So lately I've gotten away from the whole "Restaurant Review" aspect of this blog, mostly because I'm too busy (read: poor) to have dined out much lately. Also though, I've enjoyed the rhythm of testing, eating, and posting about a recipe every Monday (even if on Sunday morning, I still sometimes don't know what that recipe is going to be). With restaurant week arriving Monday, however, I'm going to be jonesing to tell you about my upcoming adventures. Reservations are made, lunch at Tabla and dinner at Park Avenue Winter! Squeee! In order to not screw up this delicate balance of blogging, I will be moving all restaurant reviews for the foreseeable future to Bonus Blog Fridays. Bonus Blog Friday's, for any newcomers, is when I post extra content that I've actually managed to find time to write during the week. It's not a guaranteed post date, but a little something extra.
As a primer for these restaurant Friday's, I wanted to share with you the wonderful time I had this week FINALLY trying Momofuku Noodle Bar. I am a big ramen fan, and when I was cursed with a cold a few weeks ago, I pouted until Will took me out for a big steamy noodley bowl to make me feel better. It worked, and even though now I'm better, I've been hankering for it again ever since. The frigid New York weather can just get inside you sometimes, but you know a giant hot bowl of soup could cure it. And it will be awesome. I had remembered last year reading a blog on the NY Magazine site where they took Iron Chef Morimoto around to the East Village to judge and rate this somewhat trendy version of the Japanese street food (and startled the hell out of Momofuku owner David Chang). The winner was Momofuku Noodle Bar, which happens to also be the most expensive at about $16 a bowl. While the other ramen places tend to be more traditional, a counter, some stools, and not much else on the menu besides the soup, Momofuku is more of a restaurant, with a varied drink and sake menu, sides, appetizers, and the top rated ramen in NY.
It's an impressive place, so when Will and I first attempted to go there last week, the huge line just to get in deterred us. I was hungry, and am really not considered a patient person. This week, however, I was determined to try it. We had a guest in town, the incomparable and wonderful Anne, and we were seeing a show in the village at 7pm. Perfect, I thought. We'll get there early, before it gets insane, and get seats. Meeting time: 5:30pm. Watches synchronized, and GO! Anne and I turned up early and discovered the place was closed until exactly 5:30 for a private event. Perfect, we would wait outside until they opened the doors and get prime seats. Except Will was late. And they won't seat you until the entire party is there. And the place was filling up with hipsters quickly. Dirty, faux-hawked hipsters. We waited outside, and I hopped from one foot to another whining like a petulant child. Will arrived about ten minutes later, having been screwed over by a sluggish R train. We went in and scored fantastic seats, right on the end of the long communal table by the window. We weren't crowded when the front of the restaurant did fill up with waiting people fifteen minutes later and we were perfectly arranged for conversation. Momofuku gets full points for this.
The waitress was very patient as I inquired about the slushy drinks, the difference between the Ginger and the Apple Cider, and how incredibly alcoholic they were. I decided on the Apple Cider (more smooth, she said) and the small (as I wanted to remember the show that night). Anne took a Japanese beer and Will, always our alcohol adventurer, did a sake flight. I may have helped him. A little. Part of the reason I did this was my drink was "small" which was pretty tiny, about 8oz. It did not last the whole meal. If you aren't planing in engaging in cultural interaction later in the evening, maybe get the large.
I had read that the restaurant was doing interesting things with chicken. They offer a fried chicken dinner that you have to reserve in advance (the only reservations the restaurant allows) where you have to bring between four and six people and they make this special fried chicken that people are going nuts over. We did not have four people or a reservation, but I saw smoked chicken wings on the menu and we ordered them as a starter to split. They were made with pickled chilies, scallions, and garlic and were a perfect starter. The meat fell off the bone and they nailed that tangy/sweet thing you expect from an Asian chicken wing, but without being overwhelming in either direction. The order included about eight wings and had I not been expecting a giant bowl of soup for my entree, I may have ordered a second round. I would definitely recommend them.
But now we were onto the main event--the ramen. Now if I were a professional reviewer with an expense account that would let me take my friends out for dinner and then insist on what they were to order so that I could try everything, we would have tried all three of the ramens offered by the establishment (are you listening NY Times?). However, we were all paying for our own meals and of course each of us wanted to order the most famous and best reputed dish, the Momofuku Ramen, so I can only tell you about this one dish. It's a good one to know about, however. The broth was rich, savory, and that perfect amount of salty. What set it apart from other pork ramens I've had though was the use of different cuts. Most establishments give you the requisite two or three slices of pork for you to break apart and mix into your soup. Momofuku gives you shredded pork that mixes in easily, and then a few sliced of a more tough cut to eat separately. As I always feel like I don't have enough pork, this was a boon, a delightful bounty of pork in my soup.
There is one wild card in ramen, the egg. I am a huge fan of egg in Ramen, my favorite being at Ramen Setagaya where it's half a soft boiled egg which I put soy sauce on and eat separately, slurping out the yolk and eating the egg with bites of noodle. This is a slightly undignified and almost religious experience. It also disgusts Will more then words can say. He cannot deal with egg, at all. Unless it's been mixed into the food in such a way that the raw ingredient is unrecognizable, he won't go near the things. He says it's the smell. I do not discourage this, as it always means more egg for me. That religious experience egg? I get to eat two of them because he scoops his into my bowl. At Momofuku they go with a poached egg. Will's first order of business was to scoop it into his spoon and try to hand it off to me. Well it exploded. It dripped all into his bowl and over his pork and noodles. His face approximated something of a kicked puppy. He looked so sad, all those lovely ramen components, covered in the one thing he really didn't want to eat! Before I could even react, Anne grabbed her bowl and switched it with his. I think she just wanted to make the face go away. "It's okay, I like egg!" she exclaimed, as I carefully scooped the intact egg out of his new bowl and deposited it in my own. Between the two of us we had saved Will's dinner. And I got two eat two delectable eggs (though I still kinda prefer the soft boiled kind in my ramen).
In the end the whole night was a blast, and it was a much better overall experience then you'll get at most of the other ramen bars in New York. If I just needed a quick dinner, or was just trying to ease a cold, I would go with one of the other places, Rai Rai Ken or Ramen Setagya, where you'll still get a fantastic bowl of soup for a lesser price and without the "trendy restaurant" feel. For a group outing though, having a "New York" experience, this place was absolutely perfect. Just arrive early or the "New York" experience will be that of standing in a group of tightly packed people waiting for the night to begin. And we have the subway for that.