For the past few months, I had been going around tasting ramen in different cities, including the really tasty bowl of noodle at Mitzuwa during the annual Hokkaido fair. Even though ramen is part of the American culture, good ramen remains hard to find here in the United States. It seems like we still don’t appreciate a good bowl of noodle but we like them cheap, fast and convenient. With all that said, there is one city with plenty of restaurants serving world class noodles – New York City. (I’m sure West coast cities have great ramen too, but just bare with me here.)
Since I do not live in NYC, i have to pick and choose which restaurant to visit. I had heard rave reviews for Momofuku restaurants and decided that Momofuku Noodle bar should be my starting point. After all, you can’t be consider a Japanese restaurant unless your noodle and broth taste great. That’s like the ABC of Japanese cuisine. Even though Momofuku is a Japanese name, the restaurants are owned by restrauneer and chef David Chang (Korean American, if you are wondering) named after the all-awesome instant noodle inventor and Nissin founder, Momofuku Ando. Chef David did had some experience making ramen in Japan and decided to open the first of many restaurants with this Noodle Bar. Today, Momofuku restaurants its like a series of restaurants that serve different types of food ranging from classy sit down to dessert menu only kitchens.
Momofuku Noodle bar does not take reservations, so I arrived early (open at 12pm on Saturday) to scope out the area while waiting for friends to arrive. I was in no rush and did not pay attention, and walked past the restaurant twice before noticing that there is a crowd standing in line in the restaurant. There are no names or signs, and just a tiny name on the front door. Moreover, I walked past the restaurant twice because the all glass wall at the front of the restaurant seems more like a interior design furniture shop rather than a famous noodle restaurant. By the time we ask for table at 12.45pm, the wait is an hour long. Being nice, they took down my cellphone number and promised to text me when the table is ready.
We waited for about 50 minutes by walking around the pretty nice neighborhood, and indeed received a text before heading back. As the name of the restaurant suggest, there are no individual tables but a very long bar and we were led to the very end of it. If you sit by the kitchen area, you can watch the chefs preparing your bowl of ramen behind a glass window. There aren’t many items on the menu but we knew what we want anyway. I got a bowl of Momofuku ramen and the ‘famous’ brisket buns.
The brisket buns came first. I can’t seem to find a Wikipedia article on this but I’m pretty sure this is a Chinese rather than Japanese – I grew up eating this pork belly bun, also known as kou rou pau (扣肉包). Besides the traditional slice of pork belly in a white steamed bun, they garnished it with horseradish, picked red onion and cucumber, which I thought gave some crunchiness to otherwise a soft bun. It is definitely great and might the first time I had this in America, and I can see how this side dish become famous. Try it and tell me – its one of my favorite dish of all time. They usually serve this at the end of a long course traditional Chinese meal in wedding or what not.
(When I say Chinese, i meant traditional Han chinese culture rather than the country. They are not mutually exclusive. :D)
The main star here are the bowls. The Momofuku ramen comes with pork belly, shredded pork shoulder, a poached egg, thinly sliced green veges, two slices of kamaboko/narutomaki (fish cakes) and interestingly, seaweed. The ramen noodle was chewy and great – i have a feeling they make them in store but i did not check. However, if you look at the picture, you would had realized that the portion isn’t huge. I think it is actually quite a huge portion but the bigger bowl they used made it seems like it is child’s play. The broth was pretty delicious too and wasn’t super salty. Overall a decent bowl of ramen and it is definitely a place I would recommend to find an authentic bowl of delicious ramen that’s not in your kitchen.
Am i kind of disappointed after all this hype and wait? Sure – I was hoping something that would blow my mind away but this doesn’t seem to be the answer. Sure, it is much better than many other bowls of ramen I tried around the States, but this is definetely not the best out there – the one in Mitzuwa might be, though. All in all, Momofuku produce a solid bowl of ramen that you might eat down a street while walking in Tokyo. However, I don’t think this is worthy of a Michelin star or award of that tire or standard. Some might argue that I only paid $12 for a bowl of soup, but I will defend my stand because with the hype and the long hour wait. With the famous Momofuku name on the ramen, I expected much more. Still, if you are looking for something warm and cozy to fill your stomach in east Village of NYC, this is probably your best bet.
Address: 171 1st Ave, New York, NY 10003
Visited: Nov 14, 2014 for lunch at 12.40pm.