Sunday, September 13, 2009

Fanfreakintastic Momofuku Meal

Momofuku Noodle Bar
171 1st Ave
New York, NY
(212) 777-7773
Proprietor, Head Chef & Mini-Resto Empire Mogul: David Chang
Date visited: Saturday September 5, 2009
Small plates $9-15; large $11-20 (all prices in USD)

If you haven't heard about Momofuku before, well, you just suck. It's chef David Chang's mini New York restaurant empire that includes a noodle bar, a ssam bar, a slightly more "upscale" tasting menu restaurant Ko, and a dessert/pastry "milk" bar. In 2007, Chang won the James Beard Foundation rising star award for best new chef.

But enough about accolades. This blog is about me.

We were on a budget for New York, so I decided on the noodle bar as the most cost-effective way to experience Momofuku. The casual eateries have no-reservation policies, and we waited nearly an hour for a table but it was worth it. We ended up being seated at the open-kitchen bar, and I know because of this chance seating, this meal will go down as one of my most memorable.

From top left, clockwise: Prepping steamed buns; getting Momofuku ramen noodles ready; cracking perfectly poached eggs; plating roasted corn with potatoes

We were right in front of the action, and I was giddy with delight. Watching the chefs prep and cook, learning the processes of the kitchen, seeing the efficiencies and the behaviours... and smelling the smells... A meal at its coolest point.

Steph and I started with Momofuku Soju Slushies ($5 each for a small) -- hers watermelon, mine spicy ginger. Soju is a strong, clear Korean liquor made primarily from rice. I'm not a huge soju fan but these slushies were delightful. The alcohol content was wicked strong and I was glowing beet red (as usual) in no time, but I loved drinking something spicy and cold.

I don't know if it's because I ordered the prix-fixe (probably), but we got a surprise amuse of grilled peach, salty ham and mint. And I just read on the website that "momofuku" means "lucky peach." Lucky indeed. A cleverly themed amuse with the added advantage that it is just at the end of peach season. The amuse was a great contrast and fun burst of flavours in my mouth. I was deliriously happy already.

The prix-fixe was four courses for $30. All Momofuku restaurants change the menu daily according to what looks good in the market that day. They have a very close relationship with the farmers they source from. So how could I not do the prix-fixe? I didn't even really understand the descriptions I was reading - tataki, bibim, skate. I've never heard of tataki before; Chantal (@chantalbraganza) just introduced me to bibim rice this past year; and sadly I didn't know skate was a type of fish. Anyway, the website says the food is American, but who are we kidding here? This food is better characterized as Korean and Japanese with American-style sensibilities.

So here's the breakdown of my meal:

1st course: beef tataki - a rare steak salad with roasted chilis
I'm starting to fall in love with rare beef. Tasting all the strands and fibres of the meat... That's all I can say. I love it.

2nd course: bibim spicy noodles with pork shoulder and a soy-marinated soft-boiled egg (Chang is infamous for his love of eggs)
I'm not super keen on the ubiquitous Korean "red sauce." I don't know why but I just know it's not my favourite. I still really liked this dish though. I think because the pork shoulder meat was nice and tender, and the egg yolk had been cooked to this cool almost jello-like consistency.

3rd course: roasted skate on a bed of heirloom cherry tomatoes
The skate was a little oversalted but a fine piece of fish on fresh veggies. I can't complain.

4th course: house-made angel food cake and strawberry soft serve ice cream with graham crumbs
This tasted like a reverse cheesecake. Which was a great thing.

The meal may not have been the most glamourous, but everything was fresh (after all, I watched them prepare every single dish), innovative and cooked consistently. I loved my meal and am very happy I ordered it; but I also loved that Steph opted for the Momofuku Ramen Noodle, which includes pork belly, pork shoulder and a poached egg. I love this concept of having a soft egg served to you in a super aromatic broth, so that you have the pleasure of breaking it and mixing it in yourself.

And so you can also enjoy this pleasure, I videotaped it and did a play-by-play commentary because I was pretty tipsy off the soju by this point. I only wish you could smell it too:

I want to try Ssam Bar next time I'm in town. I would move to the East Village just so I could eat Momofuku every week.

By the way, all together the entire meal cost us $70, including tax and tip. Service was spot on and we were very full by the end of it.

Rating (out of five stars): *****

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Looks like a great meal indeed! I love momofuku but i don't go so often because of the wait. ugh.
You have to try Ippudo next time you're in town. Best ramen in NYC.