Mood swing works for NoMI Kitchen

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.

Another starter, English pea soup ($7 a la carte), musters its pure flavor and silky texture almost entirely from fresh peas, with a dab of lemon cream. The soup is an option, too, on the three-course lunch ($23), with choice of tomato and burrata salad or half a chicken panini, and a seasonal tart (blueberry, recently, but kind of bland).

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.


Cheeky Asks Meg Galus

By Jessica Zweig

Every Cheeky girl has a sweet tooth. So we sat down with one of the sweetest pastry chefs in Chicago – the very much buzzed about Meg Galus, Executive Pastry Chef of the also very much buzzed about NoMI Kitchen. We already knew this girl was an uber-talent (and as soon as you try her desserts, you will know too), but what we also learned was just how truly passionate and humbled she really is. Read on to learn more about “Dessert Soup,” the scariest thing about NoMI Kitchen and why she’s a momma’s girl through and through.

Satiate yourself…

Cheeky: How did you and Exec Chef Ryan LaRoche work as a team to create the complete NoMI Kitchen concept and culinary experience?

Meg Galus: Before I even officially started, we sat down and had conversations about the concept, look and food.  It was important for me to know what the goal was for the guest experience.   I wrote menus and we made a few tweaks, then as I created the dishes, the space and all of the final details of NoMI Kitchen were coming together – it was a very symbiotic process, with the space, food and people all influencing each other.  I do feel like this is just the beginning – we’ve been open about a month and there is a daily evolution, refining what we are doing, settling into ourselves in a way.  I think that with this new menu (starting mid-July), we are definitely finding new ways to surprise and delight our guests.

Cheeky: Your pastries are seasonally and locally inspired. Given we are just embarking on the prime of the summer heat, what new creations can we expect from you this season?

MG: I’m definitely thinking about a dish focusing on local dairy  –  REAL cream is just so different than what we are used to – the flavor is intense, and actually a flavor as opposed to “plain.”  I also want to make a sparkling peach soup – I love having fruit soup on the menu all spring and summer – it’s great for the guests who want a little something sweet but not a huge heavy dessert.

Cheeky: What has been the most rewarding professional moment in your career thus far?

MG: I love the learning and perfecting techniques, and of course everyone loves getting awards and being recognized.  But for me it’s about the small moments – talking to guests and hearing that we made someone happy at the end of their meal, being a part of a celebration, or seeing their eyes light up when the dessert hits the table.  I started doing this because this is how I can make people happy, in some small way, every day.  That sounds so cheesy.  I was really inspired by my mom – she never traveled very far, never did anything very “big” – but she was one of the best people I knew.  She had so much impact on the people around her, just in the little things she did every day – that’s what I hope I can do through my desserts.

Cheeky: If you could chose just one, what is your signature dessert?

MG: We are baking tarts fresh every day – we have one available for lunch and a selection of three for dinner.  The tarts are definitive of what we are doing in NoMI Kitchen – really fresh, seasonal, with a touch of being homemade – but still really refined and creative.

Cheeky: Do you work with any savory ingredients in your pastry creations and if so, what’s your favorite?

MG: I use a lot of herbs with my fruit desserts, but also with chocolate – thyme, basil and rosemary all pair with chocolate beautifully and can create really unique dishes.

Cheeky: What is your biggest challenge as the Executive Pastry Chef at NoMI Kitchen? Your biggest joy?

MG: The biggest challenge is also the biggest joy – with the new space and concept, we are a part of each guests’ experience like never before.  We are in the same space as them, creating the ambiance as well as the food, sharing our world with them and conversely, becoming part of their world as well.  It’s very unique, and our guests are really into it.  But at the same time we have to be extremely aware of how we are speaking, moving – we put mise-en-place in pretty glass bowls instead of plastic deli cups – it’s a little like being on stage, which can be challenging when you are super busy.

Cheeky: The word “Cheeky” means definitively bold, impudent and saucy. What would the Cheeky dessert be?

MG: The rhubarb soup on the menu right now is hot pink – definitely bold, impudent in that I’ve paired it with acidic flavors like lemon lime, and ginger instead of drowning it in sugar; and saucy in that, well, it’s liquid!

Meet Rachael McCrory

We are excited to introduce Rachael McCrory, who recently moved from Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa in Hawaii to the mainland to become our NoMI Spa Manager.   Get to know Rachael a little better with this fun Q&A:

If you could experience any spa in the world what would it be and why?

The Gaia Spa and the Grand Hyatt Istanbul.  It has a fantastic and truly authentic Hamman, which I have always wanted to experience. 

What is your favorite spa treatment when you are in need of some pampering?

Lake Stone Massage and Premier Facial at NoMI Spa.  This massage is so therapeutic and the Carita facial is the most relaxing, yet results driven facial I have ever experienced.

If you weren’t a spa director, what profession would you be pursuing?

I should say Commercial Real Estate or Finance because of my degree, but quite honestly it would be interior design. 

What’s your go-to place in Chicago to relax and why?

My home.  I am somebody that can be out every night and love every minute of it, but nothing makes me happier than coming home after a long day, having some wine, and a relaxing soak in my jacuzzi tub.   

What are the five things you would recommend people do/see/experience in Chicago?

1.  Shopping!  My favorite spot is Armitage in Lincoln Park.  This is my neighborhood and I am obsessed with it.  It feels more like you are in Europe than Illinois and you have great shops like BCBG, Intermix, and the Barney’s CO-OP is just down the street too.

2.  Summer rooftop lounging!

3.  The Art Institute.  Great way to spend a rainy day.

4.  Architectural Boat Tour.  I’m sure that everyone gives this answer but it truly is so neat to learn about the history of Chicago and I love architecture.

5.  Summer festivals.  There is literally one just about everyday in the summer.

What are 3 things you cannot live without at home, (eg. in bathroom, bedroom, etc.)

1.  Carita Diamond Cream.  This is by far the best product I have ever used!  For those of us that work way too much and never get enough rest, this is perfect.  It makes you appear as if you had 12 hours of sleep and is extremely firming.

2.  Chanel Rouge Allure Extrait Lipgloss. I do not go anywhere without something on my lips and this gloss delivers so much color and lasts for hours and hours.

3.  Frette linen.  I recently outfitted NoMI Spa in Frette and I liked it so much that I had to purchase it for myself!