This week, LA Times critic Jonathan Gold visits Majordomo and finds plenty of things to criticize at David Chang’s first LA restaurant. It’s a dizzying article with highs and lows like a well fought WWE battle of two culinary heavyweights, except Gold is the one telling the story. Gold seems to fully understand Chang’s effort and place in the food world right now, talking about his aesthetic like its own language:
It could be something like Cracked Perfection: the way of the shokunin, a Japanese craftsman whose bliss comes through the search for mastery, tempered with an all-American restlessness that keeps that mastery from being achieved. Chang’s style is a vividly flavored and willfully eclectic mash-up of traditional Asian cooking, modern European fine dining, and touches of bling
To Gold, Chang isn’t so much a standard-issue chef but a full blown personality, and the shortcomings can seem glaringly obvious. The critic takes strong jabs at Majordomo’s issues:
On the faults of dongchimi: “Chang’s take on the Korean pickle dongchimi, will be delivered in a tiny black saucer...but this version lacks the punch, the sweetness of the best K-town versions.”
On the subject of bing: “Chang’s version, mottled like a pancake griddled with a bit too much oil, is almost pudding soft — not bad, but also not quite what I was expecting.”
On the flavor of the galbi jjim: “Majordomo’s galbi jjim isn’t terrible — it would probably sneak into any list of the top five restaurant versions in town — but it isn’t transcendent either; the meat too tough and the braised daikon too soft, the flavor slightly muddy and indistinct.”
On the failure of the vermicelli: “When executed poorly (a gummy mass of vermicelli and shellfish that is presumably a riff on the Korean noodle dish japchae), his dishes just sing out of key.”
There’s also plenty that Gold loves too, which leaves the critic wondering if he should “praise Caesar or to bury him.” Before getting into Majordomo’s positive attributes, it’s worth noting the bit of irony in the Caesar mention (et tu, Gold?). Gold states he has a relationship with Chang, who co-founded Lucky Peach with Peter Meehan. The Times critic had a prominent role in Chang’s Netflix show Ugly Delicious while the duo have shared meals together in various cities around the world.
Gold’s perspective here, with an overt disappointment over Lucky Peach’s dismantlement, clearly pits the critic in a place of bias. One could argue that it even undermines Gold’s credibility when it comes to Chang’s first LA restaurant. (Gold has long supported Nancy Silverton, whom he considers a friend)
Back into the review, The Goldster enjoys a fair number of Majordomo’s aspects:
On the excellent skate wing bibimbap: “But I loved a dish of skate-fried rice that I took as a riff on bibimbap: a slash of spicy gochujang, a scattering of herbs, and a bottom layer of crunchy fried skate wing that doubled for the crunchy rice crust that is always the best part.”
On the chickpea hozon pasta: “the pasta is actually good; something you might see on a modernized Middle Eastern menu, but with a ton more black pepper.”
On the vegetable situation: “The vegetable dishes, a much bigger part of the menu than at Chang’s other restaurants, are reliably good, whether snips of raw snap peas tossed with grated horseradish, greens served with dipping sauces of house-fermented miso and a Korean-ish fermented bean sauce he calls domojang”
On the massive smoked short rib: “When the kitchen is on point — that succulent short rib — the flaws (imperfectly rendered fat) can make a dish human, and thus compelling”
Anyone reading this review will probably seem a little confused at first, but get the overall impression that Gold didn’t really like Majordomo. For a critic who tends to give gentle strokes of criticism to beloved LA chefs and institutions, he goes hard on David Chang’s effort here. Whether the review will actually deter anyone from filling up the restaurant’s reservation website remains to be seen.