Corn is one of my favorite grains. I enjoy it in summer salads, popped and ready to eat for a new movie and best of all, on the grill during summertime barbecues. When I heard Nice Matin had come up with an original corn-inspired menu for their annual corn festival I knew I had to stop in for some eats.
The restaurant was situated on a busy corner on the Upper West Side and had an inviting yet sophisticated feel. My guest and I were seated at the best table in the house. Propped up high and overlooking the crowd in a "U" shaped booth, we could see it all. It was almost like watching a movie unfold that was taking place in a busy New York corner cafe. Our server, Betsy greeted us and let us browse the menu. "The chef will be preparing you ladies a few unique corn dishes, they are all really great!" she exclaimed. In the meantime, a bag filled of Zaatar and lemon spiced popcorn danced atop the table and right into our mouths. Crunchy, warm and filled with lemon and peppery notes. The perfect starter to get us prepared for some tasty maize!
Out came two corn inspired drinks, a special cocktail for my self made with bourbon and corn silk and topped with a sweet caramel popcorn bit. Next was a corn inspired lemonade that was the perfect drink for a summer night. My guest drank up the entire glass. Next came out deep-fried puffs of corn beignets with a side of sweet creamed corn butter. These were perfection. Lightly fried with a hint of salt, but sweetness inside from the corn kernels, and once dipped in the butter. . . heavenly. My next favorite dish was the Rhode Island Johnny cakes. Light and fluffy corn cakes wedged together with succotash, farmer's cheese and candied bacon. This was such a simple yet exciting dish with all of the farm-fresh flavors and the smokiness of the sweet bacon. Nice Matin's sommelier had paired this specific dish with a wonderful port that was rich and sweet and partnered perfectly with the Johnny cakes. Not a big port fan, but the two meshed together impeccably.
Next on deck was the sweet corn risotto, which was a beautiful dish brought together with tomato confit, sage and Parmesan cheese. Sage is such a fantastic herb to cook with especially when it marries together all of the other flavors. This dish kept you spooning for seconds, thirds and yes. . . fourths. Lastly of our mini pre-dinner appetizer party was the purple corn and potato gnocchette, which seemed to be a larger version of the Italian gnocchi. The corn and potato pasta was mixed with chunks of sweet Maine lobster, corn kernels, mushrooms, tarragon and topped with a corn cream. This dish was one of the more interesting of the bunch. The purple gnocchette was something completely new and innovative to me and the mix of seafood, tarragon and corn was delicious. This was one of the heavier of the dishes too and definitely was sharable along with the risotto.
Not to mention each dish was paired with the perfect glass of wine thanks to Nice Matin's very own sexy sommelier. Just before our last dish our server Betsy took our orders for our main courses. I decided on the baked cod. I knew I wanted something light, but still not a typical dish that I would normally order. The cod came baked in a huitlacoche tamale, which is basically a Mexican corn truffle that gave a taste of smoky notes and was topped with spicy green tomato salsa. The cod was super fresh and flaked right off with a touch of my fork. The tamales gave it just the kick it needed. My guest ordered the Moroccan spiced salmon and was paired with roasted asparagus, tabbouleh, eggplant puree and harissa and zucchini pesto. Her dish was the perfect blend of spices. The tabbouleh was so fresh and flavored well with the spiced salmon.
Once we were handed the dessert menus back my eyes instantly went to the sweet corn sundae. It was like music to our ears. Sweet corn and ice cream? Please tell us more. Out came a bowl of caramel popcorn, pistachio praline and semolina shortbread (divine) on top of three scoops of corn milk iced cream. This was a mind-blowing dessert. I loved every single cookie crumble, praline piece and creamy spoonful of ice cream. I would certainly make another visit just for this! We also ordered up two cappuccinos that were detailed with cute milky hearts and paired our cafe lattes with dark chocolate gateau (chocolate cake) with hazelnut brittle and caramel ice cream, as well as the vanilla crème brule with mixed berries. Can you tell we were in dessert overload? All of them were instant hits.
What I loved so much about Nice Matin is that it had a fantastic vibe, with an edgy menu and no frills service. From their wine menu to each dish our server was knowledgeable and attentive. While people watching from our seats every patron was enjoying wine, sharing stories and eating a variety of foods from small plates, to desserts, to even the all time favorite beef burger. Yes, Nice Matin serves up the Original Five Napkin Burger (gruyere cheese, sautéed onions, rosemary, aioli and fries). Nice Matin is opened for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner and of course dessert. They also over a three-course prix fixe menu for $38. I am excited to have discovered this New York staple on the Upper West Side.
Nice Matin: 201 West 79th Street, New York, NY 10024. Tel: 212.873.6423.