In early April, on an elevated floor of the freshly opened Park MGM Las Vegas, the elite New York-based restaurant group launched NoMad Pool. On weekends it transforms from a luxe hotel/casino swimming spot to Jemaa, a bonafide club complete with pricy cabana rentals and bumping music. At both iterations, sun worshippers and sybarites will enjoy a lunch menu that does the brand proud. Comfortably elegant, NoMad’s Sin City outpost (there is a version in Los Angeles, as well) was designed by Jacques Garcia and inspired by Majorelle Garden in Morocco.
The menu features nothing along the lines of NoMad’s famous foie gras laced chicken – “I tend not to want truffles and foie gras when I am sitting at the pool,” co-owner Will Guidara says over lunch – but there is plenty more to recommend. “We’ve spent enough time at pools that we know what we like. The idea was to not get too crazy. I’m not going to sit at a pool and want to try something new for the first time. The idea is to keep it simple and do it with purpose.”
That is definitely the case with a world-class fried chicken sandwich – “We marinate the chicken in buttermilk, Tabasco, and jalapeño; bread it; and let it sit for two days so that the breading really absorbs the flavor,” says chef Michael Rellergert. “Then we double bread it and double fry it” – and a bar-raising lobster roll. It’s souped up with crème fraîche, apple, tarragon, and more acidity and less mayo than is the norm. Cayenne gives it a long finish and the lobster is suitably dried that the whole enterprise does not get bogged down.
Then there is a bit of inspiration that comes from Guidara’s godmother: “She used to make me New England-style hot dogs. There’s something nostalgic about serving a lobster roll on a split bun, butter seared.”
Guacamole is amped with sunflower seeds; fava bean hummus comes with toasted pistachio, whipped ricotta and pita chips enhanced by zataar; and the all-day breakfast burrito foregoes chorizo for suckling pig. Everything is familiar but different in a good way. The Moroccan quinoa bowl rethinks a run of the mill dish by including quinoa prepared two ways: standard and crunchy. The latter is achieved, says Rellergert, by cooking the grain under high head with oil. The add-on of salmon is striped with a subtle hint of harissa.
A day of pooling in Las Vegas is not complete without cocktails and NoMad steps up admirably. A frozen drinks machine will be churning frosty takes on piña coladas, blue Hawaiians and painkillers. Bar director and managing partner Leo Robitschek is employing all fresh ingredients for the usually pedestrian libations – “We told a supplier that we’re not using [pre-made] mixers and they said, ‘What do you mean?’” he marvels – and spinning fresh offerings unique to Vegas. “We wanted to come up with cocktails rooted in guilty pleasures and done right,” says Robitschek. “The idea is to make cocktails that might feel a little naughty while also being suitable for drinking in 120-degree weather.”
Case in point: Robitschek’s take on a 1980s blow-up called the Porn Star. “It was invented in the U.K., made with vanilla vodka and passion fruit, and not really suited for the American palate,” says Robitschek. “I couldn’t come up with a ratio from the original recipe that I like. So I made my own [vodka-based] version” – with a chaser of champagne that works surprisingly well.
There are plenty of fun, pool-drink gimmicks, including plastic mermaids adorning glasses and a slew of umbrellas. “We want things to be out there,” says Robitschek. “There are too many rules and there is too much seriousness.” The booziest drink you can have at NoMad Pool? The Detox-Retox with an unlikely sounding mix of blended scotch and multiple rums.
The cocktail is amazingly smooth and recognizable but with a twist. “Inspiration behind the Detox-Retox is an old fashioned – but more tropical,” says Robitschek. “Instead of diluting it with water, we dilute it with coconut water.”
Guidara takes a sip, his first taste of the cocktail, and proclaims, “Wow! That is silky.”
Beaming, Robitschek says, “This is an old fashioned that you would want to drink poolside.”
It’s a sentiment that stretches across the menu. As Guidara puts it, “We just picked the best things we would crave at the pool.” Modest as that may sound, considering that “we” is the NoMad brain-trust, it will be a pretty good way to go this summer.