NOMAD – The Restaurant

The first test of a restaurant is, does it make you want to return?

if you think about it, nothing else really matters,  Fine points about the done-ness of your steak or the freshness of your veggies pale before the only issue that counts: Will you come back for another meal?

Consider the following. When you’re in the middle of your first meal at a restaurant, do you:

> Gaze longingly at the dishes being served all around you?

> Think about what you didn’t order WHILE YOU’RE EATING?

> Contemplate your next meal there… in the middle of this one?

> Think to yourself, “I can’t wait to come back”?

if you answered yes to any of these questions, then the restaurant has done its job.

Whether a taco truck, a fast food joint, or haute cuisine palace, getting you back in the door is every restaurant’s first mission….and woe to the place where a customer walks out thinking, “been there, done that.”

Getting you there the first time is the product of hype, word-of-mouth, or whatever. That’s easy. Getting you to return is the hard part.

Getting people to come to The NoMad Restaurant won’t be an issue, given the name, its reputation, and the marketing muscle of MGM.

Getting locals in the door might be a different story. Getting me to come back is going to be even harder.

More on that later, but first let’s review a few things before I get to the food, because several things about NoMad, besides the food, require a reminder.

NoMad is corporate to the core. It is all calculation and concept, conceived solely to cash in on the fame chef Daniel Humm (pronounced Hūme) — fame that was achieved (with the help of some big money investors) at Eleven Madison Park. (For those who don’t hunt big restaurant game as an avocation, EMP is the mega-expensive, impossible-to-get-into, multi-course, World’s Best blah blah blah restaurant that Humm has helmed since 2011.)

As Adam Platt so deftly described, the trouble with having the world’s best anything is plenty of suitors are going to show up at your door enticing you with ideas on ways to “expand your brand,” and make a boatload of cash while doing so. In the case of Humm and partner Will Guidara, that meant springing into hotel/restaurant mode in 2012, and then planning to conquer the world by taking their expandable concept to places like London and Las Vegas.

Apparently, the only thing holding them back these days is where to find enough old books to stock the shelves. Books, you see, being the leitmotif of this place. Oh the irony, I’m sure you’re thinking, stocking a fake library with real books to surround a generation of diners who don’t read them. True enough, but the effect is stunning just the same.

The place is huge (200+ seats) but also dark and clubby  — quite the design feat, again calculated to take your breath away, and it does.

Those shelves surround you from the moment you step into the huge, fancified, fake Victorian library.  20+ foot ceilings (stocked to the brim with those books) threaten to engulf you. All of this mimics the vernacular of the New York original (much as Carbone does) while inflating it, size-wise, to keep up with the conventioneers who will be descending upon it.

NoMad you see, wants it all ways. It is trying to redefine dining for the second (and soon-to-be third) decade of the 21st Century as a place devoted to classics in a casual way. Formal dining, if you will, without the folderol. By and large it succeeds in this mission, hearkening back to days of yore when gentlemen dined in style, dressed to the nines, and surrounded by literate luxury.

No one is dressing for success anymore (shame), but even in cargo shorts, you’ll find a lot to like here, once you find a table, and therein lies a tale.

As you approach the restaurant you will see very large doors that give you a hint as to the scale of the place. Right inside those doors, to the left, is the hostess stand. That stand, on both of my visits, has been filled with drop-dead beautiful young women, none of whom seems to have a clue what they’re doing — a simple “hello, my name is ______ ” sending the bevy of them into paroxysms of wide-eyed uncertainty of the sort one usually sees at a Jimmy Choo sale.

If you want to visit the bar, you will be led through the restaurant to a long counter recessed from the main room. If you are ready for your table (after a quick cocktail), neither the hostess nor the well-meaning barkeep will know how to communicate this fact to the other, or impart the necessary information you’ll need to locate one (the hostess or your table).

Persevere and eventually someone will show up. Then, you’ll be taken back to the hostess stand (not a small hike), from which another bewildered lass will lead you to your seats. It’s all quite the production, necessitated by the demands of a (relatively) small-bore, big city eatery deciding it wants to increase its volume and siphon off some Vegas cash.

Humm and company started raking in their dough six years ago with a something-for-everybody style carefully planned to appeal to everyone from the meat-and-potatoes crowd to inveterate Francophiles. The concept seems more Vegas-ready than most of our usual transplants (cf. Vetri), and from your first glance, you will see a menu that confidently mixes its metaphors.

You won’t mind a bit seeing Italian pastas like tagliatelle with crab and lemon ($36) and cavatelli (above) with black truffle and sausage ($28) sitting beside French classics like lobster Thermidor ($64) and beef Rossini ($58), especially when everything is this tasty. Those pastas may not be in the same league as Marc Vetri’s, but the portions are larger and both starches pack a punch.

Before you get to them though, you’ll have to navigate the appetizers. Again, you’ll find a blend of food styles aimed at pleasing the largest swath of customers possible, Thus does rudimentary kanpachi ceviche ($21) share space with an excellent foie gras torchon ($36), while pata negra ham ($38) can be ordered alongside a buffalo mozz/bibb lettuce.

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Oysters (above, $34) come two ways (chilled with champagne mignonette and broiled with Parmesan and breadcrumbs), and may be the best composed bivalves in town — the first being (literally) sparkling with acidity, while the second finds four plump specimens warmly nestled beneath an herbaceous, cheese blanket. It’s not easy to accent oysters without overwhelming them, and both versions here walk that tightrope without a stumble.

This sort of all-over-the-map eating could be a disaster in less capable hands, but Humm’s crew faithfully recreates the pristine (those kanpachi) with the iconic (Paul Bocuse’s fabled truffled chicken in puff pastry, $32) without a hiccup. The soup is a marvel of simplicity, and any misstep (with the broth, the bird, or the mille-feuille), could turn this homage into a cheap forgery, but as at Auberge du Pont de Collonges, they have obviously honed their skills in making this famous concoction down to a science, and the lip-smacking results are not to be missed by any serious gastronome.

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If there’s a dish NoMad can be credited with bringing back from the dead, it is the simple roast chicken for two (above). Once a staple of French dining rooms, it fell out of favor in the 90s as two generations of baton-twirling chefs sought to distinguish themselves with whatever cartwheel they could fit on a plate. (When I lamented the loss of the simple pleasures of a perfectly roasted bird to several chefs a decade ago, they all looked at me like I was advocating the return of the tasseled menu.)

The version here has been gussied up to a fare-thee-well, and finds a beautifully bronzed specimen, “stuffed with foie gras, black truffle, and brioche, dark meat fricasse and sauce suprême.” With a description like that, you expect trumpets to be playing when it’s brought to the table. When you taste it, you find a gorgeous bird bathed in a rich cream sauce containing whispers of all the other ingredients rather than a chorus of them. For the price ($94), one expects more. At that price, you deserve the 1812 Overture.

 

Not to get tacky about it, but cost-to-value ratio is definitely an issue here. $58 brings forth two small tournedos of (probably sous-vide) filet mignon, one topped with a cute piece of foie gras, the other plopped with a black substance that tastes like stewed blackberries but which is, in fact, onion “jam.”

Jelly on meat is one thing, but this invention comes across as a way to distract you from the minimal presence of (the expected, required) truffle flavor in the dish, and an excuse not to use any more foie gras than necessary.

And then you get to the overpriced sides. $18 for a baked potato (mine came with white truffles, I’m not sure everyone else’s does), $15 for sauteed mushrooms, and…wait for it…. $26 for roasted broccoli.  Of course it comes with two little Parmesan crisps as garnishes, so there’s that.

The baked Alaska is no bargain either ($28), but it’s a wonder of layered composition — fruit, cake, cream — flamed tableside to your delight at any price. I would’ve happily paid double for it in exchange for knocking the broccoli off the bill. The chocolate mousse ($14) is scooped tableside from a large bowl and is also drop-your-spoon delicious.

Finally, there is the service. If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you know that I rarely comment on it. This is for two reasons: 1) many restaurants in Las Vegas know me, so, as a result, I receive more attention than the average diner; and, 2) I don’t really give a shit about service. As I’ve said before, I don’t care if they dump soup on my head as long as it’s great soup.

I may not care about service, that doesn’t mean I don’t notice it. No matter where I dine, from a place like Le Cirque (where we’ve been dozens of times) to my two visits here, I’m watching how the waitstaff treats every one around me. How is their greeting? Is the water getting re-filled? Is there a lag between courses? Does the check show up on time? How have they handled a complaint? My gaze may not be riveted on any one table, but my antennae are always out.

And out or in, I couldn’t help but noticing that service here is not commensurate with the prices. It starts with that hostess stand and continues through the meal: a lot of attractive young people scurrying about, but vaguely confused about how to get the job done.

Menus show up haphazardly. Four different people ask you the same question. Long lag times. Liquid replenishment is problematical, and one entree shows up five minutes before another (at a two-top, on a weekday evening with the restaurant not half full). Vegetables appear at random, and a glass of wine ordered with your entree shows up with dessert.

At a more modest establishment, these would be chalked up to growing pains. With this reputation and these pretensions, such failings are inexcusable, or, at the very least, mentionable.

If I seem on the fence about NoMad, it is because I am. There’s a lot to like about the place. Some of the dishes take your breath away, the room is spectacular, and the libations (cocktails and wine) are well thought-out, and a treat. (Someone on the Strip obviously got our memo about wine lists a few years ago, as the lists we’re now seeing —  here, Vetri, Cipriani, Scotch 80 and others — are stocked with more bottles in the $50-$125 range.)

But if the true test of a restaurant is whether you want to come back, I don’t see myself trekking here anytime soon. I may be looking forward to my next Vetri adventure, or plowing through pastas at Cipriani, or diving into dumplings at China Mama, but when it comes to NoMad, I think I’ll stick with the hamburger and the hot dog  being sold next door at the NoMad Bar, and leave the fancy dining to those who don’t mind paying twenty-six bucks for a bunch of broccoli.

(Our two meals – for two – came to $521 and $325 respectively, but the first one included a $140 bottle of wine. Expect to pay around $125/pp, exclusive of booze.)

THE NOMAD RESTAURANT

The Park

3772 Las Vegas Blvd. South

Las Vegas, NV 89109

702.730.6785

https://www.nomadlasvegas.com/en/restaurants/the-nomad-restaurant.html

 

 

Enough Already 2018

It’s that time of the year, food fans: when the winter solstice descends and our mood grows dark and our prophesies portend.

When our thoughts turn not to festive merriment or seasonal meetings, but to over-baked puddings and gristly greetings.

Yes, it is when we are duty-bound to scream to the heavens,  for the world to hear, no matter how it  might frighten some timid reindeer.

These are the trends we hope soon to end…so that the New Year we pray…can finally make amends.

So without further ado, although some are not new, I hereby say to you:

ENOUGH ALREADY…

Smoked anything

Unless your name is Sonny and you’re tending a hickory pit, lose the smoke. Please.

Wood-fired everything

Yeah yeah yeah….you saw that dude on that Netflix series and he looked like some kind of god chopping his own wood and cooking everything but his profiteroles over it…but the whole idea only works if you’re, you know, like living out in the fucking forest or something. You’re not Paul Bunyan and most of that smoke gets sucked out the oven (thanks, health department!) before it even comes close to flavoring the vittles.

Craft IPAs

We get it: IPAs are cooler than lagers and you can hop them higher than a smack addict in the South Bronx (circa1971), but that doesn’t mean they taste good.

Sour beers

Leave them to the Belgians, please

Steakflation

The aged strip steak at Bavette’s was priced at a whopping $73 when it opened over the summer. Within three months they raised the price to $78. The original price was about 10% higher than the cost of the same steak in Chicago. The new price bumped that to a 20% premium. In Vegas, which is a much smaller town than Chicago, with (supposedly) a much cheaper cost of living (and labor force). Don’t let anyone ever tell you that Las Vegas isn’t the most expensive restaurant town in the country. It is also not a place to chow down on giant steaks anymore, unless you like taking your serious steaks where the sun don’t shine.

Pizza fetishization

With apologies to good friends John Arena, Mike Vakeen, Scott Wiener, Vincent Rotolo, Gio Mauro, Chris Decker, and a dozen others…the whole artisanal pizza thing has jumped the shark. As Steve Cuozzo says in the New York Post, the humble pie has been warped by the whole ‘”authenticity” thing…or cruel mutation.

Brussels sprouts and Beets

Chefs: we know you are duty bound to put edible plants out there, but can’t you find something else to round out your proteins?

Crazily-flavored ice creams

(This is what ice cream is supposed to look like)

Was the world begging for broccoli ice cream? Were orphans crying out for tuna fish gelato? What began as a novelty 4-5 years ago is now a tsunami of bad taste. Only the Instagram generation could ruin something as un-ruin-able as ice cream.

Caviar on everything

Caviar used to be a luxury food. Now it’s more ubiquitous than a Kardashian ass. There’s a reason chefs put it on things: to give the illusion of grandeur….when all they’re really doing is spooning some not-very-expensive farmed fish eggs from China, Brazil, Spain, etc. onto some dish that, 80% of the time, would be better without it. Duping the credulous hordes? You bet! Padding the bill? Absolutely! Worth it? Hardly ever. If I want fish eggs, I’ll eat them off a mother of pearl spoon all by themselves.

Liquor/Food matches

It’s gotten beyond ridiculous: Come to our four-course dinner paired with….Johnny Walker Scotch! Have you ever tried aged rum with rigatoni? Brandy with sea bass? Here we are, a restaurant on a slow night (usually a Tuesday), and some liquor distributor has talked our chef into preparing a wonderful multi-course extravaganza all based around….MEZCAL! Trying to drum up enthusiasm for a high-proof spirit by (ill) matching it with food is the worst idea since the canned cheeseburger.

Short ribs/beef cheeks

Both are the cupcakes of the savory world. Victims of endless permutations that rarely make sense, and so filling they rarely inspire a second bite. Beef cheek ravioli is the ultimate belt-and-suspenders combination that does an injustice to both.

Things in bowls

Here’s the short list of things you should eat in a ginormous bowl: Vietnamese pho, Chinese noodles, and weird Korean soups.

Eating in the dark

I actually liked the two meals I had at Bavette’s. I couldn’t see them, but I liked them.

Eating when you can’t hear

I know, I know: you want your restaurant to have a “party” vibe. Because everyone knows adults go out to eat not to put finely-cooked food in their mouths, but rather to “party”….just like the kids do…at Chuck E. Cheese. Everyone knows the drill now: you’ve got the restaurant pumped to ear-splitting levels to turn tables and sell more booze. You’re not fooling anyone anymore. Let’s all grow up a bit, shall we? It’s 2019, not 2010.

Chefs’ groovy “playlists”

If there’s been one benefit to the downfall of Mario Batali, it’s been that a chef imposing his musical tastes on his guests has finally lost whatever “cool” factor it once had.

900 bottles of booze on the wall

I love what they did to Scotch 80 Prime. I really like that gorgeous wall of 1,000 bottles behind the bar. I love the same thing at Sage and the hundreds of terrific tequilas at La Comida. But we’ve gotten into an arms race here both with the makers of strong booze and the restaurants that sell them. And it’s ridiculous. The world doesn’t need a thousand brands of tequila, and it got along just fine with a hundred quality scotches and a few dozen good bourbons. I don’t know what’s worse: the hyper-specificity (“aged in 37 year old fino sherry casks, consisting of re-toasted Andalusian birch bark bathed in the sweat of Rob Roy’s old peat marsh and only released by the light of a full moon in August”), or the con job promoted by the makers of “extremely rare” whiskys. I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that grown men (some of whom may be reading these words), couldn’t tell Pappy Van Winkle 20 year old from a dozen other premium brands. Hell, I bet the distiller himself couldn’t tell. That doesn’t keep them from perpetuating the myth of its “special-ness” when all it is is another fucking aged 90 proof whisky. Double yeesh.

Cannabis in your comestibles

If I want to get stoned, I’ll smoke a joint, thank you.

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A curmudgeon we may be, but a light we yonder see.

Some good things have returned, and for these we must no longer yearn.

And lest we be thought of as too persnickety, by jove we’re all excited about each of these most lickity.

Welcome back:

Grown-up dining

NoMad, Cipriani, Partage, and Vetri (above) are places for people with worldly palates, or aspirations to same. They are not for the party-as-a-verb crowd. Eataly is for those who either know about real Italian food, or want to learn about it. Uncomfortable chairs and small plates are not part of these equations.

Reasonable, thoughtful wine lists

As I’ve said before: the Las Vegas Strip is no place to find wine bargains, but the newbies on the block —   NoMad, Cipriani, and Vetri — all boast lists with plenty of drinkable bottles for under a hundy.  Mordeo, Partage, Sparrow + Wolf, and most of all, Esther’s Kitchen , all have bottles galore that are priced to sell, not show off.

Simple, elegant cocktails

Thank you, Jammyland, and continued thanks to the simple, elegant cocktails at NoMad, Scotch 80 Prime, Esther’s Kitchen and Vetri for continuing to stress simple sophistication over the complex and contrived..

Guéridons

Because who doesn’t love a rolling cart full of tasty delights?

Tableside pyrotechnics

Because who doesn’t love a performance with their food?

Dessert carts

Partage!!

Dressed up waiters

Cipriani!!

Real Italian food

(Casoncelli alla bergamasca at Vetri)

Has come roaring back into town. (see above)

Roast Chicken

Merci beaucoup, Daniel Humm.

Cheese

Molto grazie, Marc Vetri for including a cheese course with your nonpareil cuisine.

Good Barbecue

Sin City Smokers (above) sets the standard in the ‘burbs, Mabel’s brings a slice of authentic Austin to the Strip. Smoked meats are back with a vengeance. Everything else in town isn’t worth your time or the heartburn.

(Platter at Mabel’s)
HAPPY NEW YEAR from the staff at Being John Curtas:
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A Hamburger and a Hot Dog

People have lots of opinions about hamburgers and hot dogs.

Only about pizza are they more passionate.

This is understandable because all three are among the most widely-consumed foods in America.

Rich or poor, everyone’s been chowing down on burgers and frankfurters for their whole lives.

Even my 94 year old mother — a committed vegetarian for half a century — admits to a hankerin’ for a hot dog occasionally.

The whole elevated-burger-thing started with Daniel Boulud’s DB Burger back in 2001. By putting braised short ribs and foie gras inside a patty of deluxe ground beef, Boulud created a sensation, and also cleared the way for restaurants large and small to upgrade their burger game, and figure out how to charge $27 for one.

For a while, the the burger wars escalated beyond all reason. Few restaurants wanted to pursue the haute cuisine route pioneered by Boulud, but everyone wanted to get in on the game of making a better burger that would have diners beating a path to their door.

These burger wars begat monstrosities more renowned for their verticality than their taste.

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Thankfully, the past several years have seen a retreat from these belly busters to creations more in line with what a hamburger is supposed to be: a simple, juicy, fresh, hot meat sandwich between two pieces of easy-to-handle bread.

A hamburger doesn’t have to be gourmet to be great. All the perfect burger requires is two things: proportion and taste. Gargantuan burgers — no matter how fabulous the ingredients — whiff on the first part of the equation, rendering the second half a nullity. (Fabulous flavor gets lost when you’re wrestling with something to get it into your mouth.) Don’t get me wrong, the taste of any burger from a great steakhouse (great steakhouses always make a terrific burger) trumps anything Shake Shack or In-N-Out can throw at you, but cheaper cuts of meat — well-handled, seasoned and cooked — can make for a very satisfying burger experience.

But let’s be honest here: when a great chef sets his mind to making a superb burger, the nominations close pretty quickly. I’m not talking about gourmet burgers as a social status signifier of omnivorousness, but rather, the simple fact that great chefs make food taste better than anyone else can.

And when Daniel Humm — the man some consider the best chef in America these days — puts his mind behind a beef patty, you can bet your bippy it will be memorable.

The cheeseburger at the top of the page is more than memorable; it is extraordinary beyond all beefy belief. It may be the best burger you’ve ever tasted.

It is made with dry-aged beef, in-house ground, and displays a dense, beefy funk on the palate like your average upscale burger can only dream of. You take a bite and immediately you recognize something is different with this ground meat. It haunts you as you chew, filling your olfactories with extreme beefiness, beckoning for another bite, a feat only the best dry-aged steaks achieve. This is not a burger for the masses; this is the ultimate connoisseur burger. Bradley Ogden used to make one (at Caesars Palace) that made you dream about it, days after you were done chewing, but this one tops it.

That it is of modest size is to its credit. Plenty for one, probably too small for two, it attains the longed-for sweet spot of being the perfectly-proportioned beef sandwich — just enough insanely fresh, sesame-studded bun, dribbled and dripping with cheese and dabbled just so with (thousand island-style ) special sauce.  Quantity-over-quality ‘Muricans might blanch at its dimensions, but feinschmeckers will be licking their lips in satisfaction.

Then there is the Humm Dog:

…what might well be the apotheosis of the tube steak.

There’s not a lot we can say about it that hasn’t been said before.

All beef, and (again) of modest girth, it claims its fame from being deep-fried with a bacon overcoat, and served with truffle mayo, melted Gruyère, and a tart, mustard seed/celery root relish. It is an impressive feat of food architecture, made more stunning by its elevation of the mundane to the magnificent. (Eating it can be a bit of a chore, as the balancing act of the sausage on that split bun must be overcome (or mushed down) before organoleptic bliss can be achieved.)

Both of these modest sandwiches represent a culinary transcendence of the ordinary into a realm they were never meant to approach. They are to be praised and damned for this. Praised for what they represent; damned for spoiling you for anything else.

I often tell people that in food and wine, you can never go back. Once you’ve tasted a certain level of quality — be it in a taco or a tempranillo — your mind and your mouth buckles at the thought of retreat. Neither my body or soul allows me to drink cheap chardonnay anymore. And now that I’ve tasted this hamburger and this hot dog, going back to what I used to be satisfied with will be difficult indeed.

The cheeseburger is $17 and the hot dog is $15.

NOMAD BAR

NoMad Hotel

3772 Las Vegas Blvd. South

833.706.6623

https://www.nomadlasvegas.com/en.html