The NoMad Hotel Dining Room–New York City

Anyone who reads my blog or listens to me on the KCUR Food Critics show knows that my husband doesn’t like to spend a lot of money on “fancy” restaurant meals. So it was with some trepidation that I booked a table at The NoMad hotel in New York to celebrate my son’s birthday last month. I had heard it was a beautiful space and, since we hadn’t been to Eleven Madison Park where owner/chef Daniel Humm made his name, I figured this would be a way to experience Humm’s cuisine on a less formal scale. Not inexpensive by any stretch, but less so than the $195 multi-course meal at EMP.

The dining area is divided into 4 very distinct rooms–The Atrium (the largest and loudest), the Library (a gorgeous bar that serves light snacks), the Parlour (smaller than the atrium but still humming), and the Fireplace (the smallest and quietest). Each room is gorgeous, but I asked for a quiet room in advance because I wanted to be able to have real conversation rather than having to shout across the table. We lucked out and got a table in the five table Fireplace room. I don’t  know if they have a real fire in the winter, but this was summer and the fireplace was filled with candles to create a lovely glow.

Corn with corn cream--The Nomad

My husband was so impressed with the service throughout the evening that he didn’t complain about the hefty bill. Everyone who came by our table (and there were many) had been beautifully trained to provide smooth, knowledgeable and friendly service, not a surprise really since Eleven Madison Park was originally a Danny Meyer restaurant, so Daniel Humm learned hospitality at the knee of a master. But it did elevate the evening beyond the enjoyment of a good meal.

Fluke--The Nomad

Every dish was visually striking and there was an intensity of flavor in each bite. Here’s what we had:

CORN
ROASTED WITH TOMATO, BASIL & CORN CREAM

FLUKE
MARINATED WITH TOMATO-DASHI & LEMON VERBENAP1020068

LAMB
GLAZED WITH ROMAINE, CUMIN & YOGURT Crab and Meyer lemon pasta---The Nomad

TAGLIATELLE
KING CRAB, MEYER LEMON & BLACK PEPPER

SUCKLING PIG
CONFIT WITH PEACHES, ARUGULA & BACON MARMALADESuckling Pig with Peaches and Arugula--The Nomad

CHICKEN
WHOLE-ROASTED FOR TWO: FOIE GRAS, BLACK TRUFFLE, BRIOCHE Roast chicken for two--The NomadChicken breast with truffled mashed potatoes--The Nomad

CHOCOLATEThigh and vegetables--The Nomad
MALTED GANACHE WITH CHOCOLATE FONDANT & MALT ICE CREAMChocolate---The Nomad

STRAWBERRIES
POACHED WITH ANGEL FOOD CAKE, RICOTTA & ANISE HYSSOPStrawberry with angel food cake, ricotta and anise--The Nomad

 

The chicken is the specialty of the house, and is based on a similar dish served at Eleven Madison Park. The entire bird is presented at the table with a flourish, and then taken back to the kitchen where the breast is plated for two, and served with a fricassee of  thigh meat, mushrooms and shallots that is presented on the side in a cast iron vessel. The chicken’s stuffing of foie gras, truffles and brioche transforms what could be a very pedestrian dish into an incredibly rich indulgence.

What we all noticed is that the menu description of each dish paled in comparison to what we ate. To say I ate a bowl of corn doesn’t begin to express the nuances of the dish, either in the  preparation or the presentation, and so it was with everything we experienced that evening.

The NoMad is a treat for all the senses. Without question it was a lovely spot to celebrate a special occasion.

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Bluestem

Come on people, as of May 6th chef/owner Colby Garrelts is a James Beard award winner! How can Bluestem not be packed every night? True, it’s not inexpensive, but for sheer value, it stacks up well with the other upscale restaurants in our fair city. And for a restaurant with a prix-fixe menu, it’s cheap compared to what you’d find in New York….and every bit as memorable.Bluestem

Diners choose a 3, 5 or 10 course meal, custom designed from the selections on the menu. The more courses the smaller the portion of each dish. On a recent evening, our table of four opted for three courses since none of us are big meat eaters and preferred to stick to the starters and fish dishes. But if you’ve never dined at Bluestem, I encourage you to do it up. You won’t be disappointed.Pea Soup without the soup--BluestemPea Soup--Bluestem

Spring is a glorious time to dine at Bluestem because the kitchen makes full use of fresh spring produce, including vegetables not typically utilized in our own homes such as ramps and nettles.Risotto with stinging nettle puree--Bluestem

We started with a brilliant green pea soup that was highlighted by mint, lemon ash and pink peppercorns. It had a touch of cream but wasn’t rich or heavy. The Meyer lemon and black pepper risotto with nettle puree was stunning. The rice had the proper bite and the the nettles added a unique character to the dish. I was tempted by the asparagus starter because I had seen pictures of the rye “soil” that accompanies it but since we have our own crop of asparagus growing, I get my fill of that particular vegetable on an almost daily basis.

Three of us then enjoyed the chitarra ( which is cut to resemble Italian guitar strings) with smoked clams, sweet bay scallops, wild ramps and broth. It was light on the sauce, but each bite had a lovely flavor all its own.Chitarra with clams, scallops and ramps--Bluestem

The wild salmon was cooked to a medium rare on parsnip puree that looked as though it had been applied by paint brush. The salmon was accented with peas and carrots, but not cooked to mush the way our mothers all used to do when we were growing up.Wild Salmon with pea, carrot and parsnip--Bluestem

Instead of sampling one of Megan Garrelts’ justifiably acclaimed desserts (many of which are also available next door in the lounge), we opted to move from a smooth Cabernet to dessert wines with our cheese plates. The cheeses were all heavenly, and were offered up with crisp toast slices and chutneys.Cheese plate--Bluestem

Though each dish that comes out of Chef Colby’s kitchen is camera worthy (at least in the hands of Ulterior Epicure‘s Bonjwing Lee, with whom the Garrelts collaborated on a Bluestem cookbook), it’s the small touches that make a restaurant like this sing a bit louder than the rest. In addition to the evening’s amuse bouche of a homemade Cheeto, we were also presented with gifts of marinated Hamachi served in Japanese noodle soup spoon and a fried morel. The gorgeous tray of homemade breads also included the finest butter, and a jam so good I was tempted to ask for some to smear on my cheeses.Marinated Hamachi--BluestemFried Morel--Bluestem

The polished service is exquisite. It’s formal but not stuffy; our server was appropriately friendly and GM Eric Willey was adept at directing our wine selections. Neither acted like we were doing them a favor by dining there, as is so often the case in big city restaurants of the same caliber.

It took Chef Colby seven nominations to finally win the coveted James Beard Best Chef -Midwest award, but while it was clearly an overdue honor, I would suggest that the experience has gotten better over the years and perhaps the judges recognized his continued dedication to excellence and innovation.

I am also delighted to support a chef who understands that he would be not be successful without his wife and partner, and proudly took her on stage with him to receive his James Beard medal last month. Bravo.

Bluestem on Urbanspoon

Geranimo in Santa Fe

Geranimo is a veritable institution in Santa Fe. It has changed chefs over the years, but has never lost its panache or its place as one of the premier restaurants in Santa Fe…if, that is, you are looking for an upscale, non-enchilada/burrito meal.

Geranimo is in a lovely house on Canyon Road, about 2/3 of the way up this very unique art gallery-lined lane. The restaurant is much larger than it appears from the entrance; once past the pleasant sidewalk patio, diners will find several elegant rooms decorated simply with gorgeous leather chairs and banquettes, providing a lovely contrast to the white walls. Service is refined, yet not stuffy or intrusive.

Breads are homemade and unusual, including chile dotted rolls and a very moist cornbread.

The waiter knew we were celebrating a special occasion, so he brought each of us a flute of blush champagne, a very festive way to start what was to be an outstanding dining experience.

Though it was not easy to decide among the mouth-watering appetizers, we were pleased with our selections. Duo of Tuna was quite different. Though there was a somewhat traditional tartar, the other half of the preparation consisted of mini bricks of tuna that were wrapped in a crepe-like buttermilk pancake with hoisin green garlic sauce and wasabi aioli.

One of Chef Eric DiStefano’s signature dishes is a fabulous fiery chile shrimp atop an almond rice cake with yuzu basil aioli, and he serves it here as well as his other restaurant, Coyote Cafe. I had ordered a half portion for an appetizer, but after taking one bite was regretting not getting the full tower for my entree.

Other appetizers included a crab cake with dill remoulade, wasabi Caesar salad with Japanese horseradish infused dressing, and orange and pepper seared diver scallops with vanilla crepes, all beautiful to behold. Tom never met a noodle he didn’t like so he had ramen noodles with Japanese vegetables for his main course. They are billed as a side dish and are more appropriate as such; though a nice addition to a meal, the noodles were a bit bland on their own.

Though tuna and wasabi mashed potatoes is a timeworn combination dating back to the 1980s, it’s one I never tire of and this was a worthy rendition. The bok choy and watercress added a layer of texture and all the flavors played well together.

The grilled lobster tail with green chile garlic sauce over angel hair pasta has been a mainstay on the menu at both restaurants. Though it was a lovely dish, it lacked a punch that one would expect from the menu description.

The birthday celebration was topped off with a complimentary piece of dense flourless cake and four forks, and was easily rich enough for us to share without fighting over the last bite.

Geranimo is not an everyday sort of hangout, though having a drink and appetizers on the patio or in the bar would be a nice way to spend an evening without spending big bucks. I consider it the finest fine-dining restaurant in Santa Fe, having maintained its consistency and quality over the years.

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Room 39

I’ve always loved Room 39. The servers are consistently friendly and knowledgeable, the space has a lovely coziness to it and the restaurant’s personality shifts as the clock does. In the  morning it’s an upscale coffee shop, with exceptional coffee and egg dishes, including a quiche that is probably  four inches high. At lunchtime, it’s a soup and sandwich spot frequented by lawyers and artists alike. The veggie burger is one of the best around, but it’s hard to go wrong with any of the offerings.

Come sundown, tablecloths and votives grace the tables, transforming the restaurant into a serious, upscale dining experience. The menu  changes daily and is posted online so you can get a peek of the chef’s selections before making a reservation. (The breakfast and lunch menus are set seasonally, but an  extensive list of daily specials is also available.)

Owner Ted Habiger and his chefs are all about fresh and seasonal ingredients,  which is why the menu has to change each day based on availability. We were lucky to be there on a night when beets were so prominently featured. The  beet risotto was a stunning magenta, and the beet vinaigrette that accompanied the succulent scallops was bubble gum pink. The color could have been off-putting, but knowing that it was redolent of beet and far from artificial made it a good thing.

The rib eye was huge, prepared as ordered and very tender. (Unlike the leg of lamb which was without even a touch of pink though the server explained that the chef likes to serve it medium).

While I think of Room 39 as being quaint, and it is, that doesn’t mean it’s quiet. We were there the Thursday before Christmas, and as more diners squeezed in at the bar to wait for a table, the louder it became. We could still carry on a conversation at our table of six, but it wasn’t as relaxing as when we first sat down to a half-full room.

Room 39 also has another restaurant by the same name in Mission Farms at 105th  and Mission Road. The fare is similar, though the chef at that location puts his own spin on the menu.  I prefer the more charming ambiance at the location on 39th St,  but the food is excellent at both.

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