The NoMad Rooftop — 4 Stars

The rooftop restaurant at the NoMad hotel is probably the most talked-about new restaurant in New York this summer — with the possible exception of the regular, indoor restaurant at the NoMad.  (If you’re interested in a vegetarian-focused review of the NoMad restaurant, check out my review here.)  The “downstairs” restaurant got three stars from the New York Times and I understand that the rooftop — which operates as a separate restaurant, with a separate staff and kitchen — is aiming for at least that caliber of service, if not higher.  I think they’re well on their way.  The food and service were very good, and though I have a few small quibbles, they’re mostly logistical, not substantive.  With a little tweaking, I think the rooftop could claim a spot among the city’s best restaurants.The rooftop has an unusual reservations system.  Each day at 11 a.m., tickets go on sale for that evening’s dinner.  When you sign in at 11, you can see what slots are open that evening.  A ticket costs $125, but there’s also a 20% “administrative fee”.  All told, you’re looking at about $165 per person for dinner.  But buying a ticket is no guarantee:  because the restaurant is open-air, you’re at the mercy of the elements.  If it’s too hot, or rainy, dinner is called off (and you get a refund).  When you buy your ticket, you can request a vegetarian meal (or note any other requests); I did so and had no problem at dinner.One of the neatest things about the restaurant is that the menu is keyed to the weather.  I arrived with my group around 7:30 on probably the perfect summer day — the high temperature was probably in the 80s in the afternoon, and by 7:30 it was probably in the mid-70s.  We started off with cool towels to get refreshed once we were seated.  One small negative mark:  I ordered a cocktail around this time, and it never arrived.  Other than this blemish service was great.

I started off with a strawberry gazpacho.  (The regular first course was a seafood option.)  I liked that the first course was a cold dish. Even at 7:30, it was pretty warm outside.  The cool towels and the gazpacho were a good combination.  The strawberries went great with the basil and the olive oil was a nice touch.

Next up was the “bread course”.  One of the many things that’s unique about the rooftop:  you aren’t simply given bread for the table.  The bread was a specific course in the meal, and it was paired with other tomato items.  I’ve written before about how much I like the bread here: it was warm, crunchy on the outside, and the tomato had a nice tang to it.

The tomato bread was served alongside the tomato soda.  When I was at Eleven Madison Park last year, I had their tomato tea.  The tomato soda was very similar — a little on the salty side, with a nice tomato flavor and lemony undertones.  The tomato tea was served hot, and the tomato soda was served cold, but otherwise the two were pretty similar.  This is one of the things that slightly bugged me about the rooftop:  if they’re going for something new and impressive, they should make more of an effort not to duplicate things they’ve done recently at EMP.  (I will say, though, that I was really impressed with the NoMad bottle cap — and if you look in the picture below, you’ll see the customization on the tomato soda bottle as well.)

Next up was the eggplant course.  The eggplant was very similar to what I had at EMP last year.  It was a roasted eggplant slice, with quinoa and bitter greens on top.  Last year, the eggplant was served with wheatberries, but otherwise the dish was pretty similar.  The dish was really good, one of my favorites, just as it was last year.  The roasted eggplant is great, and the sharp contrast of bitter greens is a spectacular combination.  I think last year they used licorice leaves and this year, lamb’s quarter, which I liked better.  Still, I would have liked some more variety from last year.

For the next course, the omnivores had black bass, and I had a roasted asparagus dish.  It was served with fava beans, asparagus sauce, and crispy amaranth.  I liked the dish overall, but I particularly liked the crispy amaranth.  I’ve had the asparagus at the “downstairs” restaurant at the NoMad, and I liked that these asparagus (asparagi?), like those downstairs, were roasted until they had a bit of a char.  I often find asparagus to be underdone, but these had a little more texture, and the amaranth added a crunch.  The fava beans were a nice complement.The next dish was sort of the like the broccoli version of the same thing:  a seared and roasted head of broccoli, cut down to be flat on both sides, served with cheddar, broccoli sauce, and lemon.  Again, I liked the crunch on the broccoli from roasting, and the flavor/texture combinations of the roasted broccoli with broccoli sauce.  I didn’t think the lemon came through all that much but I didn’t miss it.

Last up was dessert:  a cherry sundae with mascarpone and pistachio.  The sundae was served with mascarpone ice cream with cherries, cherry sorbet, pistachio crumble, and pistachio cake.  One of the pieces of pistachio cake was frozen in liquid nitrogen, which was pretty cool.  It melted in your mouth like some sort of space-age future cake.  Of course I’m generally a fan of pistachio, so I liked this dessert.  The pistachio cake was light and spongy, and the cherries were tart but not too tart.  The liquid nitrogen may seem a little gimmicky to some but I thought it was actually kind of neat.

All in all, the NoMad Rooftop was a great experience.  The food was extremely well done, and the attention to detail was generally fantastic.  I liked that the meal started with something cold (gazpacho) and worked up to warm dishes, just as the temperature outdoors started cooling off.  The staff has obviously put a lot of thought into the “arc” of the meal, and it’s obvious that this is Daniel Humm’s brainchild. All that said, I would have liked a little more variety from the downstairs and EMP menus.  I understand that the menu in the first few weeks might rely a little more on the familiar, but I hope that as time goes on the rooftop will develop a personality of its own.  In fact, I’d love to see the rooftop become almost like a “test kitchen” for Humm’s mini-empire, where edgy and otherwise unusual dishes get worked out before hitting the main stage at EMP or even downstairs at the NoMad.

I do think the pricing model is interesting; for the same $125, you can get a full meal at EMP.  I don’t think the rooftop is quite there yet food-wise, but it is a completely different experience and one that I do think is worth it.  There was absolutely no problem accommodating the vegetarian requests, and service was very good.  The vegetarian dishes themselves were, overall, top-notch.  The NoMad Rooftop gets four stars, but take that with a grain of salt.  I feel like this place is on the upswing and I look forward to an even better experience next time.