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.
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.)
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.
Roasted Rice Cakes with Onions and Spicy Chili Pepper Sauce
It’s time to book another trip to New York.
Momofuku, 171 1st Ave, New York, New York. 212.475.7899