Service is paramount in any dining experience. It makes up for a multitude of sins, and often makes me return to a restaurant to see if the food has improved.
This experience was the opposite of that: the service was mediocre at best, but the food was so wonderful that I don’t think I can resist going back.
Nook is a tiny, un-air conditioned restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen. By tiny, I mean TINY – you can almost touch both walls of the restaurant by standing with arms akimbo. It is very casual, BYOB only, and the sole server the day of our lunch was also the main chef, cashier, and host. Let’s get the bad out of the way first:
Your meal will take forever. You will get a carafe of water and a menu, and then you will wait. Almost interminably. Then, when you finally order, don’t expect to get your soda right away. That won’t happen until after your food arrives, almost half an hour after you finally got to order. You might get crabby, but if you peek into the narrow kitchen, you will see why it takes so long. There are eggplants being sliced and grilled a la minute. Fries being cooked to order. Steaks being cut off the tenderloin and grilled to order. Every single thing is made fresh and with utmost care.
Whether this turkey is homemade or outsourced is irrelevant. The point is that it is unlike any sandwich turkey I have had before. It is extremely juicy and tender, with a smoky, candied exterior that is so sweet that it seems more like ham than turkey. It is light enough to balance with the peeled cucumbers but earthy enough to stand up to the tart homemade beet relish. The baguette has a thin, sharp crust that surrounds a slightly tangy, bouncy interior crumb. The fries merit special mention. Fried to order from what seem like fresh potatoes, they are crunchy, rosemary flecked, and flecked with fragrant rosemary.
This is a dish where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The eggplant is sweet, almost fatty in its richness. The zucchini is firm and charred, with a slightly yielding interior. The yellow squash is sugary and the roasted peppers are soft and intense. The goat cheese is mild and melts into creamy warmth that blankets the vibrant vegetables. The deep, umami-laden balsamic glaze brings depth to the salad, and a few scattered scallions brighten and sharpen the flavors. This is not a technically or flavor-wise complex salad, but it is one that is made with as much care as you would take to make it for yourself. That makes it special.
The care taken with the food is what makes this whole restaurant special. Though the service is abysmally slow, it isn’t because you are being ignored, it is because the chef is doing everything by himself. That is how he keeps the prices low and the quality high. And the quality really is very high. The menu is not especially inventive or large, it is just prepared expertly. This is highly recommended for a lazy lunch or brunch. Just be sure to bring cash (the restaurant is cash only) and have plenty of time.
It is well worth the wait.