As I have written before, I am beginning to wonder about going back to places where I have experienced some of my favorite meals. A return to a quintessential and forever memorable food experience. There is always that little piece of hope that it can be replicated. It is the classic setup for disappointment…yet, you keep going back, again and again — sometimes there a glimpses into that past magic, but I am not sure they can ever be replicated. Each experience is unique, which makes those memorable experiences even more treasured.I was going to NYC for work, and knew it was time for a visit to Momofuku.
I stopped at Astor Wine and spirits on my walk from my hotel — and ended up at Momofuku around 7:30 for dinner — there was a wait but it didn’t seem too bad. The hostess was also very nice and attentive — offering to bring me a beer while I waited, though it was a $14 beer (the same beer I have had in other restaurants for $7-8).I ordered the pork buns — still amazing, to die for, delicious — everyone should have a pork bun at Momofuku in their life — it is a treasured food experience that should be on everyone’s short list of food to-do’s.
For the main, I went with the special duck ramen. While I was waiting, I saw other bowls and it appeared that portion sizes were as bit smaller than my last visit which caused a little concern. When my duck ramen arrived, it was indeed a less than generous portion — though the actual serving of duck was more than generous. The disappointment was that the noodles were not ramen noodles, but closer to a parpadelle — and left quite a bit to be desired. The duck was delicious as was the broth — but you can’t have a great bowl of ramen without a good noodle.
I also didn’t pay much attention to price until the bill arrived. The duck ramen was $21 — granted I would not have cared had it hit the mark…but almost $50 for a bowl of ramen, pork buns, a beer and tip seemed a little expensive — and it didn’t win my heart and soul as my previous visit did. Still, I expect I will return to try and recreate that magical Momofuku experience from last year.
A few weeks later I went to Menkui Tei and ordered the Tan-Tan Ramen (shoyu ramen with spicy ground pork — loved the broth and the noodles) and the gyoza. Both were delicious. While it didn’t cast a spell like my first trip to Momofuku last year, it was a very fulfilling and comforting meal that only put me back $17 for a bowl of ramen, gyoza and a diet coke.
Original post from 2008
Whenever I hear someone talk about an upcoming trip to New York, I interject myself — begging and pleading that he or she go to Momofuku or one of David Chang’s other restaurants. I can’t help myself, I try to remain silent but am usually overcome with my enthusiasm.
I accept the fact that their initial reaction might focus on my perceived strange behavior and obsession with Momofuku. They will soon understand if they make the trip. I envision a little smile and a nod of the head to acknowledge that I had my reasons for insisting they seek out the noodle bar and all of its delights.
I first ate at Momofuku in January of 2007. I had been researching Ramen places in New York City. It turned out to be not only the best ramen of the trip, but the best food and highlight of the trip.
Chang describes Momofuku as the anti-restaurant (see video for more). It was a very small space. At the back bar there were probably a dozen stools, all with a front row seat overlooking the “kitchen” — not more than 3 feet by 8 feet with 4-5 people creating each dish while continually bumping elbows. They also washed dishes in the space as well. It was worth the trip just to watch the kitchen at work.
The Momofuku combo ramen was delicious (noodles and broth, Berkshire pork belly and shoulder, poached egg, greens, fish cake and scallions). The egg was close to perfect. It is a bath-cooked egg, or onsen tamago, as it’s called in Japan. This is an egg poached in a water bath for a long time at low temperature (about 140 degrees). The white was so tender and the yolk supersoft, adding an extra layer of creaminess and richness to the ramen.
Chang’s ramen is made with a Tonkotsu broth. It is obvious why he chose this type of ramen borth as ton means pig and kotsu means bone (he certainly isn’t going to make his broth from miso). He smashes pig bones, throws them into a pot of water with seasonings like kombu (kelp), iriko, bonito flakes, onion and dried mushrooms — and then he cooks it, and cooks it and cooks it.
The noodles might have been the only component in need of a little attention, they seemed to lack a bit of bounce, but the pork…oh my, the pork.
Pork seems to be the centerpiece of many of David Chang’s dishes — that one ingredient that really shines and also lends itself to bringing out the best in all of the other ingredients to make the final dish something very memorable. Only one item on the menu either did not have pork or was not cooked in pork fat, leaving vegetarians with a single option.
We also had the brussel sprouts with pork and kimchi. I used to love to make brussel sprouts — and I thought I made them pretty well. I have tried to recreate Momofuku’s take on brussel sprouts, but my attempts always seem to fall short and I don’t make brussel sprouts as often as I used to.
David Chang’s pork buns are now famous. His take on shrimp and grits was very impressive. Everything that came out of the kitchen was so beautifully prepared. The food was quite simple but prepared with great skill and care. It was really some of the most comforting food I have ever had. Today, it seems as though everyone has heard of David Chang. Momofuku has moved to a larger space and he has opened another restaurant. Some people have told me that success has taken its toll.
David Asimov of the NYT, The Pour had a less than ideal food experience at one of David Chang’s establishments. You can read the article on David’s blog (which is definitely worth reading on a regular basis). I have heard from others that Momofuku isn’t what it was. He certainly could be a victim of his own success. Growing demand, expansion in size and number of restaurants, etc. may have come with a cost. But I dream of returning to Momofuku in the near future.
The New Yorker’s take is spot on in my opinion, “Momofuku bills itself as a noodle bar, which seems a bit like calling Le Bernardin a crab shack.” I also read on another food blog that Momofuku may currently be the best value of any restaurant in New York in its ratio of culinary creativity to cost. I can’t speak for all of the restaurants in New York, but I got as much pleasure per dollar for my meal at Momofuku as any other restaurant I have visited.
Regardless of what happens on my next visit, my first visit will always be on my short list of best food experiences and is something I will never forget — and it doesn’t even a have a wine list or a single wine by the glass.
Great video tour of Momofuku with commentary by David Chang.
171 First ave | btwn 10th & 11th
New York, New York 10003