Restaurant Review: Momofuku Noodle Bar

I recently visited New York City and one of the top places to visit was Momofuku. Having heard so much praise for David Chang’s restaurant, I made sure to eat there at least once. Last Monday, I visited the Momofuku Noodle Bar in the East Village for lunch with a friend.

Because one of the most talked about dishes served at Momofuku is the pork buns, I knew I had to try them. An order comes with two fluffy white buns filled with a large slab of pork belly, hoisin sauce, scallions, and pickled cucumbers. When I first saw them, I was a bit shocked at how much fat was in the pork belly. I know that’s the best part, but for me, a thick layer of fat was not really that appetizing. Although the fat was buttery and melted in my mouth, I had a hard time eating all of it and felt there wasn’t enough flavor in the meat. The buns could definitely have used more sauce and more pickles, which were a nice way to cut the richness of the fatty pork belly. Don’t get me wrong, the pork buns were good, just not as good as I had imagined from people’s raving reviews.

My friend and I ordered the Momofuku ramen to share, and I’m glad we did. The ramen comes in a huge bowl and was more than enough for the both of us. The broth was a bit salty for my taste and had a slight bitterness. My friend suspected it came from seaweed, which makes sense since dashi, which is a traditional Japanese cooking stock made from kombu (dried seaweed), is usually the base for ramen broth. The ramen noodles were a bit more springy than those I’ve eaten before, almost as if they weren’t cooked enough. The springiness made it a bit harder to chew the noodles, but I suppose I’d rather have springy noodles instead of soggy ones. Another unusual thing about this ramen was that it had a poached egg instead of a soft-boiled or hard-boiled egg, which is commonly found in ramen. Neither of us understood why a poached egg would be served because when we split it open, all of the yolk spilled out into the soup. Although the egg yolk did make the broth taste better in my opinion, it didn’t really make sense to have a runny egg in soup.

Now, I’m probably being a bit more critical than I ought to be. Don’t get me wrong, the food was pretty good and the service was great. But I was expecting a bit more out of Momofuku. I’m sure it was really good when it first started, which is why it probably earned so many accolades. But now, all of those reviews have built up the expectations for Momofuku to be so high that it’s difficult for it to continue to amaze diners. At least, that’s one of my theories. What should probably be praised more than the food is the fact that Momofuku and David Chang reinvented traditional Asian dishes and brought them into the spotlight again. He’s helped mainstream pork buns and ramen  and thanks to him, people think of ramen as being more than just instant noodles.

Dinner Partying it up – Japchae (Korean glass noodles)

Inspired by all these beautiful recipes I’ve seen on some of my favorite blogs, I decided to try to make some of them and throw a dinner party. For some reason, I have an inclination to cook Asian dishes more than other cuisines. So, on the menu were mostly Asian or Asian-inspired dishes: japchae (Korean glass noodles), chicken fried rice, mirin and honey sweet potatoes, bean sprout kimchi, pickled vegetables, and stuffed peppers with Thai curried rice.

I had originally planned to make a few more dishes, including miso glazed cod. However, halfway through making dinner, I realized I had definitely bit off more than I could chew. So I decided to save those for another dinner party and serve the dishes I was really dying to make, specifically japchae, which turned out to be the star of the dinner.

Korean cuisine is probably my favorite. I love it so much that I can never refuse an invitation to eat Korean BBQ or go to a Korean restaurant. However, it can be a bit pricey and I’ve recently realized that many Korean dishes are fairly easy, especially japchae. After hearing one of my friends proclaim her love for the noodle dish too, I decided that I had to give it a shot and make them for her.

The recipe is basically a stir-fry of sweet potato noodles and vegetables. Usually, beef is included, but since I didn’t have any at hand, I left it out. For my veggies, I used onions, carrots, shiitake mushrooms, bell pepper, zucchini, and spinach. But I’m sure you can use whatever vegetables you like. I didn’t actually follow the recipe that closely. Like I’ve said before, I like to play it by ear when it comes to cooking. So I don’t actually know how much of the ingredients I used. I just eyeballed it and put in however much looked right to me. Also, I was a little surprised to see that the sauce was only soy sauce with sugar. How can you get more simple than that for something so delicious?

My friends loved the japchae! As we ate, they gave so many compliments that I felt a bit silly accepting them, since the dish was so easy. This is definitely a dish that I will make again and again, and so should you! Not only is it super easy and straightforward, but also super delicious (and tastes just like japchae ordered from a Korean restaurant)! Now that I can make it myself, I will probably never order japchae at a restaurant again.

That’s one of the things I love the most about cooking (and baking) – it gives you the ability to be self-reliant and self-sufficient. Because you learn how to make things yourself, you no longer have to rely on other people to make it for you. It’s similar to that old adage: “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.” Learning how to cook a dish will literally enable you to feed yourself for a lifetime.

Japchae (Korean Glass Noodles)
Adapted from Steamy Kitchen

1/2 pound dried Korean sweet potato noodles (I just used the whole bag)
2 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil, divided
1 tablespoon oil
3/4 cup thinly sliced onions (I used half an onion)
2 carrots, cut into matchsticks
2 cloves garlic, finely minced (I forgot this! whoops!)
3 stalks green onions, cut into 1″ lengths (I only added one stalk)
1/2 cup mushrooms, thinly sliced shiitake (I used a small bag of dried shiitake)
1/2 lb spinach, washed well and drained (I don’t think I used this much…)
2 tablespoons soy sauce (I tripled this)
2 teaspoons sugar (I tripled this)
1 tablespoon sesame seeds

Fill a large pot with water and boil. When water is boiling, add the noodles and cook for 5 minutes. Immediately drain and rinse with cold water. Drain again and toss with only 1 tsp of the sesame oil. Use kitchen shears to cut noodles into shorter pieces, about 8 inches in length. Set aside.

In bowl, mix soy sauce & sugar together. Add the cooking oil in a wok or large saute pan on high heat and swirl to coat. When the cooking oil is hot but not smoking, fry onions and carrots, until just softened, about 1 minute. Add the garlic, green onions and mushrooms, fry 30 seconds. Then add the spinach, soy sauce, sugar and the noodles. Fry 2-3 minutes until the noodles are cooked through. Turn off heat, toss with sesame seeds and the remaining 1 1/2 tsp of sesame oil. Enjoy!