The early food-blog hype machine dubbed Nishi—David Chang’s first full-service entry to New York’s Momofuku empire in a half decade—as an Italian-Korean hybrid, but that snug fusion framework fails to corral the myriad of influences at play here. (For starters, the blond-wood canteen is named after the Japanese word for “west.”)
Such stimuli are so broad, in fact, they warrant actual footnotes on the menu, which cites everything from the crab spaghetti at Del Posto to the clamlike pippies at Sydney’s Golden Century, from Southern-twanged chain restaurant Cracker Barrel to, yes, even a bundt cake from chef Joshua Pinsky’s own mother, Kathy. Taken together, those sundry influences don’t register as Italian or Korean or American. There’s really only one word for it all: Chang-ian.
Consider the kitchen’s updates to Rome’s elemental cacio e pepe ($21), a flawless study in simplicity, built with salty pecorino romano and cracked black peppercorns. Pinsky sharply forgoes the dairy for a smooth house chickpea hozon fermented for six months, imbuing the sweet, nutty twirl of bucatini with an I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-butter richness. It’s easily New York’s best new pasta.
Also listed under myun (Korean for “noodles”) is the similarly captivating Clams Grand Lisboa ($27), an oregano-laced tangle of juicy clams, cabbage and chow mein, some strands of which sport crunchy, blackened ends courtesy of a fideos-like toasting. A terrifically tasty singe also pops up in the artful beef crudo ($24), with charred scallions curling up with satiny sheets of eye round steak and watermelon radish, and again in a grilled sweet potato with burned garlic and crispy anchovy ($10).
Rotating entrées, like a recent soulless slab of roast pork with krautlike white kimchi ($34), don’t wow the way those small plates and pastas do. But no matter what hybrid buzzword you use to peg it, Chang’s latest domain is a weird and wonderful one to explore.