Dinner at Eleven Madison Park, Will Guidara and chef Daniel Humm’s vaunted haute cuisine hangout — which closes June 9 for renovations and a summer Hamptons pop-up — costs a lofty $295 per person. For many, that kind of expense would rightly raise eyebrows and prompt double takes. Even a meal at the NoMad — the partners’ clubby hotel restaurant that practically redefined what clubby NYC hotel restaurants can be — will set you back, what with the opulent chicken for two fetching just under $90. In the six years since taking the reins from Union Square Hospitality Group honcho Danny Meyer, they’ve maxed out Michelin (EMP has three stars, NoMad one), wowed critics, and consistently reinvented themselves — sometimes to contentious results. They’re also fresh off a “World’s Best Restaurant” win for EMP, having topped this year’s “50 Best” list. So what are two of the hottest and best-respected fine-dining industry leaders doing next? Taking their talents to the people.
At the end of April, the juggernaut duo opened Made Nice, their long-awaited fast-casual restaurant serving nine composed dishes that mostly run $11–$15, as well as $2 garlic rolls baked soft with cheesy streusel and a $6 chicken velouté that’s so rich you won’t need more than a cup. The latter starts with a stock “reinforced with roasted chicken backs, mushrooms, celery, and sherry,” says executive chef and Eleven Madison Park vet Danny DiStefano. Besides poached chicken, the kitchen also adds crème fraîche, cayenne pepper, and lemon juice. What really sets it apart, however, is a schmaltz roux, stirred in carefully at the end, and the crumbles of crispy chicken skin used as a garnish, elevating the soup to pure decadence.
The bright, high-ceilinged space is somewhat generically corporate until you notice the gleaming kitchen in back, teeming with an aproned crew who mill about among copper cookware. Homemade sodas include a gingery cranberry and the yuzu-spiked “Citrus Crush,” though we’re most into the two NYC-inspired offerings. One, a green concoction called “Dr. Green’s,” is reminiscent of classic Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray with its mix of apple, celery, and mint. Just as impressive is a cold-brew coffee and cocoa nib soda that’s an homage to Manhattan Special, the local soft drink that reaches back to the Industrial Revolution. The fizzy result has a subtle, pleasant bitterness, so if you’ve tired of your usual beans and blends, this is one exceedingly tasty pick-me-up that won’t make you hate yourself immediately after.
Although the food is assembled quickly (under five minutes, in some cases), the recipes are based on some of the favorite time-tested flavors from Humm’s fancier restaurants. “Many of the techniques we are using are the basic fundamentals of how we cook at EMP and the NoMad, from the way we roast a beet in red-wine vinegar, shave broccoli for salad, or the way we press pork confit,” DiStefano says, adding that the skills they’re applying here “took years to develop.” That may be why everything, save for a busy salad of “Greens & Grains” that piles on dreary scoops of quinoa, chickpeas, tabbouleh, couscous, and almond butter, looks better than your average DIY grain bowl.
Served in attractive, broadly shallow bowls, the meals are suitably filling, and trendy items that might underwhelm elsewhere — like quinoa falafel or curried cauliflower — feel like they’ve had some actual life breathed into them. Case in point: Those buzzy brassicas are stewed with tofu and spooned over a coconut couscous redolent of lemongrass and
dotted with grapes and slivered almonds. The confited pork is made from shredded shoulder meat formed into a brick and then seared hard, so that the outside forms a slightly crackled crust. Paired with roasted carrots and ancient grains, its rich unctuousness is tamed by baby kale and nicely tart sherry vinaigrette. The chickens that go into the soup also star in separate bowls featuring breast and thigh meat, while the rest becomes an evening-only roast-half-chicken set meal, which sports citrusy parmesan stuffing under its crisp skin, less extravagant than its truffle-and-foie-gras-packed NoMad brethren. Presented charmingly on wax paper alongside herbed french fries and a side salad of very fresh greens, it will set you back a modest $22.
Three of the most expensive plates are also three of the most successful: plancha-seared hanger steak, which comes out a rosy medium-rare as part of a broccoli salad with crunchy rice and shallots; a buttermilk-vinaigrette-dressed frisée salad tossed with fried potato “croutons” and smoked salmon; and flaky seared cod provençal with braised tomatoes, fennel, and olives surrounded by hummus-like “chickpea purée” and scattered with fried chickpeas. Even in the shadow of a creatively #branded mural depicting, among other things, the Flatiron Building and the cover of The Joy of Cooking, forking over $15 to spear your fork into fish cooked this well feels more than fair.
Dessert, a soft-serve ice cream sundae swathed in gilded drizzles of buckwheat honey and crowned with honey brittle and oat shortbread, is a dazzling $6 riff on one of the NoMad’s signature sweet endings, itself a play on flavors from the Swiss chef’s childhood. Like the rest of the offerings at Made Nice, it offers a taste of Humm’s and the whole Made Nice crew’s particular combination of whimsy and precision, without the same wallet and palate fatigue you might experience during one of their exorbitant blowout feasts. Talk about a sweet deal.