So, you’ve made it to New York.
Now here’s a question for you; how do you begin to choose the right Momofuku for you?
As luck might have it, we did the hard yards and went and checked them out. Saddle up. The journey starts here.
“ I don’t understand asking what the point of playing with your food is when I think playing with your food is fun and an inherent part of cooking. If you can get past the why and the hang-ups and have some fun in the process, apply some creativity to what you’re cooking then that’s the goal, the end point, and the answer for me”
This is the man responsible for bbq sauce soft serve, cookies made of compost and a pie that’s called ‘crack’. Somehow he’s made pickles sexy. He’s probably haunted by requests for his signature pork belly buns everywhere he goes. He’s a reluctant ‘celebrity chef’, which somehow has tightened the allure. When he came to Australia last year he agreed to cook two special dinners. Seats were so coveted that those who couldn’t get in spurred a twitter backlash, unified under the hashtag of #momofukurage.
So, when you find yourself in David’s stomping ground; NYC- and more specifically the east village and mid town, some curiosity may tug at you to go try and figure out what all the fuss is about.
Where you wind up is just a matter of choice. There are now no fewer than five places where you can get a taste of momofuku magic. This is thanks in part to an ability to tap into a zeitgeist where flavor trumps the sissiness of silver service, and also a hand-me-down style of expansion, wher the new may slide into the shell of the old.
Let’s meet the family.
The eldest child, and perhaps the most humble is the Noodle Bar. Then there’s the Ssam Bar. There’s the Milk Bar, the kaseiki style fine-diner ‘Ko’, and the newest member of the clan; ‘Ma Peche’.
Where you go has a little to do with choice, and a little more to do with price bracket- and where in heavens you can get a table- which occasionally involves more effort than may be considered sensible.
Noodle Bar is where it all began. Seven years ago a Korean American chef, with a love for Japanese ramen houses and food with a gutsy punch of fat, set out and set up his own space; in a slot not much bigger than a walk in wardrobe.
First came the other chefs. Then the food media. Then the punters, in droves.
These days Noodle Bar has outgrown its original home and has moved down First Avenue. While the fresh space might be bigger, the starkly minimalist look and feel remains.
It’s a sea of blonde pine; seats, benches, even the walls. It’s like an Ikea Billy bookshelf has bred. One of the first things you’ll see are the slushie machines.
If a soused slushie doesn’t help set the tone for a space, then I’m not sure what else would. The slushies come in two sizes; small and large. Ordering a small gets me a raised eyebrow from the sneaker and shorts wearing waitstaff. ‘A large ? I proffer. ‘Better’ is their response.
But they’re right. Even with a large it’s hard to stop at one. The straws are especially fat, which makes it easy to suck down the soused frozen slurry even faster. The lychee is honeysuckle sweet, while the limeade makes your mouth pucker like a cats bum.
This is a place where you can’t book. It’s the kind of place where you sit high up on stools, next to your dining companions and pick at things with your fingers, chasing sauce as it trickles down your chin.
There are chicken wings which are slick with sweet soy sauce, scarred by chars from the grill and covered in scabs of chilli. The chips come covered in a Japanese seven spice mix- they’re crisps gone rogue, with a heady kick of heat.
A side order of roasted corn and fingerling potatoes, is bound and glossed with a shiro miso butter and loops of scallion. It’s a revelation. It’s that mysterious fifth taste, umami, on a date with sweet and squish. Except on this date, everyone gets lucky.
Most visitors at Noodle Bar are getting busy with chopsticks, hovering over the signature ramen noodles, which come in steaming bowls larger than a fireman’s hat and topped with two types of pork and a poached egg. Other diners are partial to the ginger scallion noodles, which get decorated with crisped nori and pickled mushrooms for extra punch.
|Ginger scallion noodles
Here it’s food that’s not backwards in coming forwards- which is why the kind of restraint found in the sweet pea soft serve is such a surprise.
Stay with me. It’s soft serve the colour of sea grass. It’s profoundly pea-ish, amplified by sweetness and slightly under cut by a dash of salt. You can have your vegetable dessert on its own, or in a twist with Tristar strawberry.
If you’re like us and go for the twist, at the bottom you’ll find a haul of frozen peas and crumbled biscuit for crunch. It’s that kind of unexpected touch that makes you want to come back.
There are other classics of the empire available here; the pork buns, the squished cake truffles, but you can save them for another time. Noodle Bar had us at ‘hello’, and the sweet pea soft serve cinched the deal.
We’re looking forward to meeting the rest of the family.
You’ll like the noodle bar if:
You have a hankering for noodles and you like punchy flavours.
You want to try some of the momofuku action, but don’t want to fork out a lot of coin.
You’re ok sitting on bar stools.
You understand that if you come early, you’re more likely to get a seat with minimum fuss (no bookings unless you go for the fried chicken dinner).
Monday- Friday / 12 – 4:30 pm
Saturday and Sunday / 12 – 4 pm
Sunday– Thursday / 5:30 – 11 pm
Friday and Saturday / 5:30 pm – 2 am
Where is it?
171 First Ave
Between 10th and 11th streets