With its main courses ranging from $36 to $50, NoMI is an expensive restaurant. Not Vegas expensive or New York expensive or even Grand Chef's Tasting with Matching Wines expensive, but a pricey night out regardless.
But NoMI, the showpiece dining room of the Park Hyatt Chicago, consistently delivers an experience that justifies the tariff.Chef Christophe David, who has been on board for a little more than a year, takes issue with the expensive label. That is understandable because, as a former sous chef at several Michelin-starred restaurants, among them three-starred Lucas Carton and Taillevent in Paris, David is accustomed to seeing much larger numbers on menus.
"I think we have a good compromise," says David, suggesting that while NoMI's prices may be among Chicago's highest, the value is there.
True enough. For one thing, the view is stupendous. Occupying the seventh floor of the hotel-residential complex, NoMI is fronted by a glass wall that juts east from the face of the building like a gigantic bay window and directly overlooks the historic, dramatically uplit Water Tower and Michigan Avenue. Unlike the view from dining rooms hundreds of feet above ground, which render street-level activity microscopic and make even the bulkiest buildings seem petite, NoMI's seventh-floor perspective gives one a sense of the city's beauty and brawn. It is, hands down, my favorite city view.
The indoor visuals are just as stunning. The elevator deposits guests at the entrance to the wine-cellar room, whose glass-encased racks display a fraction of the restaurant's 10,000-bottle inventory. This room leads through the lounge, a sleek, glass-and-nickel space that's a handy destination for a light bite or pre- and post-dinner drinks, which in turn leads to the dining room, which boasts Italian tile floors, leather-wrapped support beams and Dale Chihuly chandeliers.
The menu, as it was under opening chef Sandro Gamba, eschews prix-fixe tastings for a straightforward a la carte selection. But Gamba's international forays--his Thai-seasoned soups, for instance--are no more; David's menu reflects his French upbringing and training, though with a distinct contemporary bent and an artist's eye for presentation.
And, as there has been since NoMI's inception, there is a page devoted to sushi. This manages to be NoMI's least-interesting feature, because the sushi platters--ranging from 4 to 18 pieces--primarily consist of tuna, salmon, yellowtail and eel--sushi that can be found just about anywhere.
But though David has not brought a wealth of change to NoMI's operation (few three-star restaurants are in need of overhauls), his kitchen and front room are operating so brilliantly that I'm compelled to boost NoMI's star rating.
Meals begin with an amuse, perhaps a pile of shredded duck meat surrounded by red-pepper vinaigrette and topped with miniature matchsticks of tart apple. Then it's on to such treats as a creamy artichoke soup bolstered with lardons and toasted hazelnuts, crowned with a smoky bacon foam.
The killer starting course is the truffle tart, which isn't strictly a tart, but a base of Parmesan sable (a fragile shortbread) topped with stewed leeks and a blanket of overlapping coins of black truffle. The crumbly sable texture, contrasted with the toothsome truffles and the leeks' smoothness--I could eat this every day.
Main courses are, if anything, more dazzling. The unassuming-sounding veal striploin starts with thick pieces of pink, rich-tasting veal, in slabs so utterly uniform that, at first glance, they resemble slices of Spam. They're interspersed with planks of carrot (carved to the shape of railroad ties) bathed in coriander-citrus glaze; off to the side, on clouds of ginger-carrot foam, are three of the most silken, flavor-packed sweetbreads I've ever experienced. And I eat a lot of sweetbreads.
Brittany turbot is another standout, a wonderful piece of buttery roasted fish, alongside a fricassee of chanterelle mushrooms, dried apricots and marcona almonds. Splashed onto the plate with a dark-brown mushroom foam, the fricassee is like a bold stroke of color on an otherwise neutral canvas.
Suzanne Imaz's pastries are exceptional, from a cherry vacherin that wowed me over the summer (that season is over, sadly) to such current dishes as the Arctic Blast, quenelles of delicious fruit sorbets served on an ice-cold slab of clear glass, accompanied by two delicate orange madeleines.
And I loved the Manjari chocolate dome, which is stuffed with a chocolate and a lemon mousse then covered with a ganache so shiny I could have combed my hair in the reflection.
Most restaurants can suggest dessert wines to accompany the aforementioned sweets, but NoMI also lists tea pairings, from a very deep (and, yes, sometimes costly) selection.
Service is at that smooth, unflappable level at which nobody appears to be doing much more than gliding past your table, and yet everything happens when it should. One expects serenity at this level--and I don't mean the seventh floor--but NoMI is especially placid.
And for all my caterwauling about cost, David says that business is up 30 percent from a year ago, so clearly there are lots of people who can afford this place. I can't help but feel a little jealous.
Park Hyatt Chicago
800 N. Michigan Ave. 312-239-4030
Open: Dinner and breakfast Monday-Sunday, lunch Monday-Saturday, brunch Sunday
Entree prices: $36-$50
Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V
Reservations: Strongly recommended
Other: Wheelchair accessible; valet parking; no smoking
VERY GOOD (star)(star)
Reviews are based on no fewer than two visits. The reviewer makes every effort to remain anonymous. Meals are paid for by the Tribune.
Keywords: RESTAURANT REVIEW