It’s about time I paid a visit to Momofuku Noodle Bar, the first restaurant of David Chang’s Momofuku empire. Chang, a Korean-American chef, achieved widespread recognition soon after opening the Noodle Bar in 2003. His inventive attitude towards dining and playful approach in constructing a menu allowed him to expand across the East Village and internationally. His restaurants are tiered according to price range, and I decided to start at the bottom rung of the Momofuku ladder.
Momofuku is best known for its Pork Buns ($5 each). Its this small side order that often keeps customers coming back. Interestingly enough, Chang never anticipated the popularity of his steamed bread and pork belly creation, admitting that it was an “eleventh-hour addition to the menu.” The pork buns are deceivingly simple in composition, consisting of utterly soft and silky mantou bread, slices of fatty Berkshire pork belly, scallions, sliced cucumber, and hoisin sauce. The two-and-a-half bites of the pork bun had a complex interplay of flavors. The coolness of the cucumber and the bittersweet depth of the hoisin glazing the bun complemented the already flavorful pork belly. The meat to bread ratio was spot on as was the balance of fat and lean meat (i.e., lots of fat and a think sliver of lean meat). The only disproportionate aspect of the pork buns was the price.
The signature dish at Momofuku Noodle Bar is the Momofuku Ramen ($16). Ramen by itself is a time-consuming affair to make, however, making Chang’s ramen requires an even more thoughtful approach. In his wildly popular cookbook, Momofuku, this dish alone takes up ten pages. Before taking a sip, I could smell how rich the broth was. The intensely robust pork broth had layers of flavor accentuated by the smoky taste of bacon, and the springy noodles were no exception. Between slabs of pork shoulder, pork belly, scallions, cabbage, seaweed, and narutomaki there was an egg. The delicate, poached egg was an addition I wasn’t familiar with, but certainly didn’t object to. The slowly cooked egg was creamy and was another dimension of enjoyment to an already brilliant bowl.
Even at his higher-end locations, Chang makes an effort to create a vibe that is low-key. The backless wooden stools, austere communal tables, loud music, and incredibly casual service at the Noodle Bar easily fit with the charm of the East Village. Although I’ve tried Chang’s signature items, I’ve hardly scratched the surface of the menu. There’s an entire selection of items you can’t find anywhere else. Without a doubt, I’ll be back, but not as regularly as I would like to. Although the Noodle Bar is the cheapest link in the Momofuku chain, the pricing is still beyond my reach. For comfort food, it carries quite an uncomfortable price.