Momofuku (Las Vegas). David Chang’s tarnished halo
I have read about chef David Chang, watched him on TV, made his recipes, and even subscribed to his short-lived culinary magazine. I am a fan. I like his food philosophy, the way he geeks out in the food lab, and honors other chefs and food cultures. But until recently, I’d never eaten in one of his restaurants.
Momofuku in Las Vegas is undeniably impressive. The moment you transition from the sparkly interior of the Cosmopolitan, into the dimly-lit dining room of Momofuku, your experience has begun. An exposed kitchen glows brightly in the dark space. Floor to ceiling windows frame the tall buildings and strobing lights of the Vegas Strip.
From the time we were seated, our server was well informed and personable. Service was brisk. in consultation with our server, I ordered sake, oysters with smoked trout roe, Pork Belly Buns, shishito peppers, sweet and sour long beans, and Chang’s famed whole roasted Branzino served over crispy rice and dressed in a “fresh” kimchi.
I was thrilled with the first three picks but to be fair, oysters and shishito peppers rely heavily on their own merits, requiring only the slightest enhancement. The chewy, flavor-rich pork belly swaddled in a cloud of steamed dough reflected the Chang I came to see. But, sadly, that is where the love affair ended.
The long beans were drenched in thick, cloying sauce. But most deflating was the Branzino. Although the fish itself was perfectly cooked, the “kimchi” element offered a mere whisper of flavor—primarily hints of raw cabbage and carrot. There was no acid, no fermentation, no punch. Subtle citrus tones of ponzu seeped into the crispy rice imparting the occasional faint zing. But, overall, the dish was a flavor void in a menu laden with umami-rich options. I suffered deep selection regret that only grew worse as I considered the $80 that I spent on bland fish over rice.
Chef Chang will never know of my ordering remorse, nor that his signature dish was a dud that tarnished his halo. I want to believe that the shortcomings were kitchen error and that Chang would have prevented the low points in my meal if he had been there. But given the rarity with which he is present in each of his 13 establishments, lack of supervision is the rule, not the exception. I admit that for some chefs I set a high bar. But having seen so many talented individuals soar above my high hopes, it was doubly disappointing for Chang’s Momofuku to fall flat.
The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas; Level 2, Boulevard Tower; 3708 Las Vegas Boulevard South; Las Vegas, NV 89109 ; Estados Unidos
Jamie Kelly is an American marketing professional turned gastronaut. She is eating her way through a full-spectrum exploration of food culture in Spanish-speaking lands across the globe, and staging ambitious re-enactments in her own kitchen. To follow along on the expedition, like Jamie’s Facebook page and watch for her new blog, www.gastro-curious.com, coming in summer 2019.