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What the Critics Are Saying About Majordomo, David Chang’s West Coast Debut

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Here’s the good news and the bad news on the Momofuku chef’s LA restaurant

Clockwise from left: boneless chuck short rib, rock crab three ways, stuffed peppers, bing bread with accompaniments, and kombu-cured scallops.
Wonho Frank Lee

Majordomo, David Chang’s long-awaited west coast debut, opened in Los Angeles in January. When the project was announced last year, it quickly became one of the country’s most anticipated openings, amid rumors that the Momofuku empire-builder would deliver a more straightforward approach to Korean cuisine than at his New York City restaurants.

Although that turned out not to be the case, Chang did promise that Majordomo would be different from existing Momofuku restaurants, with nary a pork bun on the menu. “There is a reason we are not bringing any Momofuku there,” he told Eater. “We want to make something specific for Los Angeles.” This means a menu of bing; noodles; large-format dishes with theatrical, table-side components; plus, quite a few California vegetables.

LA diners are flocking to Chinatown to try the newly minted TV star’s splashiest opening in years. And now, the critics are weighing in. Here’s what they’re saying:

The Most Exhilarating Restaurant News

In March, Eater critic Bill Addison hailed Majordomo as the most exciting restaurant to open in 2018, and in July the “instant blockbuster” landed on his list of best new restaurants in America. It’s also, according to Addison, Chang’s “first triumphant opening in several years” and evidence of a new maturity. Addison writes: “Majordomo reveals a more assured, multilingual fluency, a chef whose subversive ideas and outsized experiences culminate in a fit of peak creative expression.”

Chang’s creativity takes multiple forms. Large-format dishes, like the boneless chuck short rib “finished with generous globs of pungent raclette shaved right from the wheel” and Chang’s signature bo ssäm “electrify the senses.” Meanwhile, Addison writes that a dish of boiled chicken two-ways “satisfied my intellect, as much of Chang’s food does, but also my emotions.”

These are just a few of the dishes Addison praised. But, according to Addison, Majordomo isn’t only delicious, it’s important to this moment in American dining. He concludes: “To know the culinary mind and heart of one of the great chefs in our young 21st century, to understand where the thrilling melting pot of modern American cuisine has brought us, this is the place to be.”

The Love Letter to LA News

Garrett Snyder, writing for Los Angeles Magazine, was similarly impressed. According to the critic, Chang stands above the other New York chefs who have made a go of it in LA. “If David Chang’s aim was to set himself apart from the wave of New York chefs landing in LA, he certainly succeeded,” he writes.

Snyder doesn’t miss the Momofuku stalwarts and appreciates the menus nods to LA’s Koreatown. In fact, according to Snyder, “the cooking here represents Chang at his most resplendently Chang-ian,” and he doesn’t have a negative word for a single dish. The bing are “a brilliantly simple concept that’s familiar yet inventive” and “jiggly slices of pork belly, the skin rendered as crunchy as gas station pork rinds, become almost invigorating.”

Majordomo, Snyder says, is “Chang’s raucous LA love letter.”

The Simply Satisfying News

Esteemed food writer Ruth Reichl detailed her visit to Majordomo in her newsletter, and only had positive things to say about both the food and overall experience. “When we get there — a journey through a strange, empty industrial landscape that feels like we’re driving to the edge of the moon — we find the most amazingly vibrant scene. Big, buzzy, loud and filled with young energy, this is, instantly, a place you want to be,” she writes of the restaurant’s atmosphere.

The meal is a win from the “first flavor, a water kimchi so refreshing I find myself picking up the bowl and inhaling the brine,” to the bing (“I love them all”), to the whole chicken, deemed “simple and totally satisfying.” The only downside for Reichl is neglecting to order the short ribs and the bo ssäm. She resolves to return for them another time.

The Disconcertingly Nice News

According to GQ restaurant critic Brett Martin, Majordomo is one of the best new restaurants in America. Chang’s latest surprised Martin, not because he has low expectations for the chef (on the contrary, he describes cooking delicious food as “Chang’s gift”), but because of the restaurant’s grown-up approach to hospitality. Majordomo, Martin writes, is “really, really, disconcertingly, nice.” Although Martin compares the “confident, comfortable” Majordomo to a “utopian Cheesecake Factory,” Martin also notes that it “may be [Chang’s] most unconflictedly delicious restaurant, and his most fun.”

Martin admires the ways Chang plays with the intersections of Italian and Asian cuisines in dishes like tapioca lo mein and braised cabbage. He also appreciates how Chang “riffs on the craze for Middle Eastern dining” with bing and spreads. And of the “California Rock Crab” Martin writes, “I can’t think of a single dish that spans more cultures... it screams nothing more clearly than Los Angeles.”

The Fusion Food News

Hannah Goldfield sings about Chang’s cuisine-spanning dishes in her review for the New Yorker. Eating at the restaurant, she writes, “is like taking a walk through Chang’s brain; he isn’t fusing cultures so much as Venn-diagramming, showing where they already overlap in ways that the average American diner may never have noticed.”

Goldfield doesn’t eat a bad dish at Majordomo. Instead, she admires the way a tomato and tofu salad “makes exactly as much sense as tomatoes and mozzarella,” and marvels at the fact that “a plate of noodles looked like something you’d find at a high-end Italian restaurant.” According to Goldfield, Chang’s ability to pair ingredients and flavors from across cultures sends a message to American diners: “Instead of ‘You should eat more Asian food,’ the message is ‘You’ve been eating Asian food all along.’”

The Burying Caesar News

LA’s chief dining critic Jonathan Gold wasn’t so kind in his review for the Los Angeles Times. The two food-world giants have a history — a history that Gold details in an in-depth, 175-word disclosure. Chang appeared in the 2015 documentary about Gold, City of Gold, and Gold appeared in an episode of Chang’s recent Netflix series Ugly Delicious. Gold also notes that “for the last several months I have been furious at the chef for dismantling Lucky Peach, a splendid food magazine created by him and Peter Meehan that I truly loved and wrote for.” He adds, “It’s complicated — I’m not sure whether I’m here to praise Caesar or to bury him.” By the end of the review, it seems Gold opted for the latter.

It’s not all bad news: The chickpea hozon pasta, a rendition of a dish Chang first served at New York restaurant Nishi, is “actually good” and the galbi jjim “isn’t terrible.” Vegetable dishes are “reliably good,” and Gold notes that he loved the skate fried rice. But, according to Gold, Chang’s style of cooking is characterized by “flaws so evident that they announce themselves more as features than as bugs.”

Gold compares the Chang aesthetic to a “Japanese craftsman whose bliss comes through the search for mastery, tempered with an all-American restlessness that keeps that mastery from being achieved.” He notes that although the flaws in Chang’s style can at times “make a dish human, and thus compelling,” when “executed poorly... his dishes just sing out of key.”

Gold says that diners in a good mood won’t “think too hard” about these flaws. But, given the critic’s noted relationship with (and apparent fury toward) Chang, it’s clear Gold’s own mood was the opposite.

David Chang’s Majordomo Is No Minor Feat [E]
Restaurant Review: David Chang’s Majordomo Is a Stunning Love Letter to L.A. [Los Angeles Magazine]
At Majordomo, Jonathan Gold is unsure whether to praise chef David Chang — or bury him [The Los Angeles Times]
David Chang In LA [Ruth Reichl]
GQ’s Best New Restaurants in America, 2018 [GQ]
David Chang’s Frenetic Homage to L.A.’s Asian Food, at Majordomo [The New Yorker]

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