NY eats: Momofuku Noodle Bar
My second night in NY, my mom and I met up with some old family friends. The story of how we know them is an interesting one, so I’ll tell it briefly. When I was 5, we met them on the plane going to China. They, meanwhile, were heading off to Beijing to live there (I think they lived there a good 6 or so years), and their parents were journalists. I became friends with their daughter Cara, my age, and her brother Andy was 2 years younger than us.
MEANWHILE, I got the chicken pox. On the plane. It sucked. My mom didn’t want to scare me or anything, but Libby, the mother, had been a doctor before being a journalist, so she knew the symptoms. Her kids had already had chicken pox, so I could still hang out with them. We kept in touch and the year I lived in China when I was 7, we hung out nearly every weekend. Cute story, huh?
Anyways, when they heard I had a food blog, they wanted to make sure we went to dinner somewhere interesting. They chose Momofuku Noodle Bar, a trendly little no-reservations place in the East Village. Momofuku has two other restaurants: one is called Ssam Bar-Bakery, and the other is Ko, which is one of those Omakase-type deals with no menu and a crazy price.
The waiting time wasn’t bad at all, but when I walked into the restaurant it immediately struck me that this looked nearly exactly like Avec, the Chicago restaurant that looks like a wooden box.
Just like at Avec, there you could sit at the bar, but if not, there was communal seating on wooden benches. Just like at Avec, the menu was short, seasonal, and organized into sides, small plates, large plates, and dessert.
And unfortunately, just like Avec, the menu was NOT vegetarian-friendly in the slightest. Like Avec, there were many delicious-sounding seafood options that happened to be cooked with sausage.
Momofuku is, I suppose, Asian fusion, but that description makes it sound much less original than it is. For example, the night I was there, here was the menu (short enough to fit the entire thing into a photo):
noodle bar etc.
steamed buns – chicken / shiitake / pork
smoked chicken wings – pickled chili, garlic, scallions
ramen – chicken / shredded pork
momofuku ramen – pork combo, poached egg
kimchi stew – braised kimchi, rice cakes, shredded pork
ginger scallion – dressed noodles, seasonal vegetables***
***(no broth, our only vegetarian option)
roasted skate wing – brussels sprouts, kimchi, bacon
bouchot mussels – miso garlic sausage, black kale, fennel
roasted tri-tip steak – nugget potatoes, kimchi butter
cousin leroy & arlo’s soft serve ice cream – quince / smoked maple / twist
The raw bar online has already changed, so squint and see if you can read it.
I ate very lightly that night. I ordered the hamachi and the only vegetarian noodle option.
The hamachi was refreshing and the fish was good quality– unfortunately, it was really cold that day and sashimi wasn’t what I was in the mood for. The grated horseradish was an economical but effective alternative to fresh wasabi, and the apple was a nice touch. Somehow they managed to turn the beets into a kind of jello. I’ll admit, I wasn’t in love with this dish, but I was fascinated by the different tastes and textures– the acidity of the apple, the bitterness of the horseradish, and the sweet and slippery beets, were very unique and minimal adornments that highlighted the fish itself.
The noodles came in a huge bowl and were garnished with lots of ginger, sliced cucumber, roasted cauliflower, scallions, mushrooms, and a nori sheet. However, in an attempt to add flavor to an otherwise bland dish, they were drenched in sesame oil. If eaten in a much smaller portion after eating a spicy dish, I would have enjoyed them more. I mainly just ate the vegetables.
Everybody else took advantage of the carnivorous menu, but according to my mom, the ramen that they ordered was too meaty, and the pork too fatty. All the same, It would have been nice to drink some hot broth.
They also ordered the mussels, but the sausage, rather than being a garnish, was served in huge chunks and apparently overpowered the dish.
Everybody ordered steamed buns: chicken and pork. Interestingly, rather than the classic bao zi, the filling, instead of being minced and wrapped inside, was in block form and sandwiched within the wrapper. I wonder if this is to save time or simply for originality’s sake.
I know it sounds like I’m being critical, but it was dessert that saved the day, although I only had a little. The only option was homemade softserve in quince and smoked maple, available separately or in a twist. The adults smartly ordered the twist, whereas my friends and I ordered one of each. We discovered that the ice creams were too overpowering to eat on their own, but with a little bit of each on the spoon, tasted wonderful. On the other hand, it did allow us to try each flavor first. In addition to the impeccable texture (it was topped with crushed candied walnuts), the quince took me straight back to the crisp I made on Thanksgiving. The maple was a little too sweet for me, but my favorite part was the saltiness of the smoky flavor. Really, just incredible. Amazing. The best ice cream ever.
I think as a whole, this place is great for meat-eaters, contrary to what my mom says. meanwhile, I looked at their other restaurant’s menu online, and they have some non-meat dishes that sound incredible, such as:
diver sea scallops (ri) – xo broth, orange, snow peas
charred squid salad – ginger scallion, mizuna
pumpkin chawanmushi – grana padano, kelp, pepita
PUMPKIN CHAWANMUSHI? In case you don’t know, chawanmushi is the Japanese version of ji dan geng, the steamed egg custard my dad often makes. Grana padano is a Parmesan-like cheese and pepita are pumpkin seeds. Don’t know if this dish would be good, but the idea of it fascinates me.
bouchot mussels – nigori broth, pickled ramps, grapes
poached chatham cod – matsutake dashi, pinenut, black garlic
grilled long island monkfish – savoy cabbage, kimchi, pistachio
And so on… as you can see, if you don’t eat fish or seafood, do not come to any of these restaurants.