But first…a snack before dinner
black sesame ice cream (front), lychee (back) from Chinatown Ice Cream Factory
You may experience flavor fatigue after five minutes, but the four minutes before that are wonderful, assuming you like black sesame, which isn’t overwhelmingly sweet like every other ice cream in the world, and lychee. The ice cream is unusually icy and not very smooth, texture-wise, but these are minor points.
the bar at Momofuku Noodle Bar
We’re entering into the fancier and pricier leg of the trip, of which the first step is with David Chang, a NYC chef whose meteoric rise to the top and (probably) love for pork makes him one of the biggest chefs in the country.
striped black bass at momofuku noodle bar – $15
It’s only been one day and I can barely remember anything about this dish, other than that I wasn’t impressed when I had it and that I thought $15 was a tad pricey for six small bites. Certainly it’s a pretty and uses high quality bass, but the mild flavors seemed uncharacteristic of Chang who is a bold, passionate and certain chef.
duck salad, plum, hazelnut, red endive, raw duck fat – $12
This is a salad that doesn’t eat nicely and that tastes better at the end than in the beginning. After popping the plump poached egg and mixing in the yolk, the plate looked messy and perhaps could have passed for a salad after somebody had eaten their filling. A sharp vinegar crashes into you on first bite but overtime the salad mellows out as the duck fat becomes more pronounced and umami-like.
These are David Chang’s pork buns. Beautiful, I know. These babies put Mr. Chang on the map as man who could cross borders, dress up the cultures and charge handsomely for the service. Could this be a fluke? A gimmick?
No. These pork buns, which are a throwback to Beijing kaoya, are brilliant. Seductive. Orgasmic. The bun itself was just strong enough to hold everything together, but not a doughy mess. The magic is in the pork belly. Tender and fatty and umami 5 times over, the belly oozed with juices which dripped onto my plate. Now, it’s not too hard to see why customers hail Chef Chang.
momofuku ramen – pork belly, pork shoulder, poached egg – $15
But all is not brilliant inside Chef Chang’s adobe. The momofuku ramen is one of lesser ramens in the grand scheme of Asian cuisine. The broth relies too much on Chang’s favorite food — pork — and translates into something uncomfortably smokey and short-breathed. While some might say this is Chang’s way of upping the game of a classic dish, I think he goes too far here and fails to capture the essence of what a bowl of ramen should be: comforting and deep. I’d take the $5 soup in Chinatown at Lam Zhou over this bowl anytime.
smoked chicken wings, ginger, scallions, garlic – $12
These wings are a must not-try. Dry, flavorless and everything else that’s wrong in between, these wings were all I needed to know that Chef Chang’s $100 Fried Chicken Dinner is ridiculous.
I snagged a picture of some leftover fried chicken. Unless this chicken comes with a side of gold and a small fabergé egg, the cost-benefit ratio seems terribly askew.
So here’s the deal. I hesitate to comment to much on Chef Chang and the empire he’s built in under three years. I would first need to visit his other restaurant ($500+). But based solely on what I saw this night, I think Chef Chang’s popularity might be over-played. There is no denying his pork buns are magical (I will return, but only order them), but if Chang expands his repertoire and menu with other dishes — as he has — they, too, must bring the heat and flaire like that of his signature dish.
Momofuku Noodle Bar
171 1st Ave
New York, NY 10003