At the top of the escalator of the Oakbrook Center Neiman Marcus, you’ll find the welcoming entrance to the NM Café, a lovely country club atmosphere filled with diffused summery light from a floor-to-ceiling window. Everything on the menu, the pristine white environment, and the clean contemporary décor are all perfectly designed to court any ladies who shop to become ladies who lunch. In the hour we spent dining at NM Cafe, we were surrounded by groups of friends, shopping bags in hand, silk scarves tied at the neck, all pouring over the excellent menu.
Every menu item has a complete nutritional breakdown printed underneath the description and select items marked by bright orange hourglasses connote they belong to the “Go Figure” section of the menu—cuisine for a healthier lifestyle.
The moment we sat down, the famous popovers and consommé were delivered to the table. These have been the introduction to Neiman Marcus dining since Helen Corbitt originally conceived it for the first Neiman Marcus exclusive restaurant, the Zodiac in Dallas, in 1953. The popovers are fresh from the oven, delicate, and airy. They have that tantalizing croissant quality, golden crust on the outside, warm and yielding on the inside. Smeared with housemade strawberry butter, it’s an ambrosial introduction to the unique and attentive service at NM Cafe.
The Grilled Shrimp & Quinoa Salad is gorgeously plated and big enough to split. Every ingredient is portioned out on the plate, fresh and picturesque. The succulent shrimp carry a delicious, grill-kissed flavor and are a tantalizing texture combination with quinoa, mixed greens, and toasted almonds. The softer side of the plate, fresh avocado slices, creamy goat cheese, tissue thin radish slices, shreds of red and golden beets piled high like confetti, and a subtle pomegranate vinaigrette dressing bring a light sweetness and make the entirety of the dish immensely satisfying. It feels fresh, light, and very nourishing. The highlight of our lunch.
The Salmon Tacos are wonderfully tasty. The salmon keeps the taco light, taking on the more assertive flavors of the bed of lime cabbage slaw, cilantro, and light chipotle aioli. Wrapped up in corn tortillas, these come two to a plate and resolve in a nice, gentle spice. However, a side of pico de gallo really completes the authentic beach flavor and several jalapeno slices allow the customer to design their own heat factor. With all the jalapenos piled on, this has a fantastic fire-alarm factor.
One of the specials was a fabulously fruity Waldorf Chicken Salad with baked chicken, mandarin orange slices, chopped green apple, halved grapes, raisins, walnuts, strawberries, on a small bed of mixed greens, with a sprinkling of bleu cheese and the classic Neiman Marcus poppy seed vinaigrette. Based in the sweet, natural flavors of the abundant fruit, this salad is like a farmer’s market on a plate. Seasoned flatbread provides a crunch and the chicken turns this from a tasty fruit salad into a full lunch entrée.
Another stalwart dish on the menu since its inception is the Mandarin Orange Soufflé. This beauty comes right out of the 1950s with a scoop of classic NM Chicken salad packed with chicken, mayo, celery, and sliced almonds, served chilled and delicious, with Corbitt’s signature poppy seed vinaigrette adding a note of sweet complexity. The soufflé itself looks like it popped right out Leave it To Beaver, a miniature version of a citrus’y gelatin mold with little mandarin slices captured inside. It was a wonderful flashback to youth, and tasty to boot. To round out the plate is another fantastic fruit cup with kiwi, a raspberry, a blackberry, a cube of pineapple, and a fresh, delicious blueberry muffin. It’s a very welcome throwback for a cool, petite lunch.
For dessert, don’t miss out on the Strawberry Mango Cream Cake. Probably the most adorably plated dessert we’ve ever seen with red polka dots embedded in the cake playing against black polka dots in the white chocolate accent, a row of berries drawn on the plate in raspberry sauce, and the relief outline of a fork rendered in unsweetened cocoa powder. All of that attention to detail fades into the background when you taste it. Layers of fluffy strawberry and mango mousse bookend a layer of delicate white cake. The flavors are decadent, but the fruit flavors come through with such an unprocessed flare that it feels almost good for you. It’s a truly wonderful trick and a delectable finale.
NM Cafe brings the class of Neiman Marcus to the lunch experience and has for half a century. There’s the added benefit of a model visiting the tables highlighting certain Neiman Marcus offerings as she wears them, such as a dress by St. John and the perfect shoes, bag, jacket, and jewelry to match.
NM Cafe is located on the second level of Neiman Marcus at 6 Oakbrook Center in Oak Brook, 630-586-3150.
– By Jake and Eliza Jarvi // Photography by Robin Subar