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Pete Wells Writes a Love Letter to the Underrated Parts of David Chang’s Empire

The critic digs the Nishi revamp

David Chang in 2018 Photo by Rachel Murray/Getty Images for Netflix

Writing about the latest restaurant from New York-born international empire builder David Chang, the Times’ Pete Wells argues that Chang is too often discussed as a chef and not as a restaurateur.

If Chang were a restaurateur without a chef background, like fellow NYC empire builder Danny Meyer, Wells asserts that ideas beyond just the food served at his diverse portfolio of restaurants would be more widely discussed, like his evolution on the comfort and civility fronts.

It’s practically a love letter to the chef-restaurateur, who got his start with Momofuku Noodle Bar in the East Village — and it’s a change in tone from Wells’ last review of a Chang endeavor.

When Momofuku Nishi opened in 2016, critics pushed back on the bad acoustics and harsh aesthetic, including Wells, who wrote in his one-star review that noise level was “throttling” and the seats were “built like a hard, flat crate.” Later, in a New Yorker profile of Wells, Chang had a vitriolic response to the Nishi review: “I can’t ever read that review again — I’ll get so fucking angry I’ll die,” he said. Still, after the feedback, Chang adjusted Nishi to find a middle ground, adding seating with padding.

Now, Wells gives props to the Nishi revamp, writing that Chang’s restaurants still impart a modern, sleek look but in a way that isn’t too stiff. “His attempts to build a modern vocabulary of comfort — keeping the sleek surfaces and right angles while reducing the lumbar pain — are underrecognized.” Wells writes. The minimalist design by contractor Swee Phuah for Noodle Bar is also, according to Wells, an oft-imitated but under-discussed part of Chang’s impact.

But according to Wells, the main reason Chang matters is because of the space he gives to other chefs to experiment and grow, as with Sean Gray at tasting menu Momofuku Ko, which as received more recent props for its more casual bar. The next Chang project slated for NYC is a Noodle Bar in Time Warner Center, plus a takeaway aspect called Bang Bar.

Momofuku Noodle Bar

171 1st Avenue, Manhattan, NY 10003 (212) 777-7773 Visit Website

Momofuku Nishi

232 8th Avenue, Manhattan, NY 10011 (646) 518-1919 Visit Website

Momofuku Ko

8 Extra Place, Manhattan, NY 10003 (212) 203-8095 Visit Website