History is a nightmare from which NoMI has awoken. When hotel restaurants are good, they are very, very good. And when bad, they stink like filet-O-gangrene. A withered limb of a hospitable organism, hanging there forever. Atrophy is, I guess, better than amputee. The rare wanderings-in of guests spike eerie staff motion like the salted twitches of severed frog legs. Few restaurants step back from this lonely, cold abyss. NoMI has – magma coom loud – or something like that.
NoMI opened in 2000 to tremendous fanfare. My own included. The views, the food, the service were all completely stellar. There was no shortage of pretty young things haunting the trendy halls and patios. I was, myself, a lot younger, not much prettier but a whole lot better dressed. Learning from the school of Tru, which opened in 1999, NoMI had a snob factor of zero while engaging with the diners as much or as little as they wanted. The prices, although high, were on par with those of other hotel restaurants. Life was, for a while, sweet. Until the inevitable: artist meets accountant. 2000 predated (slightly) the epoch of the Cheflebrity. And, right or wrong, hotel restaurants were always relatively immune to raving prima donnas. The revenue contribution of the kitchen is typically a rounding error on a giant hotel’s books and since the accountants were always left in charge, the mission of turning a dollar into $1.02 trumped any attempts at the high-end staffing and selective waste whose absence quickly knock a 3-star dinner down to zero. With NoMI it began with sushi.
What the Sam Hill did they know of sushi? Not a damn thing except for how to charge for it. $15 micro-rolls back in 2000? The wannabe economists saw the kick-off of the sushi craze and ordered the kitchen to comply. Except they didn’t actually commit to BEING a sushi restaurant. Or even a Sushi bar like Blue Door at the Delano. After the first or second disappointment no one ever orders sushi again. Sushi is too expensive for a dice-roll, get it? Hahaha! If there ever were a sushi chef, he likely died of boredom. The “apprentices,” whose claim to sushi chefdom was bussing in the kitchen, were all that would remain to drench rice with spicy mayonnaise. Yet, there, on the menu, it’d remain – for a decade – as testament to stubbornness and inability to admit mistakes. NoMI still serves sushi but now, the price is commensurate with quantity and quality. On every level.
Dinner was outstanding. They sure made the occasion special. After all, I am now of middle-age according to the US Census’ demographic grouping. This entitles me to a little pampering. The female probably requested, and received, the best table in the house. It was a great compromise between viewings of the diners and the avenue below. The waiter was utterly professional and engaging in a perfect balance. There when we need him, gone when we don’t. He didn’t get my joke (or maybe chose not to) about my preferred temperature for pork being medium-rare because: “I’ve never known anyone who came down with a case of trigonometry.” “It’s trichinosis” he corrected me. “Thank you” I said. “I’ve had problems remembering things since going on a roundworm diet.” But anyway, if you were the waiter, you would probably not want to engage with this level of humor either so I don’t blame him.
The food? The food was of the highest caliber. The only thing not quite worth the price-tag was the ocean platter which contained a half-dozen oysters, several medium stone crab claws, a lobster tail, a lobster claw and assorted Mollusca, including some of the best jumbo shrimp since Hugo’s. All good, none great, except the shrimp. So, if this $75 “appetizer” is going to be the mid-range scrapple, price it at $40 and see people beam with joy. Look to Barton G in South Beach who charges the same for much more. But excepting this one thing, the meal was astonishingly cheap for food we never imagined possible from a kitchen with its burners set so low for so long. NO LONGER! Not a single fish over $30! A true medium-rare pork chop! (Porterhouse they say – more like Pork-ter-house.) A filet cheaper than any you will find on Rush Street and possibly equally as good. Although this verdict will have to wait until the next time. And, at these prices, a next time there shall be. You should look for us. We’re easy to spot. We’re the white, middle-aged couple rockin' the new moist Acuvue contact lenses. Can't miss us.