I am the Foodie Buddha and I am a sheep amongst wolves. Stealthily perched behind my menu, which serves as a shield from the plastic-esque décor, my eyes see nothing but menu and the fairer sex. With Mama Buddha and my cousin with a famous backside in tow, and a handful of female neighbors onsite, I’m seated in NM Café, the
basement *cough* lower level Lenox Square Neiman Marcus eatery. If you haven’t heard of NM Café I’ll tell you that it’s Needless Markup’s culinary offering to the silver-haired blue bloods hailing from the nearby Buckhead neighborhoods.
As I sip on the underwhelming yet competent demitasse of consommé (complimentary to all who enter and sit), I can’t help but feel completely out of place. Although … I am the impetus behind this excursion, so maybe I just have a twisted sense of entertainment. What followed was one of the strangest yet oddly predictable meals of recent memory.
Neiman Marcus has a fleet of restaurant concepts interspersed amongst their many locations. NM Café, which fills the gap here in Atlanta, strives to offer “upscale-casual cuisine,” a contradiction that seems to fit the experience and the motif.
The décor here is anything but high-end. NM shoppers are prone to spending cash like cows graze grass, and that lends themselves to fits of tackiness. However, something about NM Café forgoes tacky and goes straight to head scratching. With faux wood chairs and wall panels, combined with touches of bright lights and neon accent walls, it just feels cheap. McDonald’s did a better job of going upscale than Neiman Marcus did of going approachable.
Additionally, I’m not entirely sure of the kitchen hierarchy. What I do know is that Andrew Conner, who spent some 14-years working at a variety of area hotel restaurants, joined Zodiac, NM Café’s forefather, back in 1998. He’s currently listed as the chef de cuisine. I know even less of manager Steven Waugh, who seems to have appeared out of nowhere (as in – there isn’t a trail of information on him that I know of).
Whatever the case may be, it is abundantly apparent that the selection list in front of me is American in nature with undertones of our French forefathers and some of their neighbors. By now, I’m face first in my popover, another complementary treat, and things start to look up. The popover, which arrived before the consommé, is a real treat. Its fluffy carapace gives way to a cavernous interior with buttery walls and air pockets big enough for my keys. They are on par with their much more famous counterparts at BLT Steak.
I give the evil eye to the scoop of whipped strawberry butter on the table. I know it’s for the popovers, but my fondness for savory umami flavors means that the buttery sweetness of the popover is sufficient. Still, with the apprehension of an evil monkey, I knife a sliver. If you’re not careful, the presentation might mislead you into thinking the whipped concoction is ice cream. It’s good, but unnecessary for this guy.
Meanwhile, two statuesque beauties have appeared and my tongue rolls out of my mouth. Sauntering back and forth between the handful of occupied tables, these ladies are modeling clothes from some high-end label maker. There’s something insanely comical about women with assets too wide for their own chairs inquiring as to the make and nuances of such fine pieces of cloth. No ma’am, that dress won’t fit you and even if it did … you won’t look like that.
NM Café, perhaps on account of corporate mandates, is neither chef driven nor foodie chic. Though the short introduction inspires, the menu reads much like that of a hotel restaurant or of some other restricted enterprise. The ingredients are easily identifiable and will serve to meet the palates of those who most often come in for a bite.
In that respect, the menu is a success and it shouldn’t be hard for anyone to find a meal within. The thing that delights my fellow tablemates is the listed calorie information accompanying every dish. While I’ll never want to see any such information near a Robuchon menu, it’s a nice touch at NM.
The meal moves along, and as with any typical family outing, I can’t help but notice our waitress take great pleasure in the dramatic waves of conversation my family is known for. Forgoing any starters, we find our table dotted with food not long after spitting out our order.
My cousin is taking down a soup of some sort. I say some sort because I didn’t take notice after the polite explanation, I didn’t take notice after it arrived, and I care even less after she takes a bite and notes “It’s okay.” Tantamount to “it sucks,” I leave my camera in the off position.
Meanwhile, Mama Buddha is visiting with the 940 calorie plate pictured a few paragraphs back. Listed as the mandarin orange soufflé ($15), the reserved plate contains some chicken salad, seasonal fruit (but no peaches), and the daily sweet bread. I am not inspired to try it and she isn’t inspired to rave about it.
What I settle on is the grilled Angus burger (990 calories). With some highly desirable Tillamook cheddar on top and a $15 price tag – I am expecting something epic. Grovel. What shows is nothing more than a glorified bar burger that isn’t even notable on that comparative level.
Any good burger is juicy, messy (if not sloppy), and decadent. This is dry, clean, and muted. While cooked to the desired temperature (medium rare), all the juice has been excised with surgical precision. If this thing is a composite of blends, that’s news to me. Straight chuck is all I get, and no salt, no pepper, no nothing in the seasoning department. Sure, the fixings are still on my plate, and the bottled ketchup sits as the counterweight to NM’s take on “special sauce,” but no toping should be the crux of a burger’s success. The fries looked good, but they were just thinly sliced potatoes.
I guess the lack of juice is also this burgers saving grace. I suspect that anyone on a shopping excursion will be glad to know that it won’t endanger their clothes, a surefire priority for those willing to spend $15 on a crappy burger and upwards of $600 on the latest pair of Louboutin’s.
With a very reserved menu that I neither demand nor expect change, there isn’t a lot going for NM Café. The food is expensive and offers little substance to back the glorified salesmanship. Service was strong and the popovers delicious, but I am not so sure a follow up visit will tell me anything I don’t already know.
Despite its zip code, NMC is simply an eerie appendage the the high-end magasin de vêtement just a few feet away. This isn’t a place for foodies, it’s a place for shoppers. Stick by that code, and maybe you’ll be okay.
[post script: the only forms of payment accepted are Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, American Express, JCB credit cards, cash, and checks.]
Atlanta Foodies on NM Café
- Toothfish on NM Café (10.26.10)
- Chow Down Atlanta on NM Café (01.08.08)
- Atlanta Foodies on NM Café (12.10.07)