This past Saturday, Will Guidara and Daniel Humm opened their upscale take on a tavern, The NoMad Bar (10 West 28th Street, 212-796-1500). The handsome bi-level space has a kindred spirit in the restaurant’s Elephant Bar, where beverage director Leo Robitschek and his team have garnered numerous accolades, among them World’s Best Hotel Bar at Tales of the Cocktail 2013 and Outstanding Bar Program at this year’s James Beard Foundation Awards. In addition to an expanded cocktail menu, including “cocktail explosions” (we’ll get to those later) and premium spirit reserve cocktails, Humm and NoMad sous chef Ashley Abodeely have devised a menu of small plates, bar bites, and elevated pub fare separate from what’s available next door to complement the drinks.
The bar’s accessible from West 28th Street or from within the hotel through The Library Bar, and using either entrance gives you an immediate eyeful of the arched centerpiece bar that commands the entire room with a backlit glow. Plush dark leather booths and banquettes fill out the downstairs room, which is dressed in white tile floors and dark wood, while the upstairs balcony is a sea of tables for two. We didn’t spot any fancy NoMad drink cards, but the coasters are outfitted with games like hangman.
Those familiar with Robitschek’s drinks will be happy to see that the bulk of the cocktail list is the same as at Elephant Bar, broken up into categories of classic cocktails, soft cocktails, aperitifs, and light and dark spirited drinks. New here, however, are those cocktail explosions. The NoMad’s Head of Bar Education Chris Lowder explains that the $90 large format drinks are served “in a gorgeous Art Deco crystal decanter.” Recommended for groups of six to eight, Lowder loves the punch presentations for their “layers of fruit and mint garnish that can be seen through the sides of the glass vessel.” Rather than dipping a ladle into a punch bowl, the decanters feature a spigot for guests to dole drinks out into pre-garnished glasses.
Reserve cocktails are also a NoMad Bar specialty. Ranging from $28 to $198, they feature rare and premium spirits, including a $60 Jack Rose made with 1965 Michele Giard Calvados and Laird’s 12yr apple brandy, and a Vieux Carre featuring 50 year cognac and Thomas M. Handy Sazerac straight rye whiskey that fetches $198. “I’m not saying that a $198 cocktail is right for everyone,” admits Lowder, but the section was developed in response to queries from high-rolling guests. Rather than waste such expensive hooch on making something bespoke to varying results, the team invested a great deal of money into perfecting the high-end tipples during menu creation. He adds, “Now we don’t have to experiment on guests.”
Food is split into small and large plates, all with a heavy gastropub bent, and there are separate sections devoted to tartares, clams, and dessert. Humm’s snow pea salad with pancetta, mint, and pecorino cheese makes an appearance, as do raw bay scallops zapped with yuzu and pistachios. As to why NoMad’s always-excellent flatbread costs $6 here as opposed to being free next door, our server informed us that the consensus was that not everyone wants to eat bread with small plates and snacks, as opposed to being a precursor to a full meal. I don’t possess the mathematical reasoning skills of your Suttons and Silvers, but it would seem to me that free bread would make a great bar snack, especially when it’s the NoMad’s pristine loaves. Hell, they could always go the Crocodile Lounge route and give away free flatbreads with every drink. In the bread’s defense, it’s large enough to share, and if you’re good with $16 cocktails, chances are you’re fine paying for bread.
That mini carb-stroke aside, it’s nice to see Humm throwing a bone to the folks who can’t pony up $225 for a night at Eleven Madison Park by including a pre-ground, potted version of his famous carrot tartare. Mixed with sunflower seeds and mustard, the shredded root vegetable joins tuna and beef versions, all of which are topped with a cured quail egg and served with rye crisps. It costs $15, and its worth is dependent upon whether you’re content with the novelty of getting to try the buzzy dish. Nutty, sweet, and sour, it’s a tasty snack nonetheless. Clams are the latest “it” bivalve, served here raw, baked, or brought to the table in a cast-iron pot, swimming in a broth with corn, bacon, and tomato. Littlenecks receive a crudo preparation, the bellies diced and anointed with lime juice, fennel, and olive oil.
Larger plates are where you’ll find the majority of bar food riffs, like fried chicken, a dry-aged burger, and a bacon-wrapped hot dog that’s a version of the limited-run tube steak Humm created for cocktail den PDT. There are entrée-style plates as well, including striped bass, skirt steak skewers, and pork schnitzel, but just like its older sibling, The NoMad Bar boasts one impressive fowl — this time in the form of a $36 chicken potpie. I’m actually thrilled that they didn’t just offer the $82 chicken-for-two from next door, which can be polarizing, and, to some, prohibitive. The main restaurant does offer a $26 sandwich version of the fabled bird during brunch using foie gras-injected chicken breasts, but the potpie is a more fitting companion piece. Arriving at the table in a cast-iron cauldron with a skewer of seared foie gras and a quenelle of chilled truffle cream, it’s nearly as impactful as the carcass flaunting that goes on at The NoMad. Its top deeply burnished and ballooned, the crust is cracked open soufflé-style so that the luxury ingredients can be dropped in. General Manager Jeffrey Tascarella explains, “The goal is for the chilled cream to cool down the filling to eating temperature.” Based on an initial visit, it’s more or less a steal, as it’s heavy enough to share and is every bit as overbearingly decadent as you’d expect it to be given its ingredients (shout out to the bevvy of whole morels as well).
Desserts also take a snack approach. There’s a $14 candy bar, banana pudding brioche sliders, and strawberry shortbread cheesecake. And although they have an unfortunately toilet-ready appearance, the bonbon-like nuggets in a cookies and cream dessert, vanilla ice cream coated in chocolate and rolled in chocolate cookies, are satisfying in a nostalgic way.
While plenty of fine dining chefs are branching out with casual projects, this ritzy saloon appears to be as relaxed as the NoMad crew is willing to go for now. Anyone familiar with Humm and Guidara’s approach to service will find similar practices and amenities. Table settings are cleared between courses, hot towels are offered to guests at meal’s end, and there’s punctuality to the whole procession. They’ve even enlisted Seattle fine dining legacy Brian Canlis to help with the launch. In that way, it’s exactly the watering hole that The NoMad’s guests and local fans deserve.
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