wilfred is not sure. “What is this salad on ice?” I pile the ceviche into the lettuce cup and it spills out.” I lick my fingers. Then I try rolling the fried nubbins in a pashmina of lettuce and radish, sprinkling it with nori-vinegar dust. That’s very good too, not so messy.


          (“We don’t want to tell people how to eat,” the chef de cuisine Mike Reilly tells me the next day. “You can wrap anything you like.”)



Slowly now. Each morsel of miso-marinated lobster tail should be savored, maybe painted with sorrel aîoli.


          NoMad is not a place you go to be dazzled by the precision of service. The kitchen can be slow and servers sometimes seem lost, waiting for a signal that never comes. I watch one busser trying to fade into the velvet curtains. It may take a while for someone to decide to clear even when plates are undeniably ravaged. 



Lobster, potato and Fresno peppers float in the savory corn chowder.


          But like time and the river, soup does eventually arrive. And it is beautiful, an intense yellow, what Scarlett might have worn if the Civil War hadn’t interfered, leaving her to rock Tara’s green velvet curtains.


          The soup is excellent, too.  Corn chowder with lobster, potato, and Fresno peppers. The little sprigs of green are micro purslane. I’m disappointed when I realize how shallow the soup bowl is. Wilfred and I share a big- spenders laugh. The paucity of soup. But there are four cheddar cheese biscuits – and I’m wild about biscuits.



Must I really eat two cheddar biscuits? Silly question. How soon will I be offered biscuits again?


          Everything is more steeped with lobster parts than you’d imagine, the chef later confides. The corn chowder is made with lobster stock. But perhaps that’s best, considering how rich it is.  And that I am not going to settle for just one biscuit.



The sommelier compliments Wilfred on his choice of white wine. “Perfect to go with lobster,” he says.


          I came by NoMad in the earliest days. And Wilfred was a regular for a while at Eleven Madison Park, at NoMad and the adjoining NoMad Bar. But with EMP closed for renovations and owners -- chef Daniel Humm and Will Guidara -- installed at EMP Summer House in East Hampton, there are no familiar faces left behind.



A server is trailed by a nubile young woman balancing a tray with our dishes on it that he then delivers.


          Instead there is a recurring young man with nothing much to say except “How is everything so far?” I usually just respond grudgingly, “Thank you,” figuring I’m a restaurant critic after all, and anyone can read my blog if he really cares. The truth is everything is surprisingly wonderful except the space. “This table is really too small for the lobster tasting,” I comment.


          “Would you like me to move you to a larger table?” he asks.


          “Well, yes,” we agree. “We would.” I even fold my napkin. But that’s the last we hear of that proposal and the place is almost full now.



Two small lobsters, meticulously grilled and split, are loosened from the shell, divided in edible segments.


          Third course: A duo of small grilled lobster, neatly halved, arrives on a platter with clarified butter, already loosened from the shell and cut into luscious bite-size chunks. The server lines up a trio of side dishes: chilled lobster knuckle, tomato salad, and runner beans. Everything is very good except for some soggy tomatoes.



A trio of sides line up on the edge of our little table: tomato salad, chilled lobster salad, and runner beans.


          Nothing is simple. Executive chef Reilly fills me in the next day. The knuckle and claw meat salad with fennel, mussel, and clam is tossed in a mussel vinaigrette. Marinated tomato salad with fried baby artichoke hearts and sea beans sits on a bed of artichoke purée with artichoke chips. My favorite yellow and green runner beans are dressed with an aîoli made from roasted lobster oil, lemon juice, and salt. (Let me note, by the way, that nothing is over-salted – an aggressiveness I notice too often.)



Celery leaves add another nuance of flavor to lobster knuckle and fennel salad with mussels and clams. 


          I’m definitely not hungry anymore. Two cheddar biscuits have taken their toll. Indeed, I find myself unable to finish half my tiny lobster (I’ll take it home to put into my lunchtime salad next day). But I grow increasingly annoyed as it seems like dessert is taking forever. I’m only a little surprised as I remember earlier visits when there seemed to be a twilight zone that paralyzed the kitchen around nine o’clock. I notice friends at the next table also complaining about the extended wait.



Green and yellow runner beans are dressed with an aîoli made from roasted lobster oil, lemon juice, and salt.


          Finally I can’t be silent any longer. A wicked witch slips into my Victorian parlor chair and attacks the sommelier. “Why is the dessert taking so long?” she snarls. Maybe only ten minutes have passed. But it feels like twenty. At that very moment a tray bearer and a designated dissembler trot up and give us each a bowl of ricotta ice cream anchored on cookie crumbs, and then quickly set peach cobbler in a black iron pot on the table.


          Yes, baked to order. Yes, delicious.   


After an annoying long wait, dessert arrives. A bowl of ricotta ice cream on crumbs for each of us.


          With drinks and tax, my share is $175 before tip. I smile a lot and say goodnight to everyone, trying to make up for the wicked witch. I pick up my lobster tail with a coat check at the front desk, and accept Wilfred’s ride home in an Uber.  Another very rich evening.  “I wasn’t expecting it to be that good,” says Wilfred.  



Peach cobbler still warm from the oven has to be the dream dessert for this summer lobster parade.


          I think I was expecting it to be very good. I always hope for the best. I don’t use words like yummy or delish and only very rarely, divine, but if I did…


1170 Broadway between 27th and 28th Streets. 347 472 5660. Lunch daily noon to 2:30 pm. Dinner Monday through Thursday 5:30 pm to 10:30 pm. Friday and Saturday 5:30 pm to 11 pm. Sunday 5:30 to 10 pm.


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