By: Laura Bianchi July 11, 2011
When NoMI became NoMI Kitchen last month, more than the name changed, and the alterations are making this 11-year-old gem even more desirable for a business lunch.
Warm, wood tables accented with leather replace white tablecloths; an all-white sculpture, called “Wintry Branches,” hangs where the colorful Dale Chihuly glass fixtures used to be, making for a rather somber, nondescript substitute; and there’s a gleaming open kitchen.
The mood has shifted, too; it’s a dash more informal and so is chef Ryan Laroche’s midday menu, which is more affordable and offers more choices than the previous prix-fixe one.
But the essential NoMI DNA hasn’t been damaged. This is still an uptown experience, where the two distinguished couples next to me could share a $105 bottle of Jean Vesselle Brut Reserve at lunch, contemplate the magnificent, seventh-floor view and bask in polished service.
The noise level is comfortable, unlike the new swivel chairs. Who selected the seating? It should have been tested as thoroughly as the food.
In the transition to a more approachable restaurant, the kitchen still targets those who delight in small-farm ingredients, pitch-perfect preparations and the occasional surprise flavor that leaves us wondering, what is that?
The sushi station hasn’t lost a step; our king crab roll ($20), pretty in pink rice-paper wrappers, celebrates the clean, unadorned flavors of seafood and avocado. A dab of pickled ginger, wasabi and soy sauce bring it to life.
The same nuanced, light touch extends to salads, whose dressings don’t drown out their companions. In the seafood version ($16), shallot vinaigrette sings background to abundant chunks of simply prepared lobster and prawn on mixed greens.
Instead of bacon in the spinach salad ($10, and actually arugula when we visited), we discovered sweet pancetta chips, crisply roasted with brown sugar, crumbling into Meyer lemon vinaigrette and a rich poached egg.
In the sandwich, pickled jalapeños, avocado and aged gouda yield an earthy flavor that lingers nicely, but the menu should mention that it is only a half.
Of the full-size sandwiches, the Benton ham and brie ($14) also took our taste buds by surprise. Somewhat like a smoky prosciutto, the ham underscores the soft, aged notes of brie and sweet, lady apple slivers. It’s perfectly accessorized with sweet-potato fries.
If the business occasion calls for knife-and-fork neatness, the “roasted” chicken entree is a smart choice ($20). It is actually cooked sous-vide, producing a Kobe beef-like texture and softness, readily absorbing the delicate tarragon jus, as do the fingerling potatoes.
Another “neat” idea: firm, flaky sea bass ($20) playing the role of sponge for light saffron broth in the daily fish special, accompanied by almost-melted leeks.
Pastry chef Meg Galus’ desserts are mostly a resounding success, especially in the sweet-sour tingle of rhubarb soup ($9) with fresh raspberry juice and bobbing cubes of ginger marshmallows and lemon cream.
© 2011 by Crain Communications Inc.