I’m not much for trendy restaurants. And I don’t really care for chefs that are trying to show-off, especially when they don’t have les bourses to pull it off. I recall a particularly alarming meal…and the bill, at the end of it…at a very, very expensive restaurant where I was presented with half of a caramelized shallot which arrived in front of me with a blitz of fanfare, on a plate the size of a hula-hoop.
I took a bite and it was good, but for what it cost, I wanted at least the other half. And look, I worked at a restaurant where nothing was held in higher esteem than a perfect, unblemished peach, so I don’t think it’s wrong to present food or ingredients simply. I just have a hard time swallowing a €55 bowl of tomato soup.
So when I read a bit of the buzz surrounding Nomiya, a temporary restaurant on top of the Palais de Tokyo, I wasn’t especially eager to sit in front of my computer at 9:59am hoping to get a reservation when they open bookings at 10am. Then schlepping across Paris thirty days later to dine at the temporary restaurant in the sky.
But I have to say, I’m glad I did. Nomiya at Art Home (prononcer arôme, as they say) is a “concept’ restaurant, designed to look like a Japanese bar, and took over the space atop the Palais de Tokyo where a hotel room had previously existed as part of an art installation. When you enter the restaurant, it’s easy to see why the location is so incredibly in-demand.
I’d read somewhere that you should only dine at Nomiya if you’re comfortable sitting at a table with a group of strangers. Reading the write-up, I couldn’t tell, peering through the prose, if the writer had less-than-exemplary table mates. But at our lunch, there were twelve people, three of us who weren’t French (that’s counting Romain, even though I swear he’s actually Italian…), and everyone talked and mingled well. Actually, it was such a good group that I almost wanted to ask everyone if they’d like to book the place for a private dinner and come back again, en masse.
Two guests were French surgeons (one did kidney transplants, the other operated on hands), and another couple spoke the most amazingly perfect American English I’d ever heard from non-natives. Slang? Check. Jokes? Check. Odd Americanisms? Check.
Completely adorable? Check that, too.
The waiter was funny/drôll, with a dry sense of humor that gave the lunch the perfect lift of levity. And the cook in the kitchen adjacent to the dining table, who was plating up the food, didn’t seem to mind at all when I kept leaving the table and wandering over to ask him what he was up to. (He told me he worked at Gordon Ramsey’s restaurant before this, and this was a lot easier. I’m sure he wasn’t kidding.)
I’m the first to admit the amuses-bouches of caviar and fruit, one with kiwi and the other with finely-diced strawberries, were a bit silly. But somehow, high up there, accompanied with a cold flûte of Champagne, the combinations were curious but appropriate. Sliding down a spoonful of each seemed oddly in-sync with the off-beat nature of where we were eating.
If you’re one of those people that likes to watch their food prepared, you’ll be at home at Art Home. You’re steps away from the cook and he didn’t mind at all folks coming over and taking a look. Granted I was the only one doing that (must be an American-thing), but still, I liked talking to him as he plated up our first course of Basil-Cucumber Gazpacho with smoked trout eggs, purple basil, and rouget (red mullet).
We were all engaged in various conversations around the table, getting to know each other, and everyone scraped their bowls clean.
Each course was accompanied by a ‘natural’ wine. The first, an Akméniné ’08 Sancerre wasn’t fabulous. Like many natural wines, it was cloudy and cider-like. I missed the thinness of a standard Sancerre, but I like trying natural wines because you never know what you’re going to end up with when you pop open a bottle.
The next course came with a Nuits d’Ivresse ’07 Bourgueil, and organic wine that was quite nice. Of the two bottles set down, one was corked, and was quickly replaced. Pas de problème.
I liked this wine a lot and it went down just right with the Veal with polenta, capers, sun-dried tomatoes, arugula, and little bitty cubes of polenta.
Like all good meals, we eventually headed for dessert. The gazpacho theme was revived and the chef quickly scooped balls of Melon Sorbet and set each into a scoop of white chocolate mousse (delicious!) anchored in a bowl of Charentais melon puree, which was presented as Melon Gazpacho. (The chef asked me if we had melons like that in America. I said “Oui”, but that they were harder to find than they are in France.) Clean and simple, once again, we were all clicking our spoons against the bottom of the bowl trying to get every last drop.
Since it was lunch, people started looking at their watches, a bit woozily, ready to head back to work. (I’d hoped the surgeons had done most of their work in the morning.) The final note before the send-off was an espresso served with neat orange-colored chile-pepper marshmallow and the most perfect, shiniest piece of white chocolate I’ve ever seen.
Or should I say, touched. It looked like a simple square of white chocolate, but when I reached for it, my whole mind felt like I’d been duped as I discovered it was a pristine square of white chocolate gelée. It was a neat trick, and added just the right bit of whimsy to send us happily back into the street, and into real life.
Would I go back? You betcha. But I think I’d go for dinner, which is harder to get into. The table only seats twelve people and you need to be pretty fast on the trigger; when I logged into the site at exactly 10am, all the dinners for the day I wanted were spoken for. The price of the 2 1/2 hour lunch was a not unreasonable €60. For the experience, plus wine was included, as is tax and service, I was more than satisfied. The copious amount of wine probably didn’t hurt, either.
Dinner is €80 and lasts three-plus hours, and I might just find myself in the next eleven months—the restaurant is only open for a year—sitting in front of my computer at 9:59am, to try my luck at getting an evening spot. For those not so lucky, or who just want to take a look, you can sign up for a free tour or a workshop, which they have for adults and kids, with one of the chefs.
UPDATE: Because this is meant to be a temporary restaurant, it’s slated for closure April 30, 2011.
Reservations must be made online and each morning, the seats become available at 10am (Paris time.) Reservations go quickly, although lunch reservations are not as in-demand as those for dinner. Note that the restaurant serves a fixed menu, although they did make an alternative main course for a guest who didn’t eat beef.
At Home (Twitter Stream)
Nomiya (Paris Update)
At Home (Flickr group)
Melon Soup with White Chocolate Mousse (Recipe, in French)
Art Home in Pictures (Meg Zimbeck)