Posted by Glenn Gritzner on February 5, 2018
Hello Enthusiasts –
Today’s post tells you about a place you may have already heard something about, so I may be jeopardizing my track record as being the person you hear about things first from. (“the person from whom you hear about things first”? I don’t know. It’s not a grammar blog.) But this place comes with more hype than just about any new opening in DTLA since, well, maybe ever … but that’s what happens when the proprietor of the best restaurant in the world (No. Really. There’s this organization called the The World’s 50 Best, and they give out these awards every year, and it’s pretty much seen as the gold standard for the industry, and his restaurant (Eleven Madison Park) was #1 last year. So I didn’t just say that) opens up his first establishment outside of New York and does so right here in our backyard.
When you are as well known as these guys, and you’ve never opened anything up outside of New York, and you’re opening in the heart of Downtown LA, things better be perfect from Day One. No “rough around the edges”. No “we’re still figuring it out.” Especially in the age of Yelp and Insta, you will immediately be flamed. And damn if they didn’t do it. They opened up 3 bars and 2 restaurants and a hotel, they did it on one of the busiest intersections in Downtown, they did it in an old, historic building … and it’s perfect. On day one.
So. You need to get to the NoMad Hotel as soon as you can. It’s at 7th & Olive, it’s inside the historic Giannini Place building (which was built in the 1920s as the headquarters for the Bank of Italy), and it … is … stunning, with a capital Stun.
I’m gonna post a lot of pictures, all courtesy of Eater LA, because … well, you’ll see (they’re a little small, so do yourself a favor and click on them so you can see them better):
See? The lobby is simply incredible, and has its own restaurant. The picture with the table with white legs in the forefront is the bar off to the side of the lobby. There’s a coffee/aperitif bar on the other side of the lobby. Then, there’s the mezzanine, which has the fancier restaurant, and the mezzanine has its own bar, with a different cocktail menu (you have to have reservations at the mezzanine restaurant to hang at the mezzanine bar).
Speaking of the bar, NoMad also has a fun way to order cocktails. They’re still getting it up and going in LA, but you get a deck of cards with drawings on them. Like this:
You pick your spirit, and then you pick a couple of other cards that represent elements of the cocktail. So if you pick the card with Marlon Brando as the Godfather on it, you want an Italian apertif. If you pick the card with chili peppers, you want a little spice. If you pick Mick & Keith, you want something old school and kinda rotten. You can either ask what the pictures represent, or just go with what feels right. And LA has its own deck of cards (though I couldn’t find a pic of those.)
OK, the food. Did I mention these guys also run the best restaurant in the world? This restaurant is meant for normal humans who don’t drop a grand on dinner for two … but the food is incredible. They have a somewhat infamous (in the food world) roast chicken for two that will set you back a hundred bucks (don’t believe me that it’s famous? Read this.). “Wait,” I hear you saying. “A hundred bucks for chicken? Even if it’s for two?” Yep. And it’s worth every penny. It’s stuffed with black truffle and brioche, with a little foie gras thrown in. They take all the meat off and serve the dark meat in this sabayon butter sauce which is out of this world. And then the rest of the chicken is served cut and ready to eat. And it’s the best chicken you will ever have. I mean, I get it – for a hundred bucks, it better be. But still. And this is a really hard dish to pull off for all sorts of reasons (again, don’t believe me? Read that article I linked to a couple sentences ago). I first had it in the New York City NoMad, and when I saw it on the menu here, I had to get it. This was on the second night it was ever open. And it was perfect. You never would have known that they just opened. So they were pulling off their most well known and extravagant dish right from the start. These guys are pros.
Finally, I don’t often mention the service, but I have to mention the service. Because the service is actually often the best indicator as to the professionalism and quality of a restaurant (or a bar). Because think about it – if you have a great experience at a restaurant but the food is mediocre, you probably still feel good about your experience. But if you have amazing food paired with bad service or an unpleasant experience, you’re unlikely to go back. Plus, service is an indicator of training and, basically, how much the restaurant has their proverbial act together. At NoMad? I can’t imagine how they trained this enormous staff. There are literally hundreds of people managing the floor, the wait staff, greeters, hosting, sommeliers, bussers, the works. And they all know everything about everything. Ask the person who is removing your plates about dessert, and you’d think they were the pastry chef. Ask the waiter about wine and you’d think they were a sommelier. Ask the sommelier about one of the dishes on the menu, and they’ll tell you how it’s made, how much they like it, and what wine it might pair with. And it’s all done with friendliness and a “we’ll do whatever we have to do to give you a great experience” attitude. Only ONE TIME did we hear “well, it’s only our second night, so you’ll have to forgive us.” And it was because they didn’t have the cocktail cards handy. Hardly a mortal sin.
One anecdote that illustrates this: I was there on my birthday. I ordered a dessert. It was delicious. Didn’t think anything of it. Then, they clear the plates … and bring us new silverware. They then bring us ANOTHER dessert with a candle in it. And the waiter says “we forgot to put a candle in your dessert! So here’s your birthday dessert. And we’re taking both desserts off the bill.” I mean, they didn’t have to really do ANYTHING to make me happy. They could have just apologized for forgetting a candle. They could have even taken that dessert off the menu, and that would have been totally appreciated. Or they could have brought us that second dessert for free. But they brought a whole second dessert and took BOTH off the bill. That’s next level customer service.
So anyway. Back to my subject line. Downtown takes the next step. Why does the NoMad signify that? Well, one of my pet peeves is all the attention people pay when people or places affiliated with New York City decide to stake a claim here. People got all excited about Papaya King or the Halal Guys or whatever … when LA definitely makes just as good a halal as anywhere else. And don’t get me started on the Five Guys/In n Out debate. So, the fact that the NoMad guys decided to come here isn’t significant because “it’s their first establishment outside New York.” It’s significant because they are among the highest profile chefs and restauranteurs in the food world. And they have heretofore only operated in one city. They could have expanded anywhere they wanted. London. Chicago. Tokyo. Paris. And they expanded here. Plus, they didn’t do that by throwing up a pop up (though they did take a food truck around for awhile). They didn’t open up an outpost. They went full bore. They did everything they’re doing in New York, and more. This space is more impressive. The menu is just as good, and has clearly been tailored to Los Angeles – they didn’t just recreate their same menu (notwithstanding that chicken, which they couldn’t not put on the menu). The cocktail program is more expansive. And, importantly, one of the things they said they learned through going around Los Angeles in a food truck is that “real people” didn’t know who they were. That made them redouble their efforts, and realize that nothing but their A game would do – they had to be successful in spite of their New York success, not because of it.
In the early days of Downtown’s renaissance, you needed visionaries like Cedd Moses or Tom Gilmore who were willing to undergo the pain of being pioneers, navigating city processes that weren’t set up for urban redevelopment, and have enough money to lose it for awhile. Then, once the road started getting paved, there was the gold rush where people thought they could just open something in Downtown and make money off of the rising tide. But all urban environments take sophistication and patience, and a number of those folks aren’t here anymore. But now, you have world class, world famous restauranteurs and hotel operators who could operate, and make money, anywhere. They could choose cities easier than Los Angeles. They have sophistication and patience and resources in world class amounts – and they poured all those into Downtown Los Angeles.
So, Downtown has long since moved past the days of needing to prove anything. But it could have stayed self contained and been successful. A place built by Angelenos for Angelenos, and that would have been fine. But Cedd now has bars in San Diego, Austin, and New York. Downtown chefs are spreading throughout Los Angeles and, I have no doubt, will be moving East the way so many chefs are now moving West (I also have to check out David Chang’s new place, which is another indicator because he, too, could go anywhere and chose here). And now, we have the NoMad. The multi million dollar, stunningly designed, impeccably operated, delicious, creative, historic, breathtaking NoMad. It could have gone almost anywhere. And yet, the minute you walk in, you realize it couldn’t be anywhere but here.
649 S. Olive St. (Olive & 7th)