An Overdue Rave
Posted by Glenn Gritzner on March 23, 2019
Hello Enthusiasts –
I know, I know. Many of you depend on me to tell you about new, cool places you should check out. Or, even more accurately, new places that are SO cool that I actually am inspired to make the time to tell you about them. I mean, new places open all the time, and many of them range from good to great. But it’s the rare place that rises to the level of “holy crap, I have to drop everything and tell my loyal enthusiasts (you *are* loyal, right?) all about this amazing place.” Which means: if you read about it here, it’s worth your time/effort. Because you know what nobody has ever said to me? “I went and checked out that place you wrote about and it was just OK.” (I recognize that if you actually thought this, you are unlikely to say that to me, but I choose to think I’m batting 1.000).
ANYWAY, that being said, there’s another category of place that pops up from time to time – the place that rises to that level but, for whatever reason, I either don’t visit or don’t write about right away. Today’s post is about the former – a place I knew/suspected would rise to that level, but I just hadn’t been. Until now.
Truth be told, I have been dying to visit Majordomo since the day it opened in January 2018. Majordomo is the first LA venture for legendary New York-based chef David Chang. Typically, I would be skeptical of this – I have a bias against out of towners, and especially New Yorkers, thinking they can bring their East Coastness to LA (and I get even more irritated when Angelenos fall for it). But Chang is different – he really gave over. He moved here while prepping Majordomo. He is close to quintessential LA chef Roy Choi. His sensibilities fit with who we are. And he wasn’t trying to bring one of his famous New York restaurants here – he wasn’t opening Momofuku West. He was creating a brand new LA-centric restaurant.
(Extended side story that illustrates the point: a few years ago, Mrs. Enthusiast and I went to a one-night-only pop up dinner at the Hotel Bel Air with Wolfgang Puck, Roy Choi, and David Chang as the chefs. (Side story to the side story: one of the Roy Choi courses was served by a group of sous chefs. One of those sous chefs was Jon Favreau. No fanfare. No pictures. Just … one of the guys. Just served his dish and walked back into the kitchen. People were sort of like “uh, I think that was Jon Favreau?” We found out later that he was prepping to direct the movie Chef, and was just working the event with Choi as part of his process. But we didn’t know that at the time. Ah, LA.). Anyway, so we’re working our way through the menu. The three chefs come out for pictures. I lament my failed effort to get a Roy Choi place into LAX. (His defeated response: “Yeah. They picked Panda Express.” I hear you, brother.). It gets to the last Chang course. I don’t remember what the actual course even was. I just remember the waiter setting down a separate plate with a fairly basic and random (though fresh and delicious) salad, saying “this course wasn’t going to come with a salad, but Chef Chang went to the farmers market and couldn’t believe the quality of the produce, so just had to serve some of it.” We looked at each other and were just like “uh, yeah – we live in LA. We just call this ‘salad’.” I’ve always wondered whether that was one of the moments where he was like “I have to open a restaurant here.” The Majordomo website currently answers the “what type of cuisine does Majordomo serve?” with this answer: “We serve California cuisine inspired by the different food cultures present in Los Angeles and the bounty of Southern California products.” So who knows? OK, back to our regularly scheduled blog post.)
OK, so THEN, Chang chose a location that can only be called gutsy. Bestia was the first Downtown place that opened “in the middle of nowhere” and succeeded. But Majordomo makes Bestia look centrally located. Bestia is at least Arts District-adjacent. Majordomo is sorrrrta near Chinatown and is, indeed, across from the Cornfields, otherwise known as the “LA State Historic State Park”. But I mean, it’s not really near anything. As it has gotten more popular, it is pulling more places its way (and the beautiful, stylish Apotheke, which deserves its own post, is now right down the way). But when Chang scouted this location … well, it took guts, and not a little self confidence, to decide he could make it work.
So, it opened. To raves. Lots of ‘most exciting’ and ‘best new restaurant of 2018’ (Eater), or a ‘raucous LA love letter’ (LA Mag) or ‘instantly, a place you want to be’ (the legendary Ruth Reichl – click the link above for more). (Jonathan Gold did give it a conflicted review, but it seemed like one of those times where the critic was almost too close to the chef – and he admitted he was mad at Chang – and couldn’t get the distance he needed to objectively judge what he was eating. Anyway. Just felt like I had to acknowledge that.). And, aside from the critical love, everybody I knew who had been there loved it.
And/but, it also opened to impossible-to-get reservations. You could get there early and try to walk in, but that was dicey too. And it was in that inconvenient location. And and and – one of my dirty little secrets for all of you who think I’m this big, obsessive foodie is that I have little patience for making that much effort just because a place is “hot” or even great. I always think to myself “let them figure things out (no small thing for a new restaurant), let the heat die down, and I’ll get there when I get there.” When a new bar opens up, you can almost always get there early, find a seat, and check the place out. Plus, bars typically don’t require reservations. which is why my “ohmygodyouhavetocheckthisnewplaceout” posts are almost always bars.
And/but take two, Majordomo got to that point. I mean, it’s still hard to get into. It’s still ‘hot’. But it had been open something like a year … and I still hadn’t been. I wasn’t avoiding it – in fact, I really wanted to go. I listened to a whole set of podcast episodes where David Chang walked through all the trials and tribulations of opening this place with Bill Simmons (the first few episodes of the David Chang Show, a great podcast and highly recommended), which I found super fascinating. So, I mean, I really wanted to get there. But, I just … didn’t. Life. Whatever.
Until recently. Twice. First was for my birthday – Mrs. Enthusiast asked where I wanted to go, and I immediately knew where. Majordomo. Then, some friends suggested a long overdue night out, and I had the same suggestion.
And, to be honest, I was a little nervous for that first visit. How could this now almost mythical place live up to expectations? I had heard both the general manager and the chef de cuisine (the person who is actually the head chef – Chang is the founder/shot caller/inspiration) on the podcast. I had heard all about certain dishes and how they ran things and what they were proud of and all the work it had taken. I had randomly met one of the managers so heard even MORE about all that. Everybody I knew who had been there had thought it was amazing. It’s like they always say “never meet your heroes” – ie, you are always disappointed by things/people/places you build up so much in your head.
And, if it wouldn’t have lived up, I doubt I would be writing this post. But … holy crap did it deliver.
First, the space is really amazing. Beautiful and big and buzzy and a reminder that LA doesn’t really have enough places like this. See??
I mean, I love that LA is leading the food world in blowing up the notions of what “fine dining” has to be. I love that Jonathan Gold showed us that there can be as much beauty and flavor at a noodle place in a strip mall as there is in a three Michelin star place (I have such mixed feelings about the return of the Michelin guide to LA. But that’s a whole OTHER blog post). And Majordomo certainly doesn’t really count as “fine dining”. But sometimes you want a big, fun, “I’m at a cool LA restaurant” kind of vibe … and, honestly, we don’t have all THAT many of those. But Majordomo is that. It’s exciting and it’s interesting and you feel … well, you just feel a little bit cooler by being there.
The food is great and, importantly, it’s interesting *while still being approachable.* One of my general pet peeves with the rise of “food culture” is this notion that food either has to be interesting or approachable but somehow can’t be both. So I often feel like my choices are a really good but ‘normal’ place that serves Italian, steak, Mexican, Thai, whatever … or I’m facing a menu of lamb collar, pickled kohlrabi, and a whole fish with the head on. Majordomo hits that hard-to-hit sweet spot of being interesting and just different enough … while still being delicious and approachable. You don’t feel like you’re stunt eating.
But, in many ways, what I think *really* makes Majordomo stand out is the service. Many restaurants in LA have great service. But it’s conventionally great service. Knowledgeable, charming server … food served promptly … exceptions handled gracefully. Majordomo is next level, and reminds me that, perhaps because of our dearth of true “fine dining” restaurants, that’s pretty rare here. Again, Majordomo isn’t ‘fine dining’ … but it’s service is. What do I mean by that? A thousand little things: everybody from the sommelier to the busperson knows everything about the menu … if anybody who works there sees that you need anything, they do it no matter their ‘job’ – managers clear plates, buspeople pour wine, waiters help tables that aren’t “theirs” … they will do their best to handle any curveball you throw their way, and we threw quite a few. It’s just obvious that the training there is next level – and it elevates the experience.
Also … I can’t not mention the cocktail and wine program. A restaurant like this could easily phone that in. And, by David Chang’s own admission (that podcast again), he’s not really a cocktail/wine guy. But, crucially, he hires well and trusts them – and he has hired exceptionally well here. And, in a sign that no good restaurant in LA now can ignore or shortchange their cocktail program (a marked change over the last decade), their cocktail menu is just as good as their food menu, with the same characteristics. Interesting, but approachable. I had their version of a Boulevardier, which is a Manhattan-esque drink, except it used Japanese whiskey and had banana and miso in it. Before you crinkle your nose and think “ew”, everybody at my table who tried it, loved it. And the wine list is off the charts, with a sommelier who knows everything about everything. Point being that, at a place where you wouldn’t necessarily naturally think about that stuff, even the approach to their drink program is next level.
Bottom line: you’ve probably heard of Majordomo by now. But if, like me, you have been scared off by hard to get resos, location, whatever, I’m here to tell you it’s worth it. In this case, believe the hype.
PS – I know the design of my funny little blog needs updating. I’m about ready to go with that, but want it to coincide with the launch of, shall we say, the next phase of my crazy side vanity project. Stay tuned…