A brand-new Momofuku Nishi debuts tonight with a twist: The beleaguered Chelsea restaurant, originally Korean-Italian fusion, is now fully Italian with a whole new look. The redesign comes after renovations last week that followed less-than-stellar reviews from Eater and the Times, both of which said it was a loud and expensive restaurant that didn’t quite hit in ambience or food.
First to go were the uncomfortable, backless wooden chairs gathered around communal tables, swapped with banquettes and armed, backed leather chairs from Scandinavian design firm Muuto. Gone too is the Korean-Italian mash-up menu, replaced with Italian food from that heavily features pasta. It’s a passion of executive chef Josh Pinsky, who built the pasta program at Ko.
“The last thing we want is to just add another Italian restaurant. There will be classics of Italian food, but with a lot of interpretation on the food end from Josh of what Italian food could be,” owner David Chang says. “You see that happening already in other places, like Matt Accarrino [at SPQR in San Francisco] adds chipotle to his pastas and Mark Ladner [Del Posto, Pasta Flyer] adds fish sauce to one of his dishes.”
A new chitarra pasta, for example, has smoked pork belly with pickled radish and egg. The full menu is below and includes a $58 pasta tasting menu that offers four pastas, such as chicken liver agnolotti and spicy beef pappardelle, and two desserts. General manager Emma Conroy has also doubled the wine list, focusing on young winemakers in Europe.
It’s an interesting and seemingly off-brand addition to the Momofuku family, considering the rest have strong Asian influences. But Chang disputes that characterization, saying that the essence of the company is “to embrace mistakes.”
“This is probably the most Momofuku restaurant we have,” Chang says. “All the things that have worked for us have never quite worked out from the get-go.”
Nishi was originally built out to be a Noodle Bar, but Chang and Pinsky decided at the last minute to go the Korean-Italian direction in which the space debuted — a direction that Chang spearheaded. He later admitted that was a mistake.
The new Nishi is open for both lunch and dinner as of tonight, though will only be accepting walk-ins and be open intermittently until October 16.