By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
Just finding Nom Gastronomía Expuesta restaurant is no easy feat.
Tucked away in a back alley behind the Dumas Marché food mall in Mexico City’s Colonia Polanco, there are few clues other than a dimly lit copper lantern and a tiny hand-painted sign on a storeroom door to help you locate its whereabouts.
Part of the reason for that is the fact that Nom’s installations were, until recently, a forgotten warehouse no larger than the size of a closet.
And part of the reason is that Nom’s owner and head chef Alejandro Baboub wants his restaurant to have an intimate, hidden-away, invitations-only, speakeasy feel.
But once you finally manage to maneuver your way into Nom – the outside alley entrance is the easiest approach, but you can also get there via a winding labyrinth through Dumas Marche’s main kitchen – you are in for a culinary adventure that is as unique as it is delicious.
Squeezed inside the former stockroom’s ultra-tight and light-starved interior are a wraparound bar that encases a stove, refrigerator and kitchen workspace that, with effort, can accommodate up to four chefs, surrounded by 15 bar stools, all facing into the kitchen-
Nom, which has only been open for two weeks, is strictly a by-reservation-only kind of place.
The French-trained Baboub only serves lunch from Tuesday through Saturday, and dinner from Wednesday through Saturday, and even if he wanted to increase his clientele, there is simply no room for guests other than on those 15 elbow-to-elbow stools.
Every day, the menu is different, so you are more or less in for a chef’s choice potluck, that is, if you can call gourmet French-Mexicaine haute cuisine dining potluck.
Lunch usually includes at least four courses and a complimentary glass of wine, while dinner can include up to 11 courses, which are available for a nominal additional fee with a six-course accompanying wine pairing.
Each dish is hand prepared on the spot by Baboub and his three-member crew of sous-chefs.
When I went for lunch, there was a heavy emphasis on seafood, opening with a salmon and avocado tarte marinated in sweet lemon and honey au jus and topped with tiny slices of mango.
Nom served this course with a house chardonnay, an earthy wine from Ensenada with a hint of asparagus and a subtle tartness.
“I only serve Mexican wines, high-end Mexican boutique wines,” he explained as he began preparing the next course in front of his guests on the tiny work space that separated him from us.
“And nearly all my ingredients are locally sourced — fresh seafood, fruits and vegetables of the season. If it isn’t fresh, it isn’t on the menu.”
Next up was an open hamachi, shrimp and mussels ceviche bathed in a tangy yuzu soya, avocado and wasabi sauce and adorned with twigs of fresh coriander.
The third course was a warm lobster ball in a molded rice crepe basket with a spicy chile serrano and mustard vinaigrette.
The main course was Wagyu beef strips and roasted baby Brussel sprouts in a smoked pork belly and port wine sauce that clearly showcased Babous’ Parisian pedigree.
But, without a doubt, the meal’s pièce de résistance was a surprise “pre-dessert” dish composed of soft toasted waffle covered with a pâté de foie gras and a hint of organic honey, crowned with tiny slivers of black truffles.
This to-die-for course would have been reason enough by itself to make the hide-and-seek trek to Nom, and even though we were all quite full from the previous offerings, virtually everyone at the restaurant devoured the pâté as if we were ravished, and would have been ready for seconds had they been offered.
Instead, Babous pulled out an open tart of creamy mango custard accompanied by a homemade fig ice cream.
Overall, the meal at Nom was one of the most delightful I have ever enjoyed, and – now that I know how to find it, I will most certainly be returning often.
Nom Gastronomía Expuesta is located in a tiny warehouse behind the Marché Dumas dining mall at Alejandro Dumas 125 in Mexico City’s Colonia Polanco (tel: 8434-3888).
It is open for lunch Tuesday through Saturday from 1:45 p.m. to 6 p.m. and for dinner Wednesday through Saturday from 7:30 p.m. to midnight, exclusively through previous reservations (which can be made at firstname.lastname@example.org).