Manhattan, New York – Momofuku Noodle Bar

Restaurant: Momofuku Noodle Bar
Cuisine: Japanese/Asian/Noodle Shop/Fusion
Last visited: September 5, 2011
Location: Manhattan, NY (East Village)
Address: 171 1st Ave (Between 10th & 11th St)
Nearby subway stop: 1 Ave
Price Range: $10-20 (Closer to $20-25/person)

1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: Tres Excellent!!

Food: 3.5-4
Service: 3
Ambiance: 4
Overall: 3.54
Additional comments:

  • Since August 2004
  • First Momofuku restaurant
  • Famous for ramen & pork buns
  • Steamed pork buns originated here
  • Asian fusion menu
  • Modern feel/food
  • Seasonal menus
  • Daily specials
  • Very popular to locals/tourists
  • Long waits/lines
  • Very casual
  • Beer/wine
  • mon – fri / 12 pm – 4:30 pm
  • sat + sun / 12 pm – 4 pm
  • sun – thurs / 5:30 pm – 11 pm
  • fri + sat / 5:30 pm – 2 am

**Recommendations: Shrimp Buns, and Steamed Pork Buns, and Pork Kimchi Tamale. I didn’t find the ramen a highlight (surprisingly) and I would recommend going to Ippudo for ramen, but if you order it here then just go for the  signature Momofuku Ramen.

I saw the crowd outside before I saw the actual restaurant. The crowd never went away and you can expect long lines especially at peak hours. I waited about 30 minutes, but it’s typical to wait for 45 minutes to an hour. I had to do it though. I had to try the Momofuku flagship restaurant. It’s where it all started.

Just like Momofuku restaurants Má Pêche and Milk Bar, and many other good restaurants in New York, the signage sucks. They do it on purpose and as a tourist it drives me insane, but you’re sure to find the line up of such a successful place.

So what’s the big deal? What’s the hype about Momofuku Noodle Bar? Well, it’s David Chang’s very first Momofuku restaurant leading to his empire. It’s where everything started. It’s where ramen was first introduced and made popular to New York. It’s where the Steamed Pork Buns got famous, which also launched David Chang’s name and his Momofuku brand to international recognition. It pretty much started the craze and love the city has for these two items to this very date.

You don’t understand, or maybe you do, but let me put it into perspective so that we’re on the same page. Steamed pork buns and ramen are equivalent to the cupcake cult of 2002-2009. Momofuku Noodle Bar is the Sprinkles Cupcakery, and they’re the apparent ones to start it all in their respective categories.

Okay, now after I’ve hyped you up, let me bring you back down to Earth. Yes, it was first to introduce these items to New York and make it popular, but it wasn’t the first to introduce it ever. No. Ramen and steamed pork buns have existed for centuries in Japanese, Chinese and Taiwanese culture. Anyways it’s great that they have become mainstream and enjoyed by various cultures, but now there’s competition and there is better than this.

Momofuku Noodle Bar is good and it was a New York foodie experience, but you will be paying for the brand. In a nutshell, they’re serving the same thing but everything has increased in price, and likely not because the ingredients have gotten more expensive.

The food is catered for Western tastes, so don’t expect authentic, although some of it is supposed to be. They do specialize in modern Asian fusion cuisine, so it is understandable that it won’t be traditional of one cuisine. Even the majority of staff and chefs aren’t Japanese, or Asian, much like the clientele, but it doesn’t mean it’s not good.

My experience here was more satisfying than Má Pêche, because it wasn’t as overpriced, but the food was stronger there, but also smaller portions. I did more or less enjoy Momofuku Noodle Bar, but I did leave thinking “it must get better than this in New York”. I wouldn’t oppose to trying more things, but I just expected everything to be great for being such a Mecca.

On the table:

Tamales (Daily Special) – 3/6

  • Pork kimchi, chicken mole verde, jalapeno queso $3 each/$8 all
  • This sounded so interesting to me and it was the first time I’ve come across the menu item.
  • It’s obviously a modern dish which combined Mexican and Asian cuisine. It was like tamales meets steamed sticky rice at dim sum.
  • I loved the concept, but it wasn’t very well executed, especially the tamale dough.

**Pork Kimchi Tamale4/6

  • The tamale dough was dense and a bit dried out so that they broke apart instead of being creamy and tender.
  • The filling was great though and this was easily the best of the 3.
  • The pork was melt in your mouth tender, juicy and fatty without being chewy or gelatinous, or overly greasy. I just wanted more of it.
  • It was pretty much pulled pork marinated in kimchi sauce, which is new to my palate, and again I give Chef Chang credit for introducing this to me.
  • The pork was sweet, tangy, garlicky and a bit spicy and just well made, and I wish I could say the same for the tamale dough.

Chicken Mole Tamale2.5/6

  • I’m not sure where the “mole” part was because the sauce seemed like a salsa verde or tomatillo sauce.
  • I was expecting chicken in a nutty chili chocolate sauce (what mole is), but there was none.
  • The chicken was good though and it was almost like pulled chicken. It was moist and tender and a bit lemony from some fresh lime juice marinade.
  • The green sauce tasted like a spicy salsa verde, which is different since salsa verde is usually mild.
  • Again the tamale dough was dense and a bit dry and bitty rather than creamy, soft and tender. It was almost like what would happen if they were frozen…

Jalapeno Queso1.5/6

  • The tamale dough was very dry with this one and it was extra thick and lacking roasted vegetable filling and queso (Mexican cheese).
  • The dough was breaking into chunks and I really feel like this one was previously frozen.
  • There were some sweet peppers and spicy roasted jalapenos and it was a bit cheesy, but I pretty much ate the filling and left the rest.
  • Besides being a vegetarian option, I just didn’t get where it was going.

Corn Chawanmushi2.5/6

  • Duck prosciutto, plum, almond $10
  • I love authentic Japanese Chawanmushi (savoury egg custard or pudding), and I thought this would be at least similar to that, but it was pretty much a new dish entirely.
  • I wouldn’t call this chawanmushi. It was more like a tofu salad.
  • It was served chilled, and chawanmushi is always served hot, so that was unexpected.
  • I thought the ingredients would be more incorporated into the egg custard, but it was placed on top like a salad.
  • It was almost like eating two dishes. The topping was one and the custard seemed like another and I couldn’t find the connection.
  • I’m a fan of sweet and savoury and  interesting and unusual sounding dishes, but this one was just a bit all over and I was excited to try it too.

  • The chawanmushi was stiffer and not as silky as chawanmushi usually is.
  • There’s usually some broth (dashi) after you break into the custard, but this one had none.
  • I thought it was going to be sweet from the corn, but the flavour was almost like black sesame with plum wine.
  • I think it could have been made from boiled corn husk, which doesn’t carry much flavour. It was slightly savoury, but bland.
  • The flavour was very je ne sais quoi, but not really in a gourmet kind of way. The colour of it was throwing me off too.
  • Everything eaten together had textural contrast, but it was also a bit random and deconstructed.
  • It was like eating tofu with chewy salty prosciutto that wasn’t fried crispy, but as is. I love duck prosciutto, but the buttery texture together with tofu was a bit odd.
  • There was some pickled sweet plum slices, but eating that with a tofu like base was kind of unusual as well.
  • The nuts added crunch but it didn’t play into any of the other flavours.
  • I ate it, and each individual ingredient was good, but I was left confused overall.

**Steamed Pork Buns5/6

  • Hoisin, scallion, cucumber $10
  • I tried them first at Má Pêche (see here) and I found them a bit underwhelming and overpriced so I wanted to give them another try since they did look better here.
  • They were better here. They had more colour and ingredients and the pork wasn’t all fat this time. They’re are meant to be fatty, but last time was too much.
  • This is the signature Momofuku dish that made David Chang so famous and it is a must try item if you come.
  • Of course it’s good, it’s fat, and I think it just made people realize how much they like chunks of fatty pork.
  • It is considered to be one of the best in the city, although it may not be the best in the city. It’s like debating the best pizza in New York.
  • For reference sake, here an authentic version, see Taiwanese Steamed Sandwich (Koah-Pau) at Delicious Cuisine in Richmond, BC.
  • Totally different styles, but the Steamed Pork Buns from Redd in Yountville are memorable as well.

  • These are pretty small and extremely rich and indulgent, so I can handle only one of them. It is a treat!
  • The pork was creamy and buttery moist pork belly and it was so tender it almost seemed sous vide.
  • It is roasted, but it’s not smoky and there’s no crispy skin. It comes across as braised.
  • They are fatty, and they’re supposed to be, but there was a decent amount of meat to balance it out. The fat is not chewy at all.
  • They marinate in a brine so they’re infused with flavour, but it’s just savoury and slightly sweet and it still carries its natural pork flavour.
  • It really is likely one of the most tenderest pork bellies you’ll come across, so they are executed very well.
  • I liked the refreshing crunch of cucumbers and then sweetness of the Hoisin under a soft pillowy light steamed bun, which was a highlight.
  • If you’re familiar with the dish it may not surprise you, but for what they are, they still are excellent, but just overpriced.

**Shrimp Buns6/6

  • Spicy mayo, pickled shallot, iceberg $12
  • I actually enjoyed these more then the pork ones! It’s a bit comparing apples to oranges, but I found them more flavourful.
  • It was almost like Ebi Mayo in the same light and thin pillowy soft and tender steamed bun that was used for the pork.
  • The shrimp was executed as a terrine.
  • It was well marinated in perhaps a sweet Thai chili sauce and it was all shrimp with no fillers.
  • It was sliced into patties so the shrimp wasn’t in its whole state, but it was in whole pieces.
  • The patty breaks into pieces of shrimp and it was very lightly deep fried with a very light dusting of flour if anything.
  • The shrimp almost seemed loosely stacked upon one another and it wasn’t doughy, floury or pureed. It was simply savoury, sweet, tender, juicy and crunchy shrimp pieces! I loved it.
  • It was slightly crispy and then the sweet and spicy mayo gave it a nice kick and the pickled shallot brought a great tangy balance.
  • Some crispy fried shallots would have been a great addition, or maybe even garlic chips for extra crunch.

Momofuku Ramen4/6 (as a modern ramen)

  • Pork belly, pork shoulder, poached egg $16
  • The Momofuku Ramen is known to be the first to be introduced to New York.
  • The ramen is good, but it is catered for Western tastes and I did find Ippudo in New York better and more authentic. It could get better than Ippudo, but I didn’t have time to explore and Ippudo was satisfying enough that I could stop there.
  • On the other hand I found Ramen Santouka in Vancouver, BC just as good if not even better than Ippudo.
  • This was Western in style because of the broth and even the toppings used. You can tell just by looking at it.
  • The broth was mild and not nearly as rich, creamy, milky and greasy with pork fat flavour as an authentic Japanese ramen would be. This was much healthier.
  • The broth was savoury and clear but not as obvious with pork flavour. It was there, but compared to traditional Japanese ramen, it was light.
  • The real pork bone flavor had oddly sunk to the bottom of the bowl, and that’s when I could actually taste strong pork flavour.
  • They didn’t roast the pork bones, so it was a Northern Japanese style ramen bowl.
  • The toppings were modern and it had Napa cabbage, which is very Chinese.
  • It also didn’t have any traditional black wood ear mushrooms or bamboo shoots.

  • The egg was bubbly and almost poached or maybe sous vide. A traditional one would have a soft boiled egg more like this, so this was new.
  • I did miss the orange colour of an organic egg, but I’ll let it go.
  • The egg was still fantastic with a runny yolk, but it was just different and modern for ramen.
  • The noodles should be thicker, but with how they executed the broth, the thinner version was okay. It was chewy, nice and firm, and that was quite good.
  • The pork wasn’t slices of BBQ pork (authentic style), but it was a piece of pork belly and a pile of pork shoulder.
  • The chunks of pork shoulder were creamy, juicy, tender and full of moist pork flavour, and the pork belly was also tender, but the piece was so small.
  • Overall I wanted more pork, and although this was good ramen, I prefer the traditional version. I guess it’s incomparable, but if this is meant to be authentic, it’s not, but it can be still enjoyed with the appropriate clientele.
  • It’s almost like Pad Thai made with Ketchup, not authentic, but it can be good.

Hanger Steakn/a

  • Kimchi, potatoes, watercress $16
  • I didn’t try this, because it was an order from the table beside me who let me take a photo. It was a “big plate”, but it was very tiny.

Pretzel Cake Truffles n/a

  • $4
  • These are from Momofuku’s Milk Bar, which I tried (see here).
  • This also wasn’t my order, so I didn’t try it.

The table never finished them and said they were too sweet though. I found the other desserts at Milk Bar to be sweet as well, so I take their word for it.

If you want  another type of dessert, I would also suggest going around the corner to Veniero’s Pasticceria & Caffe (342 E 11th St), which is one of New York’s oldest and most beloved family owned bakeries. They’re famous for cannoli and cheesecake, but offer a lot of other pastries and desserts. I had dessert elsewhere, but I did always see this place packed. Next time!
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