Momofuku Noodle In a Blizzard
The beginnings of the blizzard, 3 pm 12/26/10, NYC
Some people have no problem waiting forever to try out a new hot eatery. Not me. I am not afraid of crowds, nor do I begrudge any place its popularity. But inevitably, an hour and a half of standing around is going to dull the joy of even great food. If I'm waiting that long, Jesus, Bettie Page or Pete Townshend better be my server. But I digress.
It was the day after Christmas and my brother (the Cornell Hotel/Rest. School grad who does nothing related to hospitality, lol) wanted to help catch me up with New York eats. Being that it was freezing cold, what with the BLIZZARD and all, noodle soup seemed like a good call. We first tried Soba Totto, but they didn't open until dinner on weekends. Then we went to Ippudo on Astor Place, where, despite deserted streets outside, people were crammed into a tiny space even to get to the standing counter. Within the 60 seconds of our being told we'd have to wait an hour and 10, seriously a dozen more people crammed in behind us. Must be free crack day... Anyway, onward we went, Neil suggesting Otafuku for octopus balls, only we were on 11th not 9th. And when we turned the corner on 1st to walk down, we hit Momofuku noodle bar's almost painfully plain glass front first.
Though it was busy, there was no wait whatsoever and we were sat at the foodie's ultimate pole position, right at the counter split where food came off of the line.
I'm sure every food blogger and his uncle has written up David Chang's MNB, so I'll spare you the details on this austere, bauhausian bare wood place with loud pop music on the box. The menu is short, there's a $20 prix fixe, and then daily chalkboard specials, next to a list of their locavore sources.
From the chalkboard, we chose the pork kimchi tamales, because I was eager to see Chang's twist on the latino-korean fusion that's lit up LA, as well as a soy sauce egg. We also ordered a plate of smoked hamachi, steamed shrimp buns and I got a bowl of the Momufuku Ramen, with pork strap, pork shoulder and poached egg.
When I saw them coming out, I wished that we had gotten the Roasted Brussel Sprouts and Ginger Scallion Noodles (which looks to be a signature, though Chang admitted he stole it from a place on Pell) as well... but it was already too much.
First out was the tamale, sealed in what looked like banana leaves as opposed to the typical dried corn husks, and shiny inside, I assume from the kimchi brine. I was expecting that it would actually have kimchi inside for some nice crunch, but instead it was apparently steamed in the brine.
Whatever the case, while tender, and nicely constructed, despite only a thin layer of masa around the pork, it really didn't have the flavor I expected, neither of corn, pork or kimchi.
The smoked hamachi was an entirely different matter: three thick slices of soft, delicately smoked fish rolled under an apple-butternut squash foam, accented by small bits of each and nori. Subtletly flavored elegance. Just lovely.
Momofuku Ramen, bruddah
Next came the huge bowl of ramen; in this instance, the broth was not actually an excessive amount, nor the noodles, but the accompaniments? Two thick slices of fat-ribboned pork strap, a good dollop of pulled pork shoulder, a perfectly poached egg, plus the usual daikon and scallions. This seems to be Chang's M.O., with his meat dishes, to pile on the fat/cholesterol in ways that might make McDonald's blush (those foodies, do they care about nutritional balance? Not when it's "locavore" apparently). I didn't want to know the nutritional numbers on this dish. Of course, that doesn't mean it wasn't very fresh tasting, relatively light, and certainly succulent. The broth was savory, with the mixed-in egg yolk giving it some heft, but still not quite in OMG territory. The noodles were on the chewy side, but not overly starchy. What can I say? Even when I was full, I kept eating. It was of course the perfect antidote to a bone-chilling day.
Meanwhile, Neil's shrimp buns arrived: pressed cakes of spicy shrimp sandwiched into fresh spongy bao. Looks like maybe this is where the kimchi turned up, with some sririacha. Solid street food, done right.
soy sauce egg
The hard boiled egg preserved in soy sauce was served with crispy onion crumbles and pepper, and tasted more of the onion than anything. I suppose it's slightly healthier drinking snack than potato chips...
Apple Pie Truffle
Lastly, on a recommendation from his wife, Neil got the apple pie "truffles," three donut hole sized crumble coated confections. Did they taste like apple pie? A bit. More though, they just tasted like sugary dough. Neither of us could go past a couple bites.
Still, three pretty great dishes, three "mehs," not at all a bad meal. Not a cheap, meal either (the total was around $60 with 20% tip--we only drank water)
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED DECEMBER 2010