Though they've been known to throw a fine party and do offer bottle service at their restaurant downstairs, Will Guidara and chef Daniel Humm did not take the NoMad Hotel's rooftop space and turn it into a summer lounge. Instead, they've opened a restaurant for the spring and summer months, serving $125 six-course tasting menus. Due to obvious weather concerns, reservations can only be made on the day-of, through their website. In the following interview, Guidara and Humm talk about the project, their desire to challenge the notion that a picturesque, outdoor setting comes with subpar food, and their hope that people consider this a restaurant in its own right. Also: there's a cupola with a ten-top that you can book, for now at least, at no extra charge.
At 11 AM today, the NoMad will begin taking reservations for this evening's debut of the rooftop restaurant.
So, what's the deal with this?
Will Guidara: The presence of a roof was something that we saw in the very beginning and were perplexed by.
We knew that we didn't want to do another big, crazy-busy hotel rooftop bar with a velvet rope downstairs with people waiting to get in and then struggling to order a gin and tonic or a vodka soda.
The other decision as we were developing the hotel is that when it's just right up here, and nothing is covering the space when it's raining, it's perfect. Like right now. Any time you install an apparatus that can close in inclement weather, it's just not as beautiful — the views aren't as good, there's stuff all around you.
Eventually, the two of us, just talking and talking, came up with the idea — New York, being one of the greatest dining cities in the world — of doing a place where you could sit under the stars and have an ultra-refined meal. A place like that doesn't exist, because it's actually really complicated.
Why is it complicated?
WG: When you think about dining like that — a multi-course tasting menu — you plan in advance for that.
Daniel Humm: And then it's weather dependent. You have to prep in advance, even if you end up not opening. It's a headache in many ways.
You could feasibly end up throwing out a bunch of food?
DH: There is a chance for that, but I don't think we would throw product away. But I do think there will be times when people will work for six hours for something that doesn't end up happening.
WG: When I talk about complicated, I think about it for the guest. I think it's only possible in this day and age. When you think about a long dining experience like that, you usually call up your friends three weeks in advance to plan it out. But here you can't.
And in this case you have to basically round up your friends on the day of.
WG: Yeah, that's the idea. The reason I think it's possible is because people are really interested in food now, and because of the internet, there's a platform through which you can book the day of, at 11 AM. You don't have to worry about one or three reservationists getting completely backed up. There's a way to make it work, and we're really excited.
When you say "utra-refined," what do you mean?
DH: If you think of Eleven Madison Park as the urban fine dining restaurant, you can think of this maybe as the fine dining restaurant in the countryside. The inspiration comes from more rustic dishes that you would eat in the summer, but then we refine them.
What's an example?
DH: We're starting off with a menu that has a dish of tomatoes, some bread with tomatoes. We will serve a tomato soda with it that comes in a custom-made soda bottle that the guest will have to open.
It's very ingredient-driven, with tomatoes, corn, zucchini — things you would expect in the summer.
As far as the length of the meal, it's a six-course that runs about two and a half hours.
Do you want customers and critics to consider this a separate restaurant?
WG: Yeah. Downstairs you have these different spaces, but they all have the same menu and service. This is a fully different dining experience.
When I say refined, it's not just the food, it's also the luxury of time and space that exists in many interiors in New York, but then gets lost outside.
Do you think you might, funny enough, have to deal with diners expecting food that's not a knock-out because it's picturesque and outdoors? People thinking the point is the setting, and that the food will be very good but not amazing?
WG: That's the exciting part.
DH: That's the mold we want to break.
WG: For a while in New York, people associated counter dining with casual and not-so-great food. Cesar Ramirez and David Chang challenged that. We like embracing those juxtapositions, since it's kind of a challenge at first.
Why do you think there isn't more of this in New York?
DH: People see something like this and ask how they can make more money. Of course, a cocktail bar would make way more money than a fine dining restaurant. That's the reason, I think. These hotel projects are often driven by that so often, so luckily, we weren't in the position.
WG: And it's just complicated. We know that the way to get a reservation here is a pain in the ass, and I'm sorry to the dining public for that. But we couldn't think of a better way to do it, and we will work to make it so it is worth your while.
What's the deal with the cupola?
DH: That cupola is a ten-top that will soon be up and running.
WG: Starting Monday, you can book that table just like you can book any of the other ones, at no extra charge. Ultimately, it'll become a private dining room.
You could probably keep operating that in the winter.
WG: Yeah. I like the idea of walking through the cold for just one second and then going in there.
Finally, what are you guys afraid of?
WG: I'm sure that there will be one day where we will misread the weather. We're going to play it conservatively at the beginning.
What happens then?
WG: We're still figuring that out!