Tuesday, 30 July 2013

New York Series - Momofuku Noodle Bar


New York is a city that is filled with great restaurants, chefs and restauranteurs, many of whom are well known and/or celebrities in their own right.  David Chang is a chef that is transcending the current concept of a chef and taking on the world while doing so.  Chang is the owner of the Momofuku group, which is not only dominating the New York scene with various restaurants and cafes, has also started a worldwide expansion, with his Sydney restaurant Momofuku Sieobo winning three prestigious chefs hats.

While chefs hats are well regarded in Australia, it's Michelin stars that matter in this part of the world and Chang is well known for his East Village gem Momofuku Ko, which has two Michelin stars and has an outstanding three restaurants ranked in the top 100 in the world.  These are some serious achievements for a guy who is not even 40.

While we were not going to visit the better known and highly accredited Momofuku restaurants while in NYC, we did find Momofuku Noodle Bar in our travels.  (I had a general rule while here, if I could visit a restaurant in Australia, I would not do its equivalent here).  SC and I were wandering around the East Village and found a very nondescript restaurant and after careful inspection saw that it was a Momofuku.  It was early in the day and the joint wasn't open just yet, but I added it to our list of must dine places and we continued on our way, with a plan to return in a few days.

I had a thought that Momofuku Noodle Bar would be pretty hard to get into, so we decided to hit the place on a Sunday for lunch, with a plan to get there as the place opened and hopefully score a seat.  As we made our way to the restaurant, we were a little early and decided to continue to look around the very cool East Village some more.  We were only about half an hour early and when we had wandered past, there was no queue, but as we returned we were astounded that a massive queue had formed in the twenty minutes we had been window shopping.  

Normally in situations like that we would just say 'bugger it' and come back another time, but given that this was likely to be the least busy day, we chose to hang in there and see if we could get a seat.  I'm pretty happy that we did, even thought the queue was long, we managed to jag a couple of seats at the bar.  The restaurant itself is a study in sleek lines and minimalism, with stained wood tables and benches everywhere, including the bar-top and a large open kitchen tucked down the back of the restaurant.

The menu at Momofuku Noodle Bar has fairly limited options and is very focussed on a couple of items and then producing the very best quality food possible.  It is after all a noodle bar and not a full restaurant.  This was one of the very rare times when SC and I eat out that we could not agree to have different meals, so we ended up having the same entrees and mains.  It's also one of the time where there were not too many other options (although there were half a dozen all up), so it was OK to have the same experience.

We started off with one of the items that has helped David Chang become a household name in New York, the steamed pork buns.  Steamed buns are such a simple pleasure when done well and the second we saw the Momofuku variety, we knew we were in for a treat.  They looked very simple, with just a few ingredients on each bun but they tasted amazing.  The pork was fat and succulent, cooked to absolute perfection with wonderfully rendered fat and delicious flesh combined with cucumber and hoisin sauce.  They were pretty cheap too, with a couple of pork buns per serving, they were great value as well as being delicious.  You could easily sit in Momofuku all afternoon just pigging out on the pork buns!

While the pork buns were delicious, they were just the starter and we knew that we couldn't pig out too much on them, not with the signature dish coming.  There were a few different ramens on the menu but we both went for the Momofuku ramen, pork belly, pork shoulder and poached egg.  I'm not a huge fan of ramens but I have been eating a few more of late so I had some history for comparison.  Firstly, the ramen bowl was huge and it was completely filled with ingredients, including some big, chunky pieces of grilled pork as well as a heap of pulled pork.  After smashing the perfectly poached egg to infuse the yolky goodness, I started on the ramen.  The flavours of the broth were wonderful, with a really clear pork flavour coming through.  The pulled pork and grilled pork belly were complimentary, yet not overpowering too.  There ended up being too much food for me to get through the whole lot, but I really enjoyed the ramen, in fact it was the second best one I have had (the best was from Tank a few years back).

It was extremely packed the whole time we were in Momofuku and I can honestly say that it had the best vibe of any of the restaurants we had been into in New York.  Perhaps it was the fact that the place was absolutely jammed packed as soon as it opened (also, the only place that this happened in New York - that we went to).

The staff were all really well drilled and completely professional, if not a little distant.  Momofuku is one of the hottest places in town and they know it, which is a little arrogant but also so 'New York'.  I didn't mind it at all.  It did give me a taste for the David Chang way of doing things and I have to say it's a winning formula.  I'm going to have to fly down to Sydney at some time this year and check out the Momofuku down there.

We had a great time at the Momofuku Noodle bar, so much so that we decided to track down the Momofuku Milk bar in the area and check that out too (see photos at end of post).  I had heard about the reputation of David Chang and his Momofuku chain and after witnessing it first hand, it's no wonder this guy is the king of New York.  Don't be surprised if there is a Momofuku opening near you soon, this guy could take of the (culinary) world!


Two big bowls of Ramen, we could have shared one each!
Frozen cocktails and the specials for the day.
Very clean lines in the restaurant and not a spare seat from opening
Quite an unassuming entrance!
The milk-bar around the corner is cool with some really unusual flavours.  Breakfast cereal shakes and soft serves?  Pretty wacky
The milk-bar was just a hole in the wall, with hardly any space for gear but the staff knew how to make a great coffee.  SC thought it was the best one she had while in New York
You can buy all sorts of Milk gear, from T-shirts to tote bags.  Grab your slice of the Momofuku empire! 
Again, a quite unassuming shop front, if you didn't know what you were looking for it would be very easy to miss.
I loved the breakfast cereal milkshake, which did taste like the milk after a bowl of cereal, it was totally weird.  SC had a coffee and thought it was the best one she had in NYC, perfectly extracted and the milk not over cooked.  It's hard to get a good quality coffee (latte) in NYC.

Momofuku Noodle Bar on UrbanspoonMomofuku Milk Bar on Urbanspoon

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