ICYMI on just about every food blog out there, Momofuku Nishi, superstar chef David Cheng's latest culinary mash-up, has officially opened its doors in N.Y.C.'s Chelsea neighborhood. This iteration specializes in Korean-Italian fusion—by far his most unique combo to date—and we were therefore doubly excited to check it out.
But let's not get too ahead of ourselves. Before I made the pilgrimage to worship at Chang’s latest altar, I took to Instagram for some preliminary research (because how awful would it be to order the least hyped menu item?). Since the restaurant’s opening, Chang has been uploading daily snaps of Nishi’s offerings, a complex array of bowls and plates created by chef Joshua Pinsky, the former sous chef at Momofuku Ko. I clicked the Nishi geotag to see what previous diners had enjoyed, noting heavy documentation of the ceci e pepe, a play on the traditional Italian pasta dish cacio e pepe (translation: cheese and pepper).
Speckled across the Instagram grid of mouth-watering entrees were blurry shots of a terrifyingly long queue. The line to get into Nishi, which opens at 6 p.m. daily and currently doesn’t take reservations, appeared to extend halfway down 8th Avenue and snake all the way around 22nd Street. One patron’s caption even mentioned a four hour-long wait for a plate of tender scallops in a harlequin green broth of shio kombu and tiger’s milk.
With this in mind, my loyal dining companion and I reached Nishi’s front door at the neurotically early hour of 4:50 p.m.—needless to say, we were first in line. Fellow eager eaters began arriving about 20 minutes later. As more people gathered around the discrete window front (the only signage consists of a small Momofuku peach logo on the glass door), curious passerby stopped to ask me what the fuss was about—one woman innocently inquired, “Are they giving away free food or something?”
We were seated promptly at 6 p.m. at one of the communal tables, made of the same simple blonde wood found in Chang’s Noodle Bar and Fuku. With the guidance of our friendly waitress, Elizabeth, and my prior Instagram research, we ordered six items from the menu’s five sections. Our starters included the much-hyped romaine and walnut bagna cauda, a plate of crisp romaine leaves and chopped walnuts marinated in a flavorful house-made dressing; sirloin crudo with watermelon radish; and a divine bowl of fried whole shrimp, aggressively seasoned with salt, sansho pepper, and lime, and meant to be eaten head to tail, shell and all. And so we did.
Our second course was the clear highlight of the evening, consisting of two noodle dishes from the menu’s “myūn” (noodles) section. Pinsky’s ceci e pepe forgoes classic Pecorino Romano for chickpea hozon, a miso-like paste made with chickpeas that have been fermented in-house for six to nine months. The pasta, which is dairy-free save for a touch of butter, was delightfully creamy, nutty, sweet, and perfectly peppery—my friend declared that it made him feel joyful, “like the first day of school.”
I concurred, although I was busy engaging in a torrid love affair with the clams grand Lisboa, a bowl of roasted chow mein cooked in clam broth, oregano, and cabbage, and topped with buttery, herby clams (currently Chang’s favorite menu item at Nishi). I immediately fell for the noodles, some tender and others satisfyingly crispy. An intense wave of sadness washed over me as Elizabeth whisked away our diligently cleaned bowls. Our last savory dish of the night was the pork shoulder with white kimchi, similar in appearance and taste to sauerkraut. Like everything we’d eaten, the meat was delicious, but the real standouts were the noodles.
For dessert, we tucked into a slice of pistachio bundt cake with whipped ricotta, a recipe inspired by Pinsky’s mother, Kathy. Moist on the inside with a crackling exterior, it was a superb finale to a phenomenal meal. All in all, the pacing and service were excellent, and it should be noted that Nishi is the first U.S.-based Momofuku restaurant to ban tipping, following a recent push in the restaurant industry to “pay sous chefs, cooks, and dishwashers a living wage,” Chang told Lucky Peach, a quarterly food journal produced by Momofuku.
Momofuku Nishi is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m.