Sea bass with smoked ham hock at NoMi (Brad A. Johnson)
Earlier this year, the Park Hyatt Chicago closed its 7th-floor restaurant, NoMi (800 N. Michigan Ave., 312-239-4030), to revamp it, expose the kitchen and relaunch it as something far more casual. When I first got wind of this, I thought, “Uh, oh.” I feared the worst. NoMi had been one of the most elegant, most wonderful restaurants in Chicago.
Park Hyatt Chicago, NoMi, uni toast, sea bass, and chocolate tart (Brad A. Johnson)
But I fretted for nothing. The new NoMi isn’t that much different. Well, it is, but it isn’t. Oh, sure, it’s more casual. The tablecloths are gone. The kitchen is now wide open. And there’s a massive leg of Ibérico pork bolted to carving stand next to the door. There’s also a new chef in the kitchen, Ryan LaRoche (formerly of Chicago’s Tru and Las Vegas’ L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon). He’s replaced the multi-course degustations with an à la carte menu that marries rustic farmhouse sensibilities with urban chophouse panache. In the end, NoMi is still superb in every respect. And this is still one of the hottest restaurants in town. In fact, it might be hotter than before. The new NoMi reminds me a lot of Laurent Tourendel’s BLT Market at the Ritz-Carlton in New York.
I’m contemplating an appetizer called “uni toast,” so I ask my waiter what he thinks of the choice. “Amazing,” he says, twisting my arm. And he’s right—but he fails to warn me how large the portion is will be. I’m served three slices of flatbread griddled with olive oil and covered with an bucketful of sea urchin roe (uni) and pillowy shavings of fatty, unctuous Spanish ham. By the second slice, I’m dizzy. But I’m also just getting started. An exquisite fillet of sea bass comes draped over a bed of Dupuy lentils with smoked ham hock and chicken jus, which is so good I embarrass myself by how quickly and savagely I’ve wolfed it down.
At this point, I’m thinking I’ll pass on dessert, even though every single item on the menu sounds tempting: gingerbread sponge cake with gianduja ice cream and spiced pumpkin confit, for example, or maple custard with cranberry compote, tangerine curd and candied granola. “Oh, but wait,” says the waiter. “We have a few special desserts tonight that aren’t printed on that menu. I’ll show you. I’ll be right back.” And he returns with a large board carrying a couple of rustic, seasonal fruit pies and, whoa, wait a minute, that’s the most beautiful chocolate tart I’ve ever seen! Too beautiful to eat? Never. It’s utterly sublime.