David Chang Opens His New Momofuku Tonight With Italian Food and No Tipping

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"There are Italian words on the menu but we’re not trying to make Italian food." Photo: Katherine Frey/The Washington Post

At last, the long-awaited, mysterious Momofuku project in Chelsea has come to fruition, and in typically Changian style, there are a few elements of surprise: Momofuku Nishi, as it's called, is intended to be a Korean restaurant that's inspired by Italy. The executive chef is Joshua Pinsky, who came back to the Momofuku empire to run it, and he's joined in the kitchen by Carey Hynes, who most recently worked at Ko.

In an interview with Lucky Peach, Chang and Pinsky lay out their vision for Nishi. "There are Italian words on the menu but we’re not trying to make Italian food," Chang says. "We’re not trying to make a Korean restaurant. We’re trying to do something that we’ve never done at Momofuku. We’re inspired by Italy but we’re not using any Italian ingredients. Things are moving at light speed here." He later adds: "Our thesis right now is: How do we find certain patterns in food through cultures? ... Our best dishes at Momofuku have been a merger of these disparate cultural things. If people want to call it fusion, well fuck you. It is fusion. Tell me what food isn’t fusion?"

Chang gets even feistier when he discusses pricing: Like so many big-name restaurateurs these days, he's eliminating tipping here, because "Bottom line is we want to pay sous chefs, cooks, and dishwashers a living wage." The menu has yet to go public, but expect prices to be more on the level of a higher-end place like Ssäm Bar. He says:

It pisses me off that Asian food has to be cheaper. Why? Not one person has given me a reason why. All the ingredients that we’re getting are top quality, and just as expensive as any other restaurant. Look at the version of cacio e pepe we’re serving here. The only expensive ingredient we’re not using is parmesan—and guess what parmesan is? MSG. We’re replacing the parmesan with our own fermented chickpea paste that took us six to nine months to make. So fuck you guys. I’m not getting on the phone and ordering a wheel of parmesan. Don’t tell me that I can’t charge like Italian food.

You'll have to see for yourself: Nishi will be open from 6 to 11 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, at 232 Eighth Avenue.