Unexpectedly Addictive: Momofuku Noodle Bar

Whenever I make trips out to Manhattan (which isn’t very often), I always have a laundry list of new restaurants I’d like to try as well as old favorites that I must revisit. Momofuku was one of the new ones: Restaurateur/chef David Chang and his two restaurants Momofuku and Momofuku Ssam Bar have been at the top of Manhattan’s hyped-up list over the past year.

Pork buns

We were seated immediately, an unexpected surprise for a Saturday night in the East Village. Our server recommended the small plates which included pork buns, fried sweetbreads (“the best in the city,” she said) and seasonal pickles. The deep-fried, breaded veal sweetbreads — a first for me — were crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. While the sweet-and-spicy chili sauce that accompanied them was well-balanced, I just couldn’t get past the fact that they were thymus glands of a baby cow. Something about them had just the faintest, slightest offal taste reminiscent of insufficiently cleaned innards.

The pork buns weren’t the traditional char shui Chinese barbeque pork buns. Rather, they were a twist on the peking duck that is served in Chinese restaurants around the U.S., slick with hoisin sauce, generous slabs of pork belly and flat, steamed buns. (This is in the case of America only, as peking duck in China is served wrapped in a crepelike pancake.) When I glanced to my left, the girl next to me had cut the fat off of her pork bun. For a second I felt pity for that pig who’d given up his life only to have his succulent, aromatic belly fat cut away and left on a plate. What a shame, I thought, as mine melted away in my mouth. By the time I’d finished, I was certain that this dish was as good as, or almost as good as peking duck. (That would be a strong statement: I once put on 15 pounds eating peking duck three times a week for eight weeks in China.)

Pork ramen

For the entree, our energetic waitress recommended the restaurant’s namesake Momofuku ramen. It arrived in an oversized bowl, a generous (but not overflowing) amount of noodles swimming in caramel broth, surrounded by two kinds of pork (belly and shredded pork neck meat), chili-pickled bamboo shoots, mustard greens, dried seaweed sheets and a barely-poached egg. The broth had such a delicious pork flavor that I didn’t really even need to add Sriracha-style sauce, something that I do on a routine basis to “spice up” my ramen noodle broth. My only complaint (which my friend Steph echoed in her review) was that the noodles weren’t chewy enough. They were limp and lacked that “QQ,” or bounciness, that Asian people so love in their noodle soups. This was probably intentional, but I’d been hoping for squiggly al dente noodles more along the style of udon than soba. Nonetheless, the poached egg completely made up for this. The egg white’s delicate gelatinous texture and the yolk’s creaminess were a great match for the subtle broth.

The cravings kicked in upon my return to the apartment. When I found the following pictures online, I was tempted to go back there the next day just to try the following:
Rice Cakes

Roasted Rice Cakes with Onions and Spicy Chili Pepper Sauce

Seasonal Pickles

Seasonal Pickles

It’s time to book another trip to New York.

Momofuku, 171 1st Ave, New York, New York. 212.475.7899

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6 Responses to “Unexpectedly Addictive: Momofuku Noodle Bar”

  1. I love Momofuku! The Momofuku special is my favorite bowl of noodles. Didn’t try the pork buns, but definitely will next time we’re in New York.

    Did you see my review?
    http://www.inuyaki.com/archives/58

  2. I too LOVE the Momofukus.

    The Noodle Bar just moved “75 feet” (according to their sign) up the block, and it’s a fantastic improvement.

    Although I never had any complaints, I’ve heard and read similar reviews about the noodles being a bit soft in the past. Well, this was an occasional problem at the older location, supposedly now fixed at the new one (who knows, maybe it’s the bigger kitchen?).

    Just an FYI, pretty sure the 2 different porks in your Momofuku Ramen were belly and shredded shoulder, not belly and shredded pork neck. They do have a pork neck ramen though (never had it).

    So many great choices on the menu…Pork buns are a true MUST!! Rice cakes and pickles are great. Consider adding the baby octopus (crispy and tossed in some sort of garlic vinegar sauce) and the kimchi stew (over rice, not noodles, and a must share, unless you’re a big eater) to your list on the next trip. And, of course, their new homemade soft serve ice cream!!!

    -Anton, NYC

  3. Anton, you are right about the shoulder – and the fact that the noodle bar moved 75 feet away. I guess they haven’t fixed that soft noodle problem, since I went to the new location. I wanted the kimchi stew so badly, but our waitress did tell us it was huge and I didn’t have the room for it … but that would also be on the list to order next time!

  4. Thanks for the link to my review! I have to echo the praise for the pork buns. The day I went, I was really unimpressed w/ the broth. Also, I heard that there’s some amazing pork leg or something…I can’t remember. Great review, great foodporn!

  5. [...] soup fiend, eating bowls of pho and other noodle soups meal after meal. (It may have begun after my trip to Momofuku.) I first heard of Katana-Ya from my friend Steph, whose passion for ramen is so great that she [...]

  6. [...] trek in search for the answer.First Stop: ManhattanIn the East Village, just around the corner from Momofuku (New York’s other famed noodle house), lies the first U.S. outpost of Ramen Setagaya, a [...]

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