David Chang is probably one of the most high-profile chefs in America, or in the world. His growing Momofuku empire is making waves everywhere these days, not just in New York, and he is a regular contributor to GQ magazine’s food section. Obviously, there was a massive hype for the new establishment from the Momofuku group in Chelsea, this time supposedly a fusion of Korean and Italian. Fusion of two or more different cuisines is always a high-risk, high-reward proposition, and given how I had mixed experiences everywhere in other Momofuku establishments, I knew that I would either love or hate this restaurant, which is still one of the hottest tickets to get since its opening in January. I’m pleased to report that Nishi was one of the better experiences I’ve had at a Momofuku restaurant.
The concise menu at Nishi does seem like a mash of Korean and Italian, but it’s probably too simplistic to define it that way. David Chang always had a knack for creating his own culinary identity (no matter how successful that was). Born and raised in Korea, I would never call his food Korean although no one probably played a more influential role in promoting the brand of Korean food than he did. His culinary inventiveness never quite appealed to my palate in many of the Momofuku places, but this time I can tell that he put a lot of thoughts into his menu, with a lot of great dishes. Who would have thought that simple romaine and walnut salad with bagna cauda would have such wonderful freshness to it and spot-on dressing? Tofu with smoked trout roe and rye bonji was also a nice dish that you could try for appetizer.
The highlight of Nishi’s menu really lies in the “myun” (“noodle” in Korean) section. These dishes look closer to pastas than Korean noodle dishes, but there were full of surprises. I absolutely loved the spicy kick of chitarra with squid, XO sauce and chili. The famed ceci e pepe, another inventive take on one of the most classic pastas and quickly becoming a signature dish at Nishi, also was delightful, replacing cheese with chickpea hozon. I don’t know what trick the kitchen played, but the dish definitely surpassed other similar dishes at Italian restaurants I’ve been too. Spicy beef Sichuan, which looks like ragu-based pappardelle, was also brilliant, ingeniously introducing the spicy Sichuan feel to the dish without overpowering in flavor. Clams came with chow mein-style thin noodles; the flavor of the dish was somewhat funkier than I had imagined, but I can see that there was a lot of thought put into this combining influences from Macao and Italy quite seamlessly. I was also a huge fan of the grilled sweet potato and anchovy side dish, a mix of sweet and salty flavor that worked quite well together.
The dessert menu at Nishi is somewhat concise compared to the savory dishes. Panna cotta and plum vinegar had that citrusy flavor to the silky smooth panna cotta, but I found the other dish, pistachio bundt cake, to be more delightful, a simple dish that had refined sweetness to it in surprising fashion.
Getting a reservation at Nishi would take some efforts; best bet is probably to go as soon as it opens and hope there are walk-in tables or counter seats available. I went into Momofuku’s website (the restaurant opens its reservation spaces 15 days in advance, at 10 a.m. every day) and wound up getting only early dinner tables at 6 p.m. despite logging in as soon as 10 a.m. hit. To my surprise, though, the restaurant wasn’t as full as I had imagined on a Thursday night, and I didn’t see any lines forming around the blocks (perhaps the hype had already quieted down already or maybe things are supposed to be crazy on weekends?). Nishi has a full bar, with some surprisingly good wine selections that would go well with the dishes. The décor still retains that hip atmosphere you see in other Momofuku establishments like Ssam Bar but don’t expect a comfortable setting, and the noise at the dining space can be deafening. Overall, though, I’m really glad that Nishi put together some memorable dishes despite my reservations on David Chang-style food. I would definitely come back for more at some point this year.
- Creativity: 9.0/10
- Execution: 8.5/10
- Ingredients: 8.0/10
- Flavor: 8.5/10
- Texture: 8.0/10
Address: 232 Eighth Avenue, New York, NY 10011
Telephone: (646) 518-1919