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Momofuku Noodle Bar: How Badly Do You Want a Steamed Bun?

Momofuku Noodle Bar: How Badly Do You Want a Steamed Bun?


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How Badly Do You Want a Steamed Bun?

OK, I know that New York is the city that never sleeps, and that New Yorkers pretty much go out seven nights a week, but I have to say I was really surprised (and somewhat impressed?) by the crowd at Momofuku Noodle Bar last night. As it was a Monday night, I assumed that delicious, tender buns and steamy, soothing bowls of ramen would be enjoyed in peace — but unfortunately I was let down on both ends.

On this particular Monday night, David Chang’s East Village location was packed. After we were seated at our crowded table and screamed our orders at our waitress, our food came out faster than we could think about it. Steamed pork buns provided the usual expected bites of tender, meaty pork belly paired with a thick Asian barbecue sauce and crunchy cucumber slices; shrimp buns were spread with a spicy mayo and blanketed around perfect fried patties of shrimp; and smoked chicken wings were sprinkled with pickled chiles and fresh scallions; and a big bowl of ramen came with smoked chicken, Swiss chard, and a poached egg.

Out of all of my experiences at Momofuku, this time the buns were among the driest I’ve had, but the shrimp patties were so good I would order them again. The chicken wings were repetitive, served in what I assumed was the same sauce as the pork buns, and the ramen bowl was disappointing. Split between three people, there weren’t enough ingredients to be divided among our bowls, and after trying hand-pulled noodles recently at another noodle bar in Las Vegas, I was thoroughly disappointed in the ones I had at Momofuku. I think they came out of a box. The broth was delicious but not nearly as spicy as I was expecting (seeing as it was listed as a Spicy Miso Soup on the menu).

All in all, the food experience was a little below par for me, and coupled with the packed house and screaming voices, I think I’ve learned to ask myself next time I decide to go out on a Monday night: how badly do I want those pork buns?


David Chang: New York's king of the pork belly bun

D avid Chang never set out to be the king of pork buns, and the fact that this is now the case is something he finds a little weird. As he puts it: "Can you imagine being Neil Diamond and having to sing 'Cracklin' Rosie' every time you get on stage for the rest of your life?" The whole thing was an accident. In 2004, Chang signed a lease on his first Manhattan restaurant, a noodle bar he called Momofuku, which means "lucky peach" in Japanese, but is also a nod to the inventor of instant noodles, Momofuku Ando. The menu was simple: ramen noodles with shredded pork, $7 Momofuku ramen with pork and a poached egg, $12 spicy noodles, $9 rice with chicken and egg, $10. The business was cash only. But he had no business to speak of. No one came. Chang would gaze on the "terrible" Japanese place across the street, which was always packed, and wonder what in hell he was doing wrong.

His luck only changed when he decided that if he was going to go bust, he should do it in style, and cook whatever he felt like. He added bowls of tripe and sweetbreads to the menu, and a Korean-inspired burrito. In time, it was normal for Chang to rock up for work and see a little crowd outside, waiting for him to open. But it was his pork buns that people were really mad for. "Every ticket started to have a pork bun on it," he says. "Four people would get four orders of pork buns. They're only pork belly sandwiches, and usually people are so afraid of fat. I didn't understand it. It's not like we reinvented the wheel." He shrugs. Six years on, 33-year-old Chang is the owner of six New York restaurants, one of which – Momofuku Ko – has two Michelin stars. Is it fair to say that he owes all this to pork buns? "Oh, yes. I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for pork belly."

What makes his pork buns so special? Chang wriggles on his banquette (we are in a London hotel he is here to publicise his Momofuku cookbook). "I've no idea! We needed stuff to fill out the menu, we had pork belly because ramen is pork-based, and there are only so many ways you can turn it into a dish. That's all. People say I'm playing dumb when I tell them this, but I'm not." Chang's pork is, however, served with hoisin sauce, pickles, cucumber and spring onions, exactly like the Peking duck served in most Chinese restaurants the difference is that he has swapped pancakes for the pillowy steamed bread that is more commonly eaten in northern China. Where did he get this idea? Apparently, he nicked it. "I've had more meals at Oriental Garden in Chinatown [in New York] than anywhere else, and they served their Peking duck with buns rather than pancakes." He asked the restaurant's owner, Mr Choi, how to make steamed buns – and was promptly directed to a Chinese restaurant supply company. He started using this company himself and, in his cookbook, he suggests that the home cook guiltlessly visits the freezer section of the nearest Chinese supermarket. Sure, they're perfectly easy to bake. But why kill yourself? After all, he built a small empire on bought-in buns.

Chang is the son of Korean immigrants and the food that he cooks is an inspired and occasionally counterintuitive fusion of Korean and the American. But then there are other twists. Chang grew up in Washington, and has relatives in Richmond, Virginia, which technically counts as the South. He also, as a young man, spent time working in kitchens in Japan. So, he knows his grits, his barbecue, and his ham and he also knows that, among other things, it takes 17 hours to make proper ramen. Combine all this with his technical expertise and you will understand that, on Chang's table, quite a lot is going on. He is perhaps the only chef in the world who can put kimchi – the spicy, fizzy, sweet-sour fermented cabbage he adores – on the same menu as his own riff on red-eye gravy. He makes these juxtapositions seem not just daring, but elegant, too. He turns out dishes of astonishing creativity and tastiness, but they are also, very often, humble, at least in origin. Chang's chicken wings, for instance, look like anyone else's chicken wings. Only when you stick one in your mouth, at which point you think: Jeez! How in God's name did he make these bits of gristle taste so good? Answer: they have been brined in a salt-and-sugar solution for a whole day, cold smoked over mesquite for 45 minutes, poached in a vat of pork fat for an hour and a half, browned on the grill, and then, finally, glazed in a chicken-infused soy sauce combined with mirin, garlic and pickled chilli peppers. There is a reverence for process in Chang's kitchens that you taste in every bite it makes perfect sense to discover that, at college in Connecticut, where he was a religious studies student, he wrote a thesis on Thoreau, a writer who believed that quotidian repetition and simple living can, in the end, lead a man to happiness and self-fulfillment.

But is Chang happy? Not exactly. Although he used to be known for his temper, and his excessive swearing, these days, he is much calmer. "Before I had my own restaurant, I was never top dog in the kitchen. I've always had a low opinion of myself as a cook. I was always yelled at by the chefs I worked for. It was like high school. You're the freshman, and the seniors are so cool, like gods I never thought I'd be one of them." He thinks this attitude may have something to do with his once having been a junior golf champion. "I was quite cocky, but having been hailed as this great young golfer, I couldn't even make the high school golf team once I got there. I had a big dose of humble pie then, and ever since, I've always known that there is always someone out there better than you, more talented. Always."

Chang's father, Joe, had just $50 to his name when he arrived in America. He started out as a dish washer, then opened a couple of restaurants before starting a golf supply business (it was successful enough that he was able to lend his son $200,000 when he decided to open his first noodle bar).

After college, and stints at the Mercer Kitchen and Craft, Chang knew he wanted to work as an apprentice in a Japanese noodle shop. His father knew a Korean businessman who had turned part of a Tokyo building into a ramen shop upstairs was a church and shelter for the homeless. The friend said he could work in the shop, and sleep in the shelter. Unfortunately, the ramenya turned out to be a dive. The chef wore only his underpants, no trousers or shirt, and tucked into his apron strings were greasy newspapers which, for some reason, he favoured over tea towels. He was also a chain smoker with a strong aversion to refrigerators. Chang was only able to stick it out for a few days. His next berth – a soba shop – was better, and the one after that – a kaiseki restaurant – a life-changing experience.

But he missed America and so, in the end, he went home. In New York, he chose to work for Daniel Boulud, on the grounds that Boulud was a superstar who had worked for "titans" such as Michel Guerard. He had jet lag the day he started there, and he felt like he still had jet lag the day he left. "I couldn't get to work early enough. No matter how early I got there, I was already behind when I walked through the door." He lasted five months, though he only left because his mother was ill, and he wanted to look after her.

His mother on the mend, he touched his father for a loan, and set up Momofuku on the site of an old chicken wing place in the East Village. He worked like a dog – and still does. He has no time for anything else. A few years ago, wanting to furnish his apartment, he went into Crate & Barrel, pointed at the nearest mocked-up room, and said: "Just give me all of that." Nothing has changed indoors since. As for a private life, am I kidding? His parents are desperate for him to find a nice Korean girl. "I wish! But it's so hard." Nor is he willing to respond to the siren call of television. "I do bits, but it's not something I'm comfortable with. I doubt I'd ever do television to the extent that, say, Gordon Ramsay has. It's always, to some degree, a reality show – or they want me to be yelling at people. 'Just get mad!' they say. I think you can be successful without it."

He is obsessed with standards, and worries aloud to me about the future of cooking. "People are getting famous now for serving food out of a truck, or for, well, pork buns. I don't know if I'm really pleased to be a part of that. I'm somewhat terrified of what the future holds, especially in America. I don't think we're producing the cooks we used to produce. I think a cook has to have a classical French foundation, and if not that then a classical Japanese foundation. Someone has to discipline the young chefs. Now if you ask a young chef who the Roux brothers were, they're not going to know, and they don't care that they don't know!" His face is as plump and as round as a baby's, but he sounds suddenly very old. I want to cheer him up. What's the dish he's most proud of? "My mum says everything I make is too salty," he says, with a forlorn laugh. Poor thing. If he wasn't due at Claude Bosi's kitchen at Hibiscus – the two of them are cooking a special tasting menu together – I would take him home and feed him a toasted cheese sandwich.

A postscript. All the talk of pork buns has left me plainly desperate to eat one. So Chang and I strike a deal: I will toddle over to Hibiscus while he is prepping for the big dinner, and he will feed me. This I duly do. There follows the strangest encounter. At 4pm Chang emerges from the kitchen, and makes his way, zen-like, through the dining room to the front desk, where I am waiting. He is very sweaty. In his hand is an oval-shaped stainless platter which he carries before him, butler-style, and on it is a single and somewhat exiguous pork bun. I pick it up, and put it in my mouth. It's great: warm and pillowy without, salty and sweet within. But I can't believe I'm only allowed one! "Don't I get another?" I say. He shakes his head. "No." He smiles, offers his hand, and then turns on his heel, back to the kitchen. Was he being priestly – it felt to me as if I'd just taken communion – or was he merely embarrassed at my having travelled for the best part of an hour merely to taste his oh-so-humble dish? I really don't know – though his delectable offering has stayed with me. I wonder when, exactly, I will get my seconds.


MOMOFUKU’d

ELV note: It was just announced this week that the executive chef of Momofuku Las Vegas (Michael Chen) left after only two months on the job. We doubt this will affect any of the food there, however, as the “executive chefs” in most celeb chef Strip restaurants are little more than functionaries, executing a menu that is pre-determined thousands of miles away. Our objections to the food (as you will read below) has much more to do the recipes as conceptualized, not as they were cooked.

ELV Note #2: The following review appears in this month’s issue of Desert Companion magazine.

UMAMI BOMBS AWAY!

It’s hard not to admire what Chef David Chang has done with Momofuku (“Lucky Peach” in Korean). What began as an eight-seat eatery in lower Manhattan in 2004 has spawned an empire that now stretches from Soho, New York to Sydney Australia. It’s also not hard, after eating your way through Momofuku, to sometimes wonder what all the shouting is about – shouting from the rooftops being what the influential New York food media has done almost from the day Chang opened. Once they laid the groundwork, social media took over, and for well over a decade, foodies the world over have been inundated with tales of Chang’s influence and ground-breaking cuisine.

When other chefs and restaurants went into recession hibernation in 2008, Chang kicked his expansion into high gear, opening noodle bars, Vietnamese restaurants and impossible-to-get-into joints in New York — expanding his brand while taking full advantage of the rise of the Millennials and their need to have something tasty (and Instagram-worthy) to eat. There are now five Momofukus in the world, more are planned, and to the delight of his fans, Las Vegas finally has one.

In the beginning, the entire Chang oeuvre consisted of barely a handful of items. Because of its small size, the original Momofuku Noodle Bar in lower Manhattan featured a few bowls of ramen, a couple of appetizers and some stuffed bao buns and that was it. On such bare bones was a food empire born.

The genius of Chang did was in upgrading those noodles, enriching the broth, and loading smoky bacon onto classic Korean and Japanese items that, until he came along, most Americans wouldn’t touch with a ten food chopstick. He also cooked (and seasoned) the Korean fried chicken like a real chef, and made a big deal about using better ingredients. No bottom bin ham for him. He used real Virginia country ham, Kurobuta pork, and the fluffiest bao he could find. He cured his own pickles too, (a big deal in 2004) and made sure everyone in the food media knew about it.

Most of all, though, Momofuku became all about umami — umami being the word for the intense, savory quality that only the densest, saltiest, most amino-acid rich foods (like steak, cheese, smoked meats and soy sauce) possess. In the Chang universe (then and now), it’s all about overwhelming your palate with this fifth taste (after sweet, sour, salty, and bitter). His food does this at the expense of delicacy and refinement but his audience didn’t seem to care one bit. Subtlety being as important to a David Chang meal as dialogue is in a Vin Diesel movie.

Thus will most of your meal be so umami-drenched that your palate will be screaming for mercy after several plates appear, each overloaded with whatever miso-shoyu-smoky-kombu concoction Chang can’t help buy incorporating into every bite.

If smoke is your thing, you’ll be in smoked hog heaven. By all means then, don’t miss the pork meatballs swimming in (you guessed it) plenty of smoked black-eyed peas. Is Momofuku’s pork ramen soup good? Yes, but it’s also so smoky that three sips in you will want to run up the white flag. Ditto the oysters Momofuku – the seafood essence of which is obliterated by smoky bacon bits. There’s also a smoked pork chop and roasted mussels on the menu, with the mussels being festooned with (wait for it) plenty of smoked Benton’s bacon. The food is so smoky here it ought to be sponsored by Marlboro.

When Chang and his troops are through pouring on the smoke, they find many other ways to up the umami ante. Sichuan rice cakes are thick stubby rice noodles smothered with pork sausage, while chilled spicy noodles get a heap of sausages and cashews to effectively overwhelm the interesting starches and spices beneath them – pork sausage and cashews being the belt and suspenders of the umami-overload universe.

After three trips around this menu, I threw in the towel. There are some good things to eat here – the spicy cod hotpot being good fish, well-treated the katsu chicken an old-fashioned, mushroom cream sauce delight – but by the time you get to them, you will have been drowned by a tsunami of umami. By all means get the pork belly buns (the ones that made Chang famous), but skip the chicken karaage version – they being sad and stringy. The vaunted rotisserie chicken comes with deep-fried bones (some edible, some not), and is not as good as it thinks it is.

What is good is the seating. You may have trouble getting one, but that’s only because every under-40 in Vegas seems to be beating a path to this second floor location in The Cosmopolitan these days. What they find is a large restaurant fronted by a long bar that itself is five times the length of the original operation. Beside that bar are a number of high tops – for waiting, drinking or overflow dining – and beyond them a huge open kitchen that looks like it could feed an army base. For its size, the room is remarkably comfortable, the tables well-spaced, and the noise level (relatively) civilized. Service is also top notch, with management and waiters who are well-versed in the food. The wine list is sinfully overpriced, and the sake/sochu list woefully sparse.

David Chang deserves a lot of credit. He made this food safe for aspirational foodies and non-Asians alike — folks with limited resources who wanted to hop on the foodie bandwagon and expand their knowledge of chewy noodles, miso broth and various edible esoterica. All of this was a treat when you were ducking into a teeny tiny noodle emporium for a quick fix of soup and a bao bun. To put an entire meal together from this food, however – after your taste buds have been bludgeoned into one-dimensional submission – is a big-box experience of a different order. If you still use party as a verb, and don’t mind that everything on your table tastes the same, you might feel right at home amongst all the umami.

Nothing about Momofuku is as good as its reputation, but in this day and age, that’s enough.


My Cook > Slow Cook and Starch

High, 4 hours

Starch: 0 minutes

During the cook, slice the cucumber into ⅛” slices. Place in a bowl and sprinkle with 1 tsp salt, 1 tbsp sugar. Toss to combine. Thinly slice the scallions. Return vegetables to fridge until the pork has finished cooking.

After the cook, remove pork belly from Suvie.

Slice pork width-wise into ¼” thick slices about 2-3” long. Arrange in two Suvie pans and broil for 8 minutes or until browned on both sides, flipping halfway through the broil.

Meanwhile, remove the buns from Suvie. Coat the inside of each bun with hoisin sauce, then sprinkle with scallions.

After the broil, remove the pork belly from Suvie. Divide pork and cucumbers between the buns. Top with sriracha to taste.

Nutrition

Nutrition Info per 1 Serving: Calories 391, Total Fat 19.2g. Sodium 1209mg, Carbs 35.3g, Protein 14g


Momofuku Noodle Bar

What’s not to love about noodles? Those slurpy, chewy strands go well with almost anything and are easily one of my favourite foods to eat. Noodle soups in particular have a special place in my heart. To me they represent comfort and warmth. I would happy tuck into a bowl of noodles every day.

Noodles as Momofuku Noodle Bar

I’ve wanted to go to Momofuku Noodle Bar for a long time. Having watched David Chang’s passion for ramen on Netflix, I knew that these would be something special.

This was at the top of my bucket list on our recent trip to New York. We went to the Colombus Circle restaurant, which is located on the top floor of the shopping centre.

Having done my research before visiting, I knew we’d probably have to wait for a table. It’s best to eat at off-peak times if you don’t want to wait. But if you do, there are plenty of shops for you to wander around until you’re notified by text message when your table is ready. We end up waiting almost two hours for a table of five. You can bet we were super hungry by the time we got in!

View from the noodle bar seats

We are seated at the noodle bar, which is one of the best spots to sit in the restaurant in my opinion. This is where you get to see all the action and watch chefs fire up the grill, assemble pork buns and pour steaming hot bowls of ramen. It’s mesmerising to watch.

Pork Buns – 13 USD

Momofuku is where the modern pork bun craze started, and it’s easy to see why – these buns are delicious and moreish. Each bun is bulging with a thick slab of pork belly, which is braised then grilled just before being served. The steamed bun is light and pillow-like.

Seared Shrimp Buns- 13 USD

To our surprise, we loved these shrimp buns even more than the pork buns. Inside the burger-style bun is a shrimp patty, pickled red onion, lettuce and spicy mayo. The shrimp patty is an ingenious idea for a bun filling – it’s bouncy, juicy and flavoursome. Yum.

Smoked Pork Ramen – 18 USD

Don’t expect traditional soup bases like tonkotsu or miso at Momofuku. This pork ramen is a prime example. The both the pork slab and broth are imbued with a distinctive smoky flavour that’s not too subtle nor too punchy. It kind of feels like I’m having a ham ramen (in a good way). There is a scoop of spicy paste that’s served on top which adds warmth and zing.

House made ramen noodles

The noodles are made in house and they’re the perfect texture. The thin strands have a springy, toothsome bite to them. The texture is perfect for absorbing the flavour of the tasty broth.

Beef Brisket Ramen – 19 USD

This ramen seems more like an Asian-style beef noodle soup than a traditional ramen. The soup is lighter than the pork base and the braised brisket is sliced simply.

Momofuku is the place to go if you’re after superb buns and innovative ramen. The sides and larger dishes sound delicious but unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to try them on our visit. I’m not sure if it’s worth a two hour wait (but then again, I don’t think anywhere is worth eating if you have to wait two hours), but I’m very glad I got to taste Momofuku’s delicious ramen.


Strawberry & Cream Croissant French Toast For Your Weekend Brunch

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NYC: Momofuku Noodle Bar’s Fried Chicken

Ever since I gathered a group of friends for the Bo Ssäm at Momofuku’s Ssäm Bar earlier last year, which by the way was probably one of my more memorable meals of 2012, I’ve been wanting to try more of David Chang’s epic large format meals for groups.

Momofuku is definitely a New York staple and the Noodle Bar is the restaurant that started it all. I first heard about Chang’s chicken when I saw the Fried Chicken challenge on Season 10 of Top Chef, where the contestants headed to Tom’s home to cook for a table full of culinary superstars including David Chang himself. The chef who cooked their chicken the “Momofuku” way received a lot of praise, so I knew I had to see what this was all about.

The regular menu, we only ordered sides of pork buns!
The Yuzu Arnold Palmer Slushie is SOOO GOOD!

The Noodle Bar, as its name suggests, specializes in noodles from Japanese Ramen to Chinese Ginger Scallion Noodles. However, if you make a reservation early in advance, you can pre-order the fried chicken. I’ll get to that later.

First, let’s talk about the pork buns that I’ve heard so much about. In case you haven’t heard already, pork buns are the shit. Usually made with perfectly braised pork belly that’s sandwiched in a neat fluffly white steamed bun. Little bites of heaven. So when you talk about pork buns in New York City, the two that are worth talking about are the ones at Ippudo, or at Momofuku.

Now that I’ve finally had the two, I think I have to say that I’m still a fan of the Ippudo version which is served with a crunch ice berg lettuce and kewpie mayo that helps balance out some of the bold marinaded flavors from the pork belly. However, if you’re in it for the portion size of the pork, I say Momofuku wins.

Onwards to the fried chicken…

The huge plate of chicken is quite the spectacle and we’re all very excited to eat it!!

The Fried Chicken at Momofuku is served two ways. They take 2 whole chickens, and fry them one southern style and one korean style.

Southern Style means its fried with a buttermilk and old bay batter, giving it a really thick crust that gives an extra crunch on the skin. Korean Style means its fried – THREE TIMES – first lightly dusted with flour and the crunch comes from the chicken being fried again and again. Then it’s glazed with a light spicy sauce.

This $100 order of Fried Chicken comes with mu shu pancakes which acts like a tortilla for you to make fried chicken tacos with. It also comes with veggies that came in clutch to lighten the heavy meal of the greasy goodness. We had bibb lettuce, shiso leaves, red ball radishes, baby carrots and four sauces exactly like what accompanied the Bo Ssäm: ginger-scallion, kimchi, minced kimchi and kochujang sauces.

This order is said to feed 4-8 people. However, our group had 4 guys and 5 girls and we were all stuffed by the end of it, so I’d say the more the merrier!

So what’s the verdict on this Fried Chicken meal? Is this the best Southern Fried Chicken I’ve ever had? No, I wish the pieces weren’t as big as they were, the breast pieces were really dried out and I didn’t absolutely love the skin on them. It was a bit thick and too crunchy, but not necessarily in a good way. What can I say, I just might like my chicken from Popeye’s just that much more? (With a side of their amazing red beans and rice too!)

As for the Korean Fried Chicken, it definitely doesn’t compare to the best fried chicken in Manhattan – and perhaps the world– Mad for Chicken in K-Town. Momofuku’s version just lacked the type of crispy lightness that I’ve found at Mad for Chicken, where with a bite into the chicken, the skin falls off and the sauce covering just the right balance between savory and sweet. I would say even Bon Chon does it better in terms of the sauce, but perhaps not the freshness. Also, this sauce is pretty spicy, so my non-spicy friends, beware!

The only reason why I would ever come back is because the cost for this Momofuku meal is pretty affordable for what you get, especially in Mahattan. This meal will set you back

$15 if you split the $100 order of chicken with 7 others. In addition to all the unlimited veggies and pancake wraps, you get a shared experience of that moment of awe as the waiter brings out the mound of deep-fried goodness.

Overall, whatever was lacking in the two Fried Chickens was made up for by the mu shu pancakes, sauces and garnishes. Not good enough for me to plan the dinner again, but I wouldn’t be opposed to coming back, however I would convince the planner to consider getting a Bo Ssäm at Ssam Bar instead first.


Momofuku Noodle Bar: How Badly Do You Want a Steamed Bun? - Recipes

2 green onions, finely sliced on a diagonal, for garnish

Preheat oven to 425°F. Line a baking pan with parchment paper and place the chicken wings on the paper in single layer. Bake for 40-45 minutes, turning the chicken wings over halfway during the cooking process. While chicken is baking, make the vinaigrette. Combine together the remaining ingredients together in a large bowl, big enough to fit all of the chicken, and toss the wings in the vinaigrette to coat. Garnish with the chopped green onion and serve.




Recipe from Momofuku Cookbook by David Chang

2 tbsp very thinly sliced cilantro stems, plus 1/2 cup leaves
3 tbsp chopped mint
2-pounds brussels sprouts - smaller ones are better
Grapeseed or other neutral oil, as needed

Fish Sauce Vinaigrette:
1/2 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup water
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup sugar
1 garlic clove, minced
1 to 3 red bird’s-eye chiles, thinly sliced, seeds intact


The New Momofuku Noodle Bar Injects Mischief and Delight Into Mall Dining

The most exciting meal of Julia Child’s life, by her own account, was a 1948 lunch of Dover sole meuniere. Served at a small auberge in Normandy, the fish came in a “sputtering” butter sauce, while the delicate flesh exhibited a “light but distinct taste of the ocean,” she wrote. Nearly 75 years later, sole remains a staple of European and stateside fine dining, where it’s prepared in a way that suggests not much has changed since the postwar era. Wait captains normally debone the fish tableside, pair it with a restrained sauce, and sometimes toss in a few capers.

The restaurants selling these skinless fillets — inevitably starchy institutions with Continental overtones — will charge anywhere from $62 to $100. It is a very pretty dish. Usually.

One wonders what Child would’ve thought of the version at David Chang’s slyly thrilling Momofuku Noodle Bar in Midtown. Alongside the porky ramen, chickpea soft serve, and frozen banana daiquiris, there is a Dover sole that has evolved — or devolved — a touch more than others. It is neither delicate nor pretty.

No tableside service here. Patrons watch as cooks, under the aegis of chef Tony Kim, unceremoniously griddle the sole, pressing a weight against it for a hard sear. Waiters present the fish skin on and head on this is unusual for a flatfish, a group of maritime creatures that look like they were run over by a tractor trailer. The flesh, firmer and springier than a fluke’s but just as neutral, acts a conduit for fermented red and green chiles, served in ramekins, while the coral-hued skin recalls the tannic complexity of matcha or nori. It doesn’t taste as much of the ocean as it does of seaweed, acid, and fire. It is a regal fish reimagined as bar food.

The cost is just $43 here at the Time Warner Center, home to the city’s densest collection of offensively priced restaurants. It’s as if Chang is saying: “We can cook with the same obvious luxuries as our neighbors, do more with them, and charge less. Not bad for a chain restaurant on the third floor of a shopping mall.

Dover sole with fermented chiles

Chang, who rose to celebrity status as an expletive-spewing chef bent on dressing down fine dining and subverting culinary traditions, is not an empire builder in the typical sense. He doesn’t Xerox fine dining temples like the late Joel Robuchon or overpriced steakhouses a la Wolfgang Puck. Almost all of his sit-down concepts are genuinely unique, from Seiobo, a Caribbean-Australian tasting counter in Sydney, to Nishi, an Asian-Italian pasta place in New York, to Majordomo, an haute-rustic hotspot in Los Angeles.

But Noodle Bar — along with his Fuku fast-food outlets — appears slated for interplanetary replication. Chang runs three of them, in the East Village, Time Warner, and Toronto, or arguably four, as the Las Vegas Momofuku borrows heavily from the chain’s repertoire of ramen, pork buns, and fried chicken.

Given how much culinary risk Chang takes elsewhere — not to mention that fact that his venture capital backers will likely want a return on their investment — it would be understandable if Noodle Bar turned out to be the chef’s carbon-copy money maker.


These soft pillows of porky goodness were life changing. The first time I ate at Momofuku was at the Momofuku Noodle Bar in Manhattan, the original location. I will never forget my first bites of those Steamed Pork Buns: the soft pork belly, the sweet hoisin sauce, and oh my, the melt in your mouth steamed buns that amalgamate the flavours of the dish to create the most delicious of experiences. My boss Dana and I thought they were so delicious we ordered another two each for dessert, I barely even remember the ramen I had for the main course. These buns are that good.

In the past few years chef David Chang has opened up several other Momofuku restaurants around the globe, including Toronto. So obviously when Adam and I were in Toronto over spring break last year, I had to eat at the newly opened Momofuku on University Avenue and introduce Adam to the Steamed Pork Buns.

Momofuku has four restaurants in one at the Toronto location. On the ground floor is the Noodle Bar, where we had lunch that frosty February day. Look at what a tourist I am being taking photos outside while Adam impatiently waits to go inside:

The Noodle Bar is modern, minimalist and really freaking cool. There are huge industrial windows, long oak communal tables, and light wooden blocks adorn the walls, stacked on top of each other in a Tetris-style pattern up to the vaulted ceilings. Nikai, the lounge, overlooks the noodle bar from the top of a giant concrete staircase, and the whole place is buzzing with people.

We decided to order the pork buns and share a bowl of ramen. More about the ramen later, let’s have a look at these delicious pork buns that I have been building up so much:

How white is that bun? How moist is that pork? THESE BUNS ARE JUST SO GOOD! The steamed bun is perfectly soft and fluffy, and the pork belly is so juicy and flavourful. The hoisin sauce has the perfect amount of tang, and the cucumbers and scallions add the exact amount of crunch to balance out these hand held delights. These buns are really what sky-rocketed David Chang and Momofuku into celebrity chef status, and I know why. They are tasty, simple, yet one would have a hard time duplicating their perfection. (I have a recipe at the bottom of this post if you want to try!)

The ramen was also awesome, but clearly the supporting actor in our meal. The noodles we ordered, the Dan Dan Mein, consisted of ramen noodles, spicy pork, dried scallops, and peanuts. It was simple, spicy, and pretty darn delicious.

Adam was delighted with the pork buns and the ramen, and clearly I really enjoyed the food at Momofuku, as did the man behind me digging into his ramen.

Overall, Momofuku, Toronto edition, was awesome. I was blown away when I looked at the ratings on Urbanspoon and saw it’s dismal scoring: it is definitely not representative of how great the service is and how amazing the dishes are. Go and try it the next time you are in Toronto!

If you aren’t going to be in Toronto, Manhattan, or Sydney, Australia anytime soon and you are ambitious enough to try and replicate these babies, then here is a great link to the recipe, given by David Chang himself. It also details how these beloved pork belly sandwiches were almost left off the menu (gasp!).

Momofuku Pork Buns

And if you are really brave, you can even try and make the buns yourself too!

Momofuku Steamed Buns
Things Worth Mentioning…

Cost: For 2 beer and orders of pork buns and ramen to share, it was around 40$ before tip, totally reasonable for lunch. The Noodle Bar has a great price range, if you want high end Momofuku, you need to head to the third floor to Shoto for the 150$ ten course tasting menu (ah, someday).

Things I liked: The decor, the amazing art installation outside the front door (installation by Zhang Huan) and obviously the pork buns.

Things I didn’t: That I didn’t get to eat more pork buns.

Best Place to Sit: Anywhere along the long communal tables or at the bar on a busy day, seating everywhere is ideal.

What To Order Next Time: The namesake ramen, and dessert, preferably the rice pudding.


Watch the video: Momofuku Steamed Buns