June 30, 2014 | BITE: My Journal

NoMad Bar Code

Among “Dark Spirited” $16 cocktails, Satan’s Choice (left); Philadelphia Fish House Punch, a classic.
Among “Dark Spirited” $16 cocktails, Satan’s Choice (left); Philadelphia Fish House Punch, a classic.

          I wasn’t rushing to the new NoMad Bar. I’m not much of a recreational tippler or an anthropologist of cocktail culture. I’m not good at standup, or small talk, or giggling, or shrieking. I am not cruising for a pick-up. Mostly these evenings I’m into dinner. But my friend Wilford is a big fan of the NoMad -- he lives nearby -- and he thought it would be fun to check out the new bar menu. “Bar food by Daniel Humm, a three star Michelin chef,” he reminds me.

From our tiny two-top on the balcony, a hovercraft view of the new NoMad bar tangle.

           In the desolation of West 28th street, my cabby misses the spot. I barely avoid stepping into an inky black gutter. There’s no sign on the door, but this must be the place. It’s vibrating. Instinctively, I recoil as if struck. Ahead, I see the golden glow of 1,000 backlit bottles. The ceiling soars stirring up a hurricane of noise. I’m reminded of the cacophony in the bar at The Breslin.

Photographer Mackenzie Rollins spent eight weeks shooting the neighborhood for the NoMad team.

           But I like the welcome. “You’re the first to arrive,” says a striking hostess after a careful, non-committal glance. “Would you like to be seated?” She could have said, “What are you doing here?” It’s the Wilford effect. I’m welcome by proxy. She assigns a minion to lead me to a tiny two-top on the balcony overhead where I can look down revelers pressed close like so many asparagus seen through my black wrought iron railing. The backlit stage is set for half a dozen suspendered tenders. They swivel and dodge, stir and shake. I like finding myself in the week’s buzziest heat.

The server delivers a box of forks and spoons to enhance the grazing experience.

           Wilford is grinning when he tops the steps into the din. “Maybe we can’t talk, but we can drink,” he suggests. Instead of his usual gin martini, he chooses “Satan’s Circus” from the “Dark Spirited Offerings” in the menu. For research purposes. The trim little booklet opens with two pages of food and gives way to twelve of drink, from “Soft Cocktails” and “Light Spirited” to “Bottles and Cans” to “More Than A Bottle.”

The crowd may be dressed down but the bar is all mahogany elegance and tufted leather banquettes.

           I cannot imagine the players below, some dressed for the royal court, some for the tennis court, a shocking field of shaven domes, are ripe for a $500 jeroboam of Tempranillo to share with friends. But what do I know of contemporary nightlife? Will Guidara, Humm’s partner here and at Eleven Madison Park, has said that from the mid-19th Century until Prohibition, this neighborhood was cocktail central for Manhattan. I like that symmetry.

Our server in a theatrical gesture as she smooshed foie gras and truffle butter into our chicken pot pie.

           My “Classic” Philadelphia Fish House Punch with a shrub of mint is tart and refreshing. Wilford likes it better than his too-sweet rye with Cherry Heering and Thai bird chili. But he is already happily distracted by his favorite Scotch olives, stuffed with melted sheep’s milk cheese and wrapped in deep-fried, breaded, minced lamb. Like a miniature Scotch egg you’d find at a British pub, only designed by a star chef.

           The service is spiffy. Waiters are trailed by tray-bearers standing at West Point attention as each dish is debarked. I like watching the bar action with Wilford. It might be like going to a Knicks game and getting Spike Lee to explain the moves. Or having Bob Dylan whisper a lyric into your ear. I like having a man making sure I get what I want. And the crew is so agreeable I wouldn’t be surprised if they carded me, just to make me feel like I belong.

Boards toting crumbed clams, $6 flatbread and yuzu-marinated scallops line up on the table.

           I contemplate ordering us a chunk of Swiss cheese with mustard and pretzel chips, and tartare in any of three flavors, including the ridiculous carrot paste Humm invented for EMP. There are clams three ways too, raw, baked or in broth. We agree on baked clams with breadcrumbs and bacon (not bad but not good, mostly crumbs) and eggplant beignets with pine nuts and minted yogurt (in fact, boring little empanadas). 

Tonight's spring onion flatbread seems flat, dry, even stale -- qualities I didn’t notice when it was free.

           The spring onion and fingerling flatbread delighted me long ago next door in the restaurant -- we had seconds and thirds when the kitchen slowed in the earliest days. But now at $6, it is revealed as dull and stale and not very toasty. Bay scallops -- in a pucker of yuzu with pistachios -- is the smarter choice.

           A parade of functionaries from NoMad next door come by to pay court to Wilford. “What’s that,” I ask. “What did she say?”  We all lean in. Wilford trades the dregs of his Satan’s Choice for an $18 Tripel Karmeliet, a Belgian beer. Beer is a mystery to me, but he seems beyond content.

Pork schnitzel on focaccia with tomato could become a habit. It’s the pickle that does it.

           And then the pork schnitzel sandwich on focaccia arrives, and the advertised pièce de résistance, the chicken pot pie, with a skewer of foie gras and an oval of truffle essence delivered separately on their own board. I am fascinated by our waitress’s green painted nails as she injects the foie into the puff pastry pouf, and then urges us to twirl the truffled butter until it is fully absorbed.

The $36 pot pie might be even better than the $82 chicken for two in next door's NoMad.

           Folderol and well worth it -- I don’t recall a pot pie quite so substantial and lush. I think I like it even better than NoMad’s $84 whole roasted chicken for two that it is meant to evoke. On a brasher level, the sandwich, halved for sharing, is fabulous too. It’s that pickle.

           “Let’s go get a dish or two at NoMad,” Willford suggests, chewing on his schnitzel.

           “Are you serious?”  I fish out a few more morsels of the dark and stormy chicken and peel off a curl of its buttery pastry. So good.

           “If you’re game,” says Wilford, “You’ll be my guest.”

           “I guess we better stop eating here then,” I venture when it’s clearly already too late. “Do you think they have a table? It’s Thursday night after all. I kind of want to go and I kind of think I shouldn’t.” He summons the dining room manager.

The catalytic foie gras and black truffle fold-ins arrive on their own, poised to take a dive.

           “Should we have dessert while we wait?” Wilford asks when warned it might be twenty minutes for a table. Half an hour later we are settled into what I know very well is a prime little table for two in the parlor. I assume some innocent couple will wait a little longer or get stuck in the noisier Atrium. At first I scarcely notice but then, sitting in swaths of velvet, I do. The silence. The gentle burble of discreet sound feels like a benediction. 

In the romantic dim and soothing murmur of NoMad’s parlor, the bread is already better.

           “Tell the chef to give us whatever he decides,” says Will. “We just want two dishes. We’ll trade in the middle.” But first, he is persuaded to have more Scotch olives. I am fixated, impressed, as Wilford eats three of them. And the spring onion flatbread, free now, is definitely worth the price. I ignore it, saving myself for what ever arrives.

Something salty comes this way: It’s raw Hamachi looking gorgeous, marinated in kombu.

           Hamachi with beets -- incredibly beautiful -- is set before me. Alas, the fish -- marinated in kombu and wasabi -- is too salty to eat. Wilford trades me for his strawberry salad with goat cheese, cucumber and basil -- also picture pretty, but not equally brilliant. The berries are wonderfully ripe.

           More silver arrives. We are getting a second dish. “Wilford,” I cry, “They are sending out more food. Shouldn’t we stop them?”

           “Should we?” he asks. But he does not. Now I confront another astonishing still life: Lobster, exquisitely poached and delicate, with big, fat sugar peapods and morels lying alongside a luminous wave of vin jaune sauce.  Oh dear, something is too salty here, too.

Strawberry salad is laced with goat cheese, cucumber and flutters of basil.

           Dutifully, I taste. Wilford’s seared scallops with English peas and carrots and lemongrass have been spared the shaker. He’ll finish my lobster. He clearly wants dessert. “Let me go home then and you stay for dessert,” I suggest, excusing myself to get lost downstairs en route from the ladies room.

Exquisitely poached lobster with morels and snap peas napped with vin jaune sauce almost makes it.

           At my return I see a candy bar -- Tuscan chocolate with salted caramel -- on a wooden board at my place. “It’s my gift for you,” says Wilford. “They sell them at the new bar. Supposedly one out of 300 has a slip for a free dinner at NoMad.”

Seared scallops with English peas and carrots look inspired by a midsummer night’s dream.

           “I’ll taste it tomorrow,” I promise. He is wonderfully gallant about not getting a taste of my chocolate, hailing me a cab. He lives only a short walk away. I wonder if he will go back for another chocolate bar. Perhaps he has already got a spare tucked into his pocket. I promise if mine is the one with a lucky draw, I’ll definitely giftwrap it for Wilford.


10 West 28th Street between 5th Avenue and Broadway. 212 796 1500. Sunday 4:30 to midnight. Monday and Tuesday 4:40 to 1 am. Wednesday through Saturday till 2 am. Food is served from 5 pm till half an hour before last call.


Photos may not be used without permission of Gael Greene. Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

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