I pretty much declared it my new favorite Italian before my first visit to the new and improved La Cucina Fukina. Improved? It was more like wishing things stayed the same as much as possible. It wasnt the first time I was disappointed to learn about a restaurant I really like turning strictly “Italian” overnight (Caicos Cafe in my adopted home of Turks and Caicos). Turns out however, fears overblown again, but this time I expected it to be.
Momofuku Nishi seem to have an identity problem, but not so much a creativity problem. When I talk about Momofuku during my tours, I often stumble upon the “What kind of cuisine is it” question. “Its Momofuku cuisine” I often say. A bunch of talented guys and gals in a lab making magic. Asian influenced magic. We often default stuff like this to “New American”.
As long as its still Momofuku and Joshua Pinski at the helm, Nishi can go Polish, Norwegian, or Ethiopian as far as I care and still deliver. If not for the surprising announcement, I wouldnt even know there was a label change after my recent meals. Nishi has been executing nifty pastas and crudos since they opened pretty much. The identity flak mostly came from aging critics who didnt care for the space nor the noise. A valid complaint, met with death ears by many once they tried those luscious spare ribs or the sick Capellini a la Fideos which is going through its third incarnation.
The big change that meant closing Nishi for a few days was to the space. No more community tables, and the chairs now got your back. Its more comfortable now, which can be perceived as a little fancier as some pointed out on Yelp. Another big change is the introduction of a Pasta tasting menu. I’m not normally in favor of this kind of carb overload, but by the look of it, and having eaten some of this, it could be the new pasta tasting menu to beat in NYC.
And then there’s the Lobster Fra Diavolo. Coincidentally, another thing in common with that Italian counterpart in TCI I mentioned earlier. Here its a mammoth plate loaded with garlic, chili and XO infused spaghettoni, with the emphasis on the chili making it more Asian than Italian. On top are chunks of 1.5 lb flash fried lobster coated with salt and pepper, cracked and ready to easily fish out that wonderful meat. Its a $62 triumph! One of the best things I’ve eaten all year
In the two recent visits I’ve enjoyed the walnut Bagna Cauda both times. Once for lunch with radish, and for dinner with red endive. This Piedmontese classic sauce is the perfect counter to the sharpness of Endives. In Piedmont they use it as a dip for vegetables but I prefer it on top. And the fact that the Striped Bass Carpaccio topped with thin slices of castelvetrano olives wasnt particularly memorable serves as a true testament to the rest of the lineup, because we didnt find anything particularly wrong with it. The infamous Bucatini ceci e pepe is still on the menu. And while I do recommend it, I’m not sure it cracks my top 3 pastas here. The saucy, finger licking awesome BBQ Pork Ribs however can crack top 3 ribs in the city
The fine Lumache with spicy beef and mint is now part of the pasta tasting menu. At lunch time its available in the form of Pappardelle. And I presume those Capellini a la Fideos is still that same toasty, apple cider infused goodness. The only thing missing from the menu is that sick Skate with brown butter I had last year. More goodness on the dessert column. Olive oil cake with candied fennel greatly enhanced by a zesty orange sauce, while people around us going gaga over the the Apple tart.
Ladies and gents, I’m giving out my first 4 Z’s. Its essentially the equivalent of giving my virginity to that special someone at my age. Big Mazal Tov to the Nishi family. I expect to get invited to the party and see those silly Zagat Rated stickers on the window replaced with this Z rating in no time.
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232 Eighth Avenue (22nd), Chelsea
Rating: Four Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Everything!