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.

Image may contain: food

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.

Image may contain: food

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 Park

3772 Las Vegas Blvd. South

Las Vegas, NV 89109




Bocuse d’Or Birthdays – Part One

Both the Bocuse d’Or and yours truly had a birthday last week. The biannual French cooking competition turned 30, and we celebrated our….well, let’s not spend too much time on details now, shall we?

Because ELV and his staff will use any occasion as an excuse to go to Europe, we hightailed it over to Lyon to watch the competition for ourselves. (It was our second time in attendance, which we will discuss more about below.) Along the way we drove 2015 kilometers, visited 4 countries, sampled 46 cheeses, dozens of wines, and bathed in the light of ten Michelin stars. As usual, we like to chronicle these things for posterity’s sake, and for any travel plans our loyal readers might have in the future, so without further ado, here is a snapshot of what we experienced, in all of its gastronomic glory.


We won! For the first time! Yay, United States! #Winning! America, F*#k Yeah!

Yes, it was a pretty big deal in the insular world of French gastronomy that America’s two-man team finally beat the likes of Norway, Iceland, France and Morocco(?) in the “Olympics of Cooking.” But some people didn’t see it that way. In his “Three reasons why we still don’t care” article for Eater National, Greg Morabito posits that the esoteric nature of the Bocuse d’Or, lack of story lines and non-TV friendly format doom the event to forever be a food footnote on this side of the pond. And in some ways he has a point.

But he also misses it.

The whole point of the Bocuse d’Or is that it is very, very French, read: insular, esoteric and inscrutable. It is also about the two things that define French cooking: consistency and perfection. French cooking (at least on this level) is about restaurant cooking. And restaurant cooking is about repetition and perfection – being able to execute dishes requiring an extremely high level of technical skill consistently over an entire service. Since the time of its kings, French cooking has also been about elaboration — gilding the lily if you will — which is why the presentation of enormous platters of proteins is so central to the event:

Morabito complains that these look unappetizing, and he has a point, especially when compared to the close-up food porn that is the norm on social media these days.

But once again, like all amateurs, he misses the point. French food is also about extraction and intensification — the making of each individual ingredient taste more like itself than one thought possible. Yes, these dishes may look almost inedibly elaborate, but every bite must purely express the essence of each ingredient, and there are more techniques in play on a plate like this:

…than most Top Chef contestants could execute in a month of Sundays.

Regretably, this year, in a bow to modernity, there was even a requirement for vegan dish:

…which, I think, also misses the point. Because if there’s one thing French food is not about, it’s vegetables. Food and wine in France are inextricably intertwined, and one of the reason the food is so good is because the wine is so good, and vice versa. And French wine is made to go with protein, be it a belon oyster or a haunch of beef. When you find a wine-vegetable pairing that knocks your socks off, let me know.

So, to summarize: the Bocuse d’Or is about French, not American sensibilities, and our best chefs are sensible enough to know that it is the king of cooking competitions. It is to American reality food programming what Olympic diving is to a belly flop in your pool. Let’s hope it stays that way. Just because the audience for Guy’s Grocery Games doesn’t get it doesn’t mean the powers-that-be need to change anything. Except that pointless “vegetal” requirement.

The reason the United States won — represented by Mathew Peters and Harrison Turone — this year has to do with one thing (besides their obvious talent): money. To be precise, the money and culinary horsepower provided by America’s two best French chefs: Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller. Neither is as well-known to the average Food Network viewer as Guy Fieri, but both bring enormous credibility to the event, along with providing the time and the tools necessary for Peters and Turone to rehearse and train for six months solid leading up to the big week.

Because of Boulud and Keller, and Jerome Bocuse’s courting of them, and the Venetian/Palazzo decision (led by our very own ami Sebastien Silvestri) to sponsor the American competition, we finally had some heavyweight backing to go with our oversized ambitions in the culinary world. (America may never be the equal of France, Italy, Japan, Spain or China  when it comes to cooking talent or raw ingredients, but our culinary education/training has made tremendous strides in the past twenty years.)

And because of it, we beat the world this year, so that’s something to be proud of….even if statements like this from Eater half-wits:

Recent TV hits like The Great British Bake-Off and a Chef’s Table prove that American audiences are interested in culinary stories and competitions from other countries — so long as the food looks delicious, and the stories are compelling. Maybe with that in mind, the Bocuse crew could make some changes to the programming that would make the event more accessible to the people from this year’s victorious food country: America.

…are enough to make Mathew Peters want to go back to flipping burgers.

Final footnote: Ten years is a long time. In the decade that passed since my first Bocuse d’Or, everything has expanded in significant ways — ways that bode well for the event’s popularity and reach in the future, but in a manner that made it much less fun to attend. Ten years ago, I was one of maybe eight Americans at the event, and half of those were relatives of Gavin Kaysen – America’s cheftestant representing the old Stars and Stripes. This year, there seemed to be a couple of hundred of our countrymen there, making a lot of noise and cheering our boys on to victory. In 2007, there were no VIP sections, roped-off areas, or designated press stations. Then I saw at most a few camera crews and maybe a dozen or so reporters roaming around. Roaming around (the chefs and the judges) was something that we easily did, and is how I chatted up everyone from Heston Blumenthal to Paul Bocuse himself. Imagine my surprise when I entered the arena last week (after an hour of standing in line), and saw hundreds of reporters and dozens of camera crews all segregated behind a “press wall” (see below) — everyone being scrutinized by enough beefy security to handle a Rolling Stone’s concert.

All of it — the press, the cameras, the VIPs and the security — announced to us that this had taken the world’s stage. No longer was it a Euro-centric event on the order of some Alpine skiing championship; this was the big time now, and they want you to know it. With America’s win, the Bocuse d’Or is poised to get an even wider audience. This is good for the event, and France, and French chefs, and our chefs and French food in general. But I couldn’t help but feel a sense of sadness when I saw how everything had changed…because changed it has. It is no longer a very esoteric cooking contest that exists only for the cognoscenti  — a hyper-precise test of skills (akin to a classical music competition) that once made me feel like a very special part of it. For I am a part of it no more. Now, it belongs to the world, and to the great international media machine. (sigh)

This is the first of a two part article on ELV’s recent trip to France, Germany and Switzerland. Next up: the restaurants.

The Bocuse D’Or 2017 is Calling ELV took the top prize in ’15)

Like a sailor to the sound of sirens, a moth to a flame, or an inveterate Francophile to a slice of jambon persillé:

….ELV hears the call of the Bocuse d’Or to him every other year. Ten years ago — before social media, before this blog, before the crash of the economy, and before he added 15 pounds to his waistline —  he attended the event. At the time, ELV vowed to return, only to have the Great Recession put a damper on his plans.

Now we’re going back — leaving Las Vegas today, in fact — to see the 30th anniversary of world’s greatest cooking competition in person.

If you don’t know what all the shouting is about, the video below will give you a taste of what it entails. Two-man teams from countries compete to invent and cook the best dishes they can based upon two pre-determined ingredients — or the “imposed main product” as they’re referred to in the competiton. This year’s ingredients — Bresse chicken and shellfish — are very very French (imagine that?) — and challenge the chefs to riff on the classic Lyonnaise recipe for chicken with crayfish.

In addition, there is a new challenge this year: the chefs must present a creation that is 100% vegetal.   They have 5 hours and 35 minutes (not a second more) to cook, plate and present large platters of their creations:

…to a lineup of the most famous French chefs in the world. When these top toques parade in to take their seats at the judging table:

….you can feel sphincters tighten all over the auditorium.

It’s really something to behold (the cooking, the crowds and the competition, not the sphincter-tightening), and the video below (from day one of the competition from two years ago), will give you a good idea of the intensity involved.

The competition takes place on January 24-25 in Lyon, and we will be there with a front row seat

So, au revoir for now, and follow us on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook to chart both the event and our culinary adventures in France (and Germany and Switzerland), over the next ten days.

We’ll see you back on this site in a couple of weeks, full of French food and savoir faire!

Vive La France!