January 9, 2017 Update:
When you finish the year with three meals in 9 days at the same place, it becomes quite apparent.
I seriously need to learn how to cook Nishi is my favorite newcomer of 2016 and I cant get enough of it. One can very easily dismiss this place when Googling it and facing the cranky initial reviews, and that would be a grave mistake. Grave I tell ya! There’s a good place for food critics in our society, but they are often coerced to review too early, especially when faced with the buzz of a Momofuku. Buzz and brand lead to certain expectations. If Nishi opened last month with the current menu, and owned by a no-name, it would have gotten some major accolades right now.
So I’ve now tried all the pastas on the menu. Love them all except the Chili Squid. I think I prefer XO (spicy seafood sauce) on meat dishes, rather than seafood. The Butter Noodle is still a revelation. The Spicy Beef is a delicious combination of pasta shells, beef, mint, fried shallots, with a nice kick. Love the Jajangmyeon with the biggest fried egg you will ever see covering the entire plate, and more joy to the spicy lovers. But my favorite is still probably the Toasted Noodles (formerly Clams Grand Lisboa). Eating this is like listening to an entire Ariana Grande song by accident in the car. Lost in the moment, which can be dangerous when wife is giving you important weekend instructions. I think I have to drive someone to the airport, but I’m not entirely sure who and which airport.
I will update the bottom line with my favorite dishes which is getting too long, but it will include the delicate Mackerel Tataki, and the BBQ Pork Rib with sweet and sour sauce which is a spare ribs game changer. The Ko-esque Roast Pork is still quite good, but the best thing on the large section right now may be the fish. A very shareable Skate Wing with bits of toasty Cauliflower, topped with this beautiful buttery light gravy. Freakishly good stuff!
June 19, 2016 Update:
Happy Father’s Day to all the foodie dads out there!!
Nishi is quickly becoming my favorite Momofuku in the city. Wait a minute… this just in… it just did. See how quick it was? I will most likely replace Ma Peche with Nishi on the next Z-List update. Other than the Habanero, I’m simply running out of reasons to schlep there. Every thing that I like are taken out of the menu, starting with the rice cakes w/pork, and ending with chef’s Paul’s sensational jerk wings.
There’s somewhat of an identity crisis I feel with Nishi. Nothing outrageous, but more like “am I an Ox or a cow?” type of an identity. They started with a No Tipping policy which got axed recently (New Yorkers may not be ready for it quite yet). The much buzzed Ceci e Pepe is now Butter Noodle as they may be trying to get away from the Cucina Fukina Italiano tag.
But what remains constant is all the goodness that comes out of that kitchen courtesy of Josh Pinsky, the man behind the best meal I ever had (bearded dude in one of the pics). A very Ko-like Diver Scallops come floating on a citrusy Peruvian inspired Tiger’s Milk and topped with Shio Kombu to give the scallops a nice crunch and flavor. If you going to serve scallops raw, this is the way to do it (I’m, looking at you Grand Banks).
Another great discovery is the Clams Grand Lisboa, one of the few staples on the menu from day one. The clams are dressed with Oregano based sauce, sitting on top fried Chow Mein noodles and cabbage. Calling this Cho Mein almost sounds like an insult to this dish. Its cooked with apple sauce that give it this sweet richness, like no Chow Mein you’ve had before. A newish Roast Pork with asparagus that is quite similar to what I’ve had in Ko is another winner. I was so excited to get reunited with this dish, that I forgot to take a picture on time. Go!
February 3rd. 2016 Post:
Yesterday I blew the dust off of Fred Plotkin’s Italy For the Gourmet Traveler to brush up on my Sicily food scene. The book was published in 1996 and is still a good resource for everything Italy foodstuff, since not much really ever change there. In Venice, people continue to eat canal seafood. In Piedmont they will continue to munch on Vitello Tonnato and Carne Cruda. And in Rome they will continue honoring the Cucina Povera (simple food of the poor) for what seems like indefinitely. You dont come to Bologna and ask what people are eating these days. Its the same cuisine they’ve been enjoying for centuries. New York City on the other hand is a totally different beast. A Plotkin book on NYC would get stale after about a year. Bagel, pastrami, egg cream, hot dog, steak… those seeking what New York is known for are missing out in a big way. New York is known for everything and nothing. The only constant here is change, and the new Italianish Momofuku Nishi is perhaps the poster child of that NYC ever changing dining scene right now.
The answer to what is the hottest restaurant in NYC right now has never been clearer. Franklin Barbecue, Noma, a psychic in New Orleans, a call girl in Stuttgart… Just some of the things that come mind that are more difficult to snatch than a table at Nishi at the moment. Those lucky enough to make it, got the bragging rights of a Taylor Swift posse member. The other day they announced that they now accept reservations two weeks out. That will improve your chance of getting a table by roughly .04%.
But as long as there’s no physical harm involved, I’m game with this modern “text me when my table is ready” wait. Arrived at 5:45 on a Saturday, 15 mins after they opened, with a disturbing looking line around the block. But things move fast, as after only 20 minutes I was having the much anticipated meeting with the hostess. “Next available table is… looking like… ooh, I can sit you on Wednesday, 10:30” was going through my mind as I was expecting the worst (ok, slight exaggeration). But instead I got “Two and half hours”. No biggie, as I was planning to take the opportunity to show our visitors (from Staten Island!) Chelsea Market. I get a text an hour and 45 minutes later, and off we go
Stylish wooden communal tables, extremely loud, supportless seats unless you count the occasional waiter bumping behind. Essentially a typical NY establishment these days. No complaints from me as long as the inventive menu delivers (spoiler alert: It does). Although the Asian Italian mashup isnt necessarily new to NYC (Piora, All’onda), Momofuku almost makes it look like brand new.
Ceci e Pepe – The early reports signature is what I call a grower. A play on the Roman Cacio e Pepe but instead of Pecorino, it’s swirled with chickpea hozon which Ssam bar has been toying with for a while now. The result is a subtle sweeter version. While I couldnt quite make up my mind if I prefer this over the classic, by the time I finished I found myself “Scarpettaing” the plate with my middle finger.
Beef Crudo – One of the more complex, and beautiful raw beef dishes out there. Topped with watermelon radishes (think daikan), ponzu, dashi and scallions. All combined produces a very nice bite. And for only $48 extra you can get a decent shaving of winter Black Truffles on top, Its about $24-30 more than I’m willing to pay for Black, and $10 more than I’m willing to pay for white in the fall.
Chicken and Dumplings – Another great dish. A riff on the Korean Sujebi, with Chicken, bread dumplings and plenty of delicious shiitake along with an excellent rich broth. Mrs Ziggy especially appreciates a good soup and this was her favorite dish
Spicy Beef Sichuan – Perhaps the top pasta of the night. This is where they take a classic Italian dish like Pappardelle with meat ragu, and applying bold Sichuan flavors like Yacai (preserved mustard greens), fermented chili paste and tofu. Like Pappardelle with ragu, and Dan Dan noodles gave birth to a baby named Roger.
Chitarra with Squid – The only miss of the night. Should have gone with the clams Grand Lisboa. This was sort of one note, with fishy XO sauce that doesnt quite go well with this pasta for me (emphasis on “for me”. How dare I question the king). And then there’s the squid that sort of gets lost in the shuffle. I like the use of XO in heavier pastas like the Agnolotti in All’onda. Add the odd price of $36 (why?), and its an easy skip IMO.
Leg of lamb – Truly exceptional piece of meat. Arrives looking nothing like the legs you know and love. So tender, so delicious, with white beans and sauce that would disappear much quicker if there was bread (no bread here and not really necessary. I’m just being a little melodramatic)
Finished with the famous Korean dessert… Pistachio Bundt Cake. Or is it Italian? Either way, it was a proper finisher, pictured below with my friend Robert still pursuing his dream of becoming a hand model. Some wine, some Limoncello slushies (about a drink each) added up to $320 for 4 (Note we ordered 2 of the Cecis as one is not enough for 4). No tipping allowed.
232 Eighth Avenue (22/21), Chelsea
Rating: Three Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Butter Noodle, Mackerel Tataki, Beef Crudo, Spicy Beef, Jajangmyeon, Roast Pork, Toasted Noodles, BBQ Ribs, Skate Wing, Roast Pork, Pistachio Bundt Cake