Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Momofuku Noodle Bar, NYC

Ah, the Momofuku empire.  You've read about other experiences I have had with it, like at Momofuku Nishi last year for Korean Italian, with insanely tasty butter noodles.  And of course all the visits to  Milk Bar, the chain of bakeries featuring shockingly good cookiesamazing soft serve ice cream, and cakes and truffles.  I still haven't been to Fuku for the fried chicken, or Ko for an extensive multi course menu, or Ssäm Bar, or any of the locations outside New York.

But I'm slowly making my way through them all, mostly out of novelty.  I know there are better eats in New York, at any price point.  But each Momofuku restaurant is a very unique concept, and it certainly is not the case that if you've gone to one, you've gone to the others.  I'm rather fascinated by the "chain", but also, I do find something unique and flavorful in every visit.  So for this trip, we picked out Noodle Bar.

Noodle Bar does not accept reservations, but our group of 3 arrived around 6:30pm, and were seated immediately, although waits quickly formed by the door.  I think we were among the last to get seated without a wait.
Feast for 3.
Overall, it was an ok experience.  I'll admit that I was very stressed out with work and almost cancelled my plans, so I was certainly distracted.  The environment itself was not inviting nor comfortable, much like Nishi.

The food was good, interesting, but not amazing.  I did enjoy some unique, flavorful bites however (like the toppings on the chilled spicy noodles!)

Service fast and attentive.  I'd return if someone wanted to, but would not seek it out.


I complained in my review of Nishi about the uncomfortable seating.  Noodle Bar has the same setup.  It was freezing inside.  And loud.  We were not comfortable at any point during this meal.
Communal Tables.
There are 5 or 6 large communal tables with the same backless stools we sat on at Nishi.  No where to put your bags, no where to rest your back.  Seats were close together, and the phrase "rubbing elbows with your neighbor" took on new meaning.  Worse was the back to back tables, with barely any room between them, so as each party got seated or got up, or when servers came by, someone was hit in the back or on the head.  Constantly.

On the tables was chopsticks and napkins in holders spread out down the table.
Open Kitchen.
There is also counter seating, also backless stools, along the open kitchen.  Here you can watch the action of the cooks on the multiple planchas, and hear the clamor of a real working kitchen.
Back Kitchen.
Adjacent to that area is the back kitchen, also full of action.
Ssäm Ssauce.
"Ssäm Sauce is a spicy and tangy Korean chili sauce. Variations of Ssäm Sauce have been a staple in the pantry of the Momofuku kitchens throughout the years. Our Ssäm Sauce is made with gochujang, a traditional, umami-rich Korean chili paste, as well as miso, sake, soy sauce, and rice vinegar."

On each table, along with cheap wooden chopsticks that break and splinter easily, is the famous Momofuku Ssäm sauce.

That sauce is magic.  Just trust me.  Add it to anything and everything, and flavor just bursts forth.  For me, a surprising thing is that it didn't mask flavor, even though a very intense sauce on its own, it just seemed to enhance everything.  Loved it. 

Definitely use generously, particularly on noodles.  I resisted stealing the bottle (I'm joking, and you can buy several different versions directly from them of course).

Food & Drink

Just like Momofuku Nishi, all dishes are designed for sharing, and arrive as soon as ready.  Our first course arrived in just a few minutes, and others quickly followed.  We were provided with share plates and some share utensils (although not really what we needed to do the job).
The food menu is one page, broken into categories of appetizers, bread, noodles, plates, snacks, and a single dessert.

We opted for one appetizer, 3 breads, and 2 noodles for 3 of us.  It was too much food, we had extra.

The single dessert option, miso soft serve, sounded good, and if the environment had been more comfortable, we would have stayed for it.


Tap water was provided when we sat down, and glasses were kept full the entire time.
Drink Menu.
The drink menu has a few options for beer, cider, and wine, plus sake (only one kind), soju (two options, plus a slushie!), and some soft drinks and teas. And one item I was unfamiliar with: makkoli.
Makku 'Premium Makgeolli',  New York, NY. $9.
I decided to get it, out of novelty.  It delivered more novelty than I imagined.

For one, it is served in a can.  No glass provided.  And ... its upside down.  The can has instructions on it that you need to turn it, because of the natural sediment.

While I don't mind drinking out of a can, it was really strange to drink out of something with the writing upside down the whole time!  That said, I did enjoy it.  It reminded me a bit of unfiltered sake.  It was refreshing, flavorful, and went well with the food.


The appetizers section of the menu is all light offerings, mostly vegetables, or raw seafood.  From here, we selected one dish, mostly just to have some veggies.
Pea Shoots. $8.
"Asian pear, sesame, chili vinaigrette."

The moment this dish was placed in front of us, my companions both said, "Did we order this?"

"Uh, its the pea shoots?" I said, confused, because we clearly discussed ordering the pea shoots.  "But its lacking the peas?" was the response.  "It is pea shoots ..." I said.  The other followed with "Oh, I've only ever seen those cooked".  This theme of my companions being confused by the dishes we ordered and discussed would continue through the meal.  

Anyway, this was ... fine.  Just some pea shoots in a spicy vinaigrette.  The shoots were fresh, crisp, bright, but it was just a salad.  I appreciated that it was different though . A middle of the road pick for me, just based on uniqueness.


The entire next section of the menu is called "bread".  Normally, I'm not one to bother filling my stomach space with bread, but, it was the bread dishes I was most interested in.  The steamed buns are what Momofuku is really known for.
Bing Bread.
We started with the bing bread.

Warm, buttered bread, I think cooked on a plancha?  It was a bit like a buttery denser naan.  It was ... fine, but just bread.

However, it is not served plain, rather, it comes with your choice of dips, either carrot & butter, or chickpea hozon & eggplant.  We selected the later.
Dip: Chickpea Hozon & Eggplant. $8.
Do you need a refresh in chickpea hozon?  My companions did, even though they had it at Momofuku Nishi with me several months earlier.

"Hozon is a fermented, stone-ground seasoning made in the style of miso paste. Chickpeas provide a sweetness and lightness to this seasoning while also allowing for tremendous depth. Chickpea Hozon invites a wide variety of applications. Use it in every way you would a traditional miso paste or savory seasoning, as well as mixed with other umami-rich foods like vinegars, mushrooms, tomatoes, cheeses, and meats."

Now, I don't like chickpeas.  Or eggplant really.  But I remembered loving the chickpea hozon in the buttered noodles at Nishi, so, this was an easy pick.

Unfortunately, it was ... just eggplant dip (akin to babaganoush), topped with chickpea dip (like hummus), with crispy chickpeas on top.  I appreciated it for the texture, and the fried chickpeas were enjoyed by my companions, but as someone who doesn't want to taste chickpea, that is really all there was to this for me.

Hummus, babaganoush, and naan ... just not the dish for me.  Our overall least favorite. 
Shrimp Buns. $13
"Spicy mayo, pickled red onion, iceberg. "

Next up, buns.  Momofuku makes 3 kinds, the signature pork belly ones, a veggie version, and these, shrimp.  All come in pairs.

Since one companion doesn't eat pork, and the other and I tend to eat a lot of pork belly, we skipped those, since they just weren't that novel to us.  Plus, I had read great things about the shrimp version, even though one companion was skeptical.  I tried to explain that it wasn't just shrimp stuffed into a bun.  Still, both my companions were surprised when these arrived. 

The buns were good.  Soft, fluffy, warm bao.  Filled inside with tasty spicy mayo, a little bit of shredded iceberg, a pickled onion or two, and a huge shrimp patty.  The patty was a firm texture, mostly shrimp, not filler, juicy.  While I appreciate the big patty, it was a bit hard to eat, as it was much bigger than the bun itself.

Overall, this was fine, a generous portion, but I didn't find myself very excited by it.  Middle pick, just above the pea shoots.
Shiitake Buns. $13.
"Hoisin, scallion, cucumber."

We all preferred the vegetarian buns.  Yes, my companions were surprised by this item as well.

These buns were also overflowing with filling, this time, crispy bits of shiitake.  I loved the texture, similar to mushroom "bacon" I've had before.  Great chew.  We all loved the hoisin sauce in here, and I liked adding ssam sauce to these too.

The bun was the same, soft, fluff, fine, and the cucumber was a bit of freshness.  My second favorite dish, although I think it would be even better with the spicy mayo.  I love creamy sauces!


We were at Momofuku Noodle Bar, after all, so we finally moved on to the noodles section of the menu.  From here however, we didn't order ramen.  As reviewers often note, there are better places to get ramen.  When we ordered our noodle selection, the server was sure to tell us that the didn't have broth, to make sure we knew what we were doing.
Ginger Scallion Noodles. $15.
"Pickled shiitakes, cucumber, nori."

First up, the sole vegetarian entree sized dish, ordered by our pescatarian guest.

I tried a few bites.  They were ... noodles.  Decent ginger flavor.  I liked the flavor in the marinated pickled shiitakes.  But overall boring.  Second to last pick.
Chilled Spicy Noodles. $16.
"Sichuan sausage, Thai basil, cashews."

My companions were very confused when this dish arrived, as they didn't really know what to expect (as in, they entirely missed the fact that we weren't getting soups, even though they had questioned me on getting chilled noodles).  "The form factor confuses me," said one.

I however knew to expect green noodles (more on that soon!), and a very, very generous layer of candied cashews.  Of course I was in it for the cashews.

And I loved those cashews.  They were warm, which I wasn't expecting, candied, coated in delicious sauce, and honestly the highlight of the meal.  And there were tons of them.  

Under the cashews was the sausage, decent sized chunks and little crumbles, decently spiced sausage, nice crust on it. It was hot, which warmed the noodles below it.  It was the style of "pizza sausage", if you know what I mean.  I liked it dunked in ssam sauce.
Chilled Spicy Noodles: Close Up.
And then, finally, the base of the bowl, the noodles.  Although listed as a "chilled" dish, they were were warm, perhaps just from the warm sausage and cashews on top?

Yes, the noodles were green.  Coated in a very herby thai basil sauce, with extra bits of torn basil mixed in.  I really liked the herby quality, it was very bright, but also, a bit bland at the same time.

Ssäm sauce to the rescue.  This dish was fine without it, but really, really enhanced with it.  Of all the dishes, this one benefits the most from the sauce.

My favorite dish of the night, not really for the noodles themselves, but for the toppings.  I wanted ot just buy a package of those cashews.
Momofuku Noodle Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


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