Pete Wells Gives David Chang’s Momofuku Nishi One Star

The New York Times' restaurant critic isn't pleased with the state of 'Changland'

Opened in January 2016, David Chang's 'foray into Italy' hasn't come close to the acclaim of his other restaurants.

David Chang failed to impress Pete Wells with his recently opened restaurant in Chelsea, Momofuku Nishi. In the past, Chang impressed patrons and critics alike, not with superfluous “dining traditions” or “amenities that used to be automatic at restaurants hoping to be taken seriously,” according to Wells, but rather with innovative and unapologetic cooking, unlike anything out there. With Momofuku Noodle Bar and Momofuku Ssam Bar, the food spoke for itself, and patrons didn't mind the “discomfort” that came alongside Chang's sensational food. However, that isn't the case with Nishi.

Wells attests the "bargain" was that, “Temporary soreness of the butt and throat were always potential downsides of a Momofuku meal… [but] the food was so distractingly original and good that you wouldn’t have minded eating it while leaning up against a dumpster in an alley…” at Nishi, this isn't the case.

Wells made clear what put a damper on his dining experiences, explaining that, “You can make reservations, but not for a table… instead, you reserve a chair, which, strictly speaking, is a seat built like a hard, flat crate.” Wells brings his point home in stating that, “At Nishi, highly sensitive microphones seem to be placed directly above all the loudest people, picking up and amplifying their every screech.” Doesn't sound pleasant.

The positives included the “exquisitely controlled plates of cold vegetables or protein” such as the “shavings of watermelon radishes and raw beef veined with white fat [which] are sprinkled with enhanced dashi and a Spanish olive oil” or the “sea scallops dusted with salted, dried kelp.” Though more simple plates, these dishes are “extraordinarily good because the ingredients are allowed to speak quietly.”

Unimpressed with Nishi's “self-referential [and] inward looking” style, Wells can't help but compare it to Chang's earlier days where he “served the kind of food chefs like to eat: intense, animalistic, O.K. with messiness, indifferent to prettiness,” explaining that “Nishi serves the kind of food chefs cook to impress one another.” Though the food can be “pleasing” to the palate, it's tough to be good enough to outweigh the negatives of Nishi's atmosphere.

Wells states the problem succinctly when he declares that, “Now that Mr. Chang has a dozen years’ worth of protégés and copycats, now that he even seems to be copying himself, now that the rest of us have cooler heads and other options, it’s time to take another look at that bargain.” Will "Changland" be restored to greatness in the coming years? Or will the discomfort at Nishi set a path to normalcy for his empire?

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