Momofuku Noodle Bar (New York City)

Momofuku Noodle Bar is the casual version of the Michelin two-star restaurant with the same name. It’s a typical Manhattan space — narrow, deep and cramped — with two bars lining the left side of the room and bench-like tables on the right. The decor is simple and clean. The vibe is casual. I didn’t see many Japanese people.

After about an hour wait for lunch, we sat at the end of the bar and started the festivities. The first item was a gorgeous beat salad. The beats were delicate and of excellent quality, yet weren’t too sweet. This wasn’t a bad thing, per se, and while quite good I wouldn’t say they were the best beats I’ve ever had.

Following that was the first item of a three-course, $20 prix fixe, the osyter Bun. This was a fried oyster inside of some doughy bread-like contraption, which I’m thinking should house all food from now on. The oyster was delicious — fried with typical briny notes — but sadly there was so little inside the bun that I genuinely wonder if my oyster fell out.

Not to worry, the shrimp bun came next. I’m not sure what shrimp is shaped like a cubical cake, but I’m thankful it was. This was like a spicy, creamy explosion inside the mouth, exploding inside the mouth with the pungent flavor of good shrimp. Probably my favorite item of the afternoon.

Fast and furious the dishes descended upon the counter, and next was the foie gras. Apparently, it was baked, and since I’m almost certain I’ve never had such a preparation, I couldn’t say if it was typical for the piece to be somewhat watery and veiny when cutting into it. Nonetheless, it was really tasty. But the key to the dish was the fantastic balance achieved with the foie, the almond, smokey tea sauce (!) and the sweet pear. A wonderful presentation and bite that sat nicely in the mouth and almost created a perfect harmony with the woody interior of the restaurant, if that makes any sense. Perhaps one has to sit at the bar and try this on a snowy afternoon to understand.

My chicken tamale (with mole verde) was good, but not great. The masa was really well done, but the sauce and flavors didn’t stand out, other than being quite hot. The second item on the three-course made up for this though – the rock shrimp rice cake. To quote every episode of Japanese Iron Chef, I could eat this forever. Hehehe.

The sauce and shrimp aromas were ocean-like, in a lovely way. It somehow hinted of a really tasty, creamy dover sole. The rice cakes were doughy and chewy and nothing short of fun to eat.

The final segment of the meal consisted of noodles, and they did not disappoint. The ginger scallion noodles were a medley of those very flavors, and the noodles were hearty and full. The quality and smells in this dish were outstanding. But that lost the noodle battle to my chicken ramen, which frankly was the best ramen in the history of earth. All the ingredients were of spectacular quality, and the chicken was really really good. But the broth is something to behold. It isn’t porky, it isn’t salty, it isn’t fatty. It. Just. Tastes. Perfect. Your ramen is jealous, and it should be.

The apple pie cake truffles were a letdown desert. It’s almost criminal to say, since the quality of everything is so outstanding here, but it tasted like a coffee cake from Starbucks. Wasn’t a fan.

A nitpick: the pace is quick here, and I wasn’t wild about that. It’s not that a noodle bar should produce food with the spacing of a twelve-course taster. Rather, having too many dishes on the table at once means something will be cold before eating it, and that’s just sloppy. At the least, allow a minute or two in between dishes.

Overall, an enjoyable experience with some extremely high points.

3.5 out of 4 Paws

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