Majordōmo arrived in Los Angeles as you might have expected—with the level of media frenzy upon which David Chang, creator of the Momofuku empire, built his career. Maybe even more so because Chang is no longer a mere restaurateur; he’s a budding media mogul, first with Lucky Peach, then his Netflix series “Ugly Delicious” and finally, months after Majordōmo’s opening, his new effort: Majordomo Media.
In the case of Majordōmo, much of the frenzy went at the notion that Chang—who once notoriously accused San Francisco restaurants of “just serving figs on a plate”—had warmed to a West Coast aesthetic. But it also became clear that the food, from executive chef Jude Parra-Sickels, was successfully threading a needle between California’s virtuous abundance (Alice Waters might weep over the “bounty bowl” of crudité) and Chang-style sybaritism.
What hasn’t been much discussed amid the jabber is what to drink with it all. To be candid, that’s often been the case with the Momofuku restaurants—that is outside of Booker & Dax, the cocktail bar that gave mad scientist Dave Arnold a laboratory. The group’s wine programs, essential to every restaurant starting with Ssäm Bar, have rarely been part of the loud frenzy that accompanies all things Chang—save for when accomplished sommelier Jordan Salcito took charge of Momofuku restaurants in New York and Washington, D.C., and got a big initial splash with her efforts. But many talents have worked without much fanfare in Momo-land over the years, including Christina Turley (of Turley Wine Cellars, once of Ko), Theresa Paopao (Ko also), Andy Wedge (Ma Pêche, now at Nishi) and so on.
Yet there have also been many uneven moments. Ko, for instance, has diverted at times to the wonky side of natural wine, and over the course of its 12-year history, Ssäm Bar has fallen into the wine doldrums more than once. This wouldn’t be noteworthy if not for the fact that the Chang restaurants are as close to culinary empire as anything in America—and their success has been at least partly fueled by wine prices that were never shy. (On a recent night, a glass of Nuits-Saint-Georges at Momofuku Ko’s bar was a cool $50.)
Happily, the wine side of Momo-world is in a spectacularly good place right now. Credit goes at least partly to Jake Lewis, the group’s current beverage director, and also to recent hires, like Nicole Hakli, whose list right now is perhaps the best Ssäm Bar has ever seen, with its $50 “Seasonal Crushables” bottles and an encyclopedic study of gamay.
But some limelight also should be directed to Richard Hargreave, who has made Majordōmo one of the most fun places to drink in LA—assuming you can get through the door, since it’s also one of the city’s most sought-after tables. Just as the menu finds a way to accommodate two rival views of cooking, Hargreave’s work smartly navigates a course between wine’s two opposing forces today: the frenetic curiosity of the new and obscure, and the more old-fashioned desire to put a big-name bottle on your table for all to see.
His achievement is all the more notable because we’re talking about LA, which is both America’s new culinary mecca and a place where our aesthetic choices are on public display—in wine as in other things. To build a wine program that can appease the two clashing sides of wine culture today is an impressive feat.
Hargreave, a British expat, previously ran wine lists at several Momofuku spots, notably Momofuku Seiōbo, Chang’s Sydney outpost, which in time became perhaps the most adventurous Momo restaurant. But he seems to display a particular verve with his work in LA; his thoughtful balance of selections plays to the best of chef Parra-Sickels’ savvy left-coast interpretation of Changism—items like the savory pancakes, known as bings, which are topped with Benton’s ham or jalapeño-flecked mussels, and tend to start the typical Majordōmo meal. That includes the same Falstaffian shared plates that have been a defining Chang element since the early days of Ssäm Bar—here not just a massive pork ssäm but also a $190 short rib feast. Oversize platters means oversize wines, so Hargreave offers a full page of magnums.
However, his inventiveness goes much farther. The wine list deftly supports the East-West collision (both coastal and hemispheric) that Majordōmo embodies. Take, for instance, a selection of chilled red wines, like the Litrozzo Rosso from Le Coste in Lazio, which is Hargreave’s best-selling glass of wine. Same with nearly a full page of rosé, not simply for fashion’s sake (although that, too) but again, because this is Southern California, and because it’s a perfect foil for the umami blast of Parra-Sickels’ cooking. Riesling is curiously less prevalent here—versus, say, Hakli’s four pages at Ssäm Bar—either because of Hargreave’s tastes or to force people away from familiar tropes when it comes to Asian-identified food.
But a city like LA has another side that can’t be ignored. Recently, Majordōmo’s list has gravitated toward conspicuous consumption, at least compared to this spring’s iteration: selections from big Burgundian names like François Raveneau and Jean-Marc Roulot, which start near $500 and go up, along with tony Bordeaux that tops $1,000. A 2010 bottle of Thierry Allemand’s Cornas Chaillot for $518 makes me wonder if new LA has adopted the label-bragging habits that old LA once displayed—although Hargreave assures me it’s less that than well-funded curiosity. The city’s new tastemakers want Roulot one moment and the decidedly offbeat wines of Pantelleria’s Gabrio Bini the next.
At the same time, Hargreave offers a bounty of choices under $100 for even mildly adventurous drinkers—macabeu from Roussillon’s Domaine Réveille, rosé from Margaret River’s Si Vintners, dolcetto from Piedmont’s Principiano Dosset. And as at Seiōbo, he courts both the naturally minded and the strengths of his locale, without playing geographic favorites. At Majordōmo, that means a smart handful of familiar New California names (Broc, Ryme, Scribe), along with, unsurprisingly, one of the best collections of New Australia bottles to appear on these shores. It also means a bunch of smartly chosen sake and soju, and even makgeolli, the fermented rice drink that’s a welcome nod to the restaurant’s Korean roots.
That eminently drinkable side, I think, helps balance out the aspect of Majordōmo that’s been more engineered for high rollers. Hargreave’s deep curiosity comes through as the strongest element of his work, and thus makes Majordomo a thrilling place to drink—even if it’s caught in the constant klieg lights of attention.
The Failsafe | Tie
Le Petit Saint Vincent Clos Saumur Champigny “Les Clos Lyzières” 2014 | $58
Veyder-Malberg Wachau Grüner Veltliner “Liebedich” 2016 | $98
Cabernet franc is a famous grape now, which means you have to seek value in its quieter corners. Dominique Joseph’s Les Clos Lyzières is franc in pure form, from 55-year-old vines, showing amplitude and the spicy darkness of the grape. The Veyder-Malberg is conceptually the opposite, from a culty name in Austria’s Wachau; the Liebedich is Peter Veyder-Malberg’s blend of grüner veltliner from various vineyards, all brightness and fresh white pepper. They’re perfect counterpoints for an eclectic menu.
Les Dolomies Savagnin “Les Grandvaux” 2016 $158 | 1.5L
Here’s a bottle to take you through the whole meal. Céline and Steve Gormally are highlighting a lesser-known corner of the Jura, not far from Château-Chalon. Their savagnin is just feral and salty enough to truly enhance the fermented flavors in a lot of dishes.
The Other Right Adelaide Hills Sparkling “Bright Young Pink” NV | $84
Other Right’s Alex Schulkin and Galit Shachaf are scientists by day, winemakers by night—and some of the most promising talents in South Australian winemaking. This lemonade-y but super complex bottle of fizz is one of Hargreave’s nods back to his Seiōbo roots.
Maxime Magnon Corbières Rosé “Metisse” 2017 | $68
Magnon is the great talent of the Languedoc region of Corbières, bringing a down-on-its-luck spot some Burgundian finesse. His rosé is a hidden gem; made from old-vine carignan, grenache and more, it’s got the nuance you’d find in bottles of, say, Marsannay rosé from the Côte-d’Or, but with a lot more sunniness. And it’s one of the best deals on the list.
Steal This Bottle
Château Musar Bekaa Valley Red 2001 | $148
Musar is not only Lebanon’s most famous wine but one of the great wines of the world—and here with nearly two decades of age. It’s got the bass tones of cabernet but also plenty of brightness and a leathery, savory aspect. At this price, it’s a treat.
Natty By Nature
Domaine Julien Guillot Clos des Vignes du Maynes Mâcon Red “Cuvée 910” 2016 | $94
Julien Guillot is making some of the most interesting wines in the Mâconnais, in southern Burgundy—especially reds. The 910 is his tribute to the first wines produced for the abbey of Cluny, which dates to approximately 910 A.D., from what’s now his family property. A field blend of not only pinot noir but also gamay and chardonnay, it’s pungent in moments and quietly fragrant in others, and another perfect match for the menu.
Vignoble du Revêur Alsace White “Singulier” 2016 | $68
Revêur is the project of Mathieu Deiss, son of Alsatian winemaking legend Jean-Michel Deiss. Mathieu is even more outré than his father in breaking Alsace’s winemaking strictures. This is pinot gris and riesling macerated for 10 days; it’s rich, but has all of the structural delicacy of riesling, and its umami profile echoes the same flavors found in dishes like the bing with smoked fish roe.
Akishika Super Dry Muroka Nama Genshu Sake “Okarakuchi” | $72 (carafe)
This rare bottle of all Yamada Nishiki rice from the mountains outside Kyoto is as bracing and dry as sake gets. It’s unfiltered (muroka), unpasteurized (nama) and undiluted (genshu)—and precise as a laser, with distinct and memorable acidity.
Nicolas Carmarans Aveyron Red “Maximus” 2016 | $64
Nicolas Carmarans lives in the little-known mountainous Aveyron region of France’s southwest. This wine is made from the indigenous and obscure fer servadou grape, which can, admittedly, taste like a glass of iron shavings. But Carmarans makes arguably the finest example of this grape: it’s sanguine and tangy, but also contains a subtle fruitiness—like cabernet franc on its best behavior.
Back to the Future
Arnot-Roberts Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay “Trout Gulch Vineyard” 2016 | $96
So, yeah, California chardonnay. This is one of Arnot-Roberts’ hidden gems, from a pure-loam site near Corralitos. Its acidity and concentrated flavors are both up to 11—making it a perennially fun rollercoaster to drink.