I am so disappointed that you’ve been holding out on me. And what’s worse is that I am the last to know. Remember when we used to always share every bit of news with each other? The five phone calls a day, re-hashing the events of the evening before like an auto loop recording. Have we grown so far apart? That when I excitedly tell you about a new restaurant I ‘discovered’, that uses locally sourced and sustainable ingredients and turns the flavors of traditional Asian cuisine into something so gastronomically inventive, new and unrecognizable; you finally reveal the 300+ page tome, bearing the name of said restaurant, that you’ve been hiding from me. MOMOFUKUS!
What's with all the secrecy? Like the moms whose kids are reading in pre-school and claim, ‘it just happened because I read to them all the time’, but won’t admit that they send their kids to Kumon; or the ones who are 40 and proud–because they look 30, and can rock a bikini at the beach from all the obsessive interval training at Burn 60 and the botox, but pretend like its just from ‘playing with the kids in the park’. MAMAFUKUS!
Well, I’m eating…I’ll be back in California soon, but before I leave New York, I am on a mission to eat at every Momofuku. There are five Momofuku Restaurants, and from what I can gather; each is different. Their brainchild, David Chang is a 30-something chef, who has earned two Michelin stars, and is a culinary bad boy. He doesn’t have a show on Food Network or appears on any shows as a celebrity chef that I’ve ever seen; yet his restaurants are the best known secret in Manhattan, and probably throughout the country. For me, the anticipation of each Momofuku experience is likely similar to that of someone visiting Napa and getting a reservation at French Laundry.
171 First Avenue
I read about the different Momofukus and was confused about the different menus at each. When I mentioned it one day to my friend, a fellow mom of two boys; she knowingly said, ‘we should go to lunch at the noodle one. Best to go in the middle of the day, after 2pm; right before they close to prep for dinner.’ She talked about it the same way she discussed the strategy of getting on a wait list at the good public school. It just made my anticipation even greater. I was on a scout for work one afternoon and after a long day of looking for furniture and dry goods stores, I found myself in the East Village. At first you realize you’re not in Soho anymore; the large loft style stores with their charming cobblestone streets disappear, you’ve transitioned through Nolita, occupied and fascinated with the eye candy of its people and shops and suddenly its just dirty. On a windy day, you hope to not get hit by flying newspaper or have a bird crap on you. Both happened to my beautiful new bag from MZ Wallace.
Once I got my bearings and realized I was in the Momofuku radius, and that is was 2:30 and I hadn’t eaten yet; my friend’s words were ringing in my ears…go after 2pm…there’s never a wait…the pork bun is so good. Walking north on First Ave, I start looking for numbers, because the East Village is so underground cool, signs are passe for stores and restaurants. I find 171 and it is a non-descript storefront. Not terribly inviting, but clean and empty. There is a couple sitting at the bar/counter that runs the length of the room and I take a seat. There is a choice of a prix fixe lunch (3 courses) for $20 or a la carte. In retrospect, perhaps I should’ve chosen the prix fixe, because I wound up ordering 2 dishes and had dessert later. But the prix fixe didn’t include the much talked about pork bun, and I had to try that. But I didn’t. There were three different buns available–chicken, shiitake and pork. I knew the pork buns would be delicious and super fatty, and since I had been walking the streets of lower Manhattan for over 4 hours, I thought I’d try something lighter and ordered the shiitake buns. The waiter assured me that all the bun fillings were delicious, since they are all cooked in pork fat. He was right…the shiitake buns were delicious. Thinly sliced, inside the white flour-y bun with hoisin sauce, with pickled cucumber and a little sriracha dipping sauce; they were the perfect amount of greasy + melt in your mouth goodness. I wasn’t up for an Oriental slider, so the texture of the crunchy shiitake, umami flavor, combined with the sweet salty hoisin, sweet bun and heat of the rooster was perfect.
There are three chalkboards lining the wall at Momofuku Noodle. One lists the prix fixe menu, the other has specials and the third lists all the local farms supplying the produce and meat and the state they are located in. I found it intriguing, as clearly, David Chang is a locavore, taking great care in the selection of ingredients and making sure you know where your food is coming from.
Since I was at the noodle Momofuku, I had to try a noodle bowl to see what the fuss was about. Still not in a pork-y mood, I ordered the Ginger Scallion Noodles. I get this bowl of ramen, covered with sliced shiitake, pickled cucumber, chopped ginger and scallion and menma. I’ve had this menma stuff before at my favorite ramen shop in Los Angeles, Chabuya on Sawtelle. Its bamboo shoots, but a little salty and brine-y like seaweed. The ramen noodles at Momofuku were the most delicious I’ve ever tasted–perfect texture, perfectly cooked. But perhaps it was the combination of no-meat or green crunchy vegetable in my bowl; I was not wowed with the over all dish. All I tasted along with the super amazing noodles were ginger, salt and umami. I guess I expected more of a flavor combination.
I make a noodle dish for Ethan at home that he loves. Sometimes I even crave it. Its a noodle dish that is sold on the streets of Thailand. You can eat it dry or as a soup. I prefer mine dry, but if you have a day to spare, perhaps it would be even more delicious with the famous Momofuku broth. For me, if I could make it with the Momofuku ramen noodles, it could be my favorite all time dish, but sans the Momofuku ramen noodles my recipe is below:
Bah Mee Noodles (makes enough for 4)
- 1/4 pound of ground pork
- 2 Tablespoons of Fish Sauce
- 2 chopped cloves of garlic
- 1 Teaspoon finely chopped ginger
- 2 bunches of baby bok choy, chopped
- 2 Tablespoons Sesame Oil
- 1/2 pound of Chinese Yellow Noodle (I used the fresh refrigerated kind)
1 Teaspoon of sugar
- Juice of 1/2 Lime
- 2 scallions, chopped (topping)
- 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped (topping)
Any combination or none of the following as extras in the amount of your choice:
- Chinese Roast Pork, cut into thin strips (this is a whole other recipe I will share sometime, but you can also buy at a Chinese butcher or Asian shop freshly made)
- Fish balls and/or fish cakes (these are pounded fish made into balls or cakes and sold in Asian stores in the refrigerated section).
Hard boiled egg, sliced
- Sliced Shiitake Mushrooms and/or any other vegetables like broccoli
To Make the Yellow Noodles:
- Bring a pot of water to boil.
- Throw in the noodles and cook for 3-4 minutes, for al dente
- Throw in the chopped boy choy and other veggies and blanche for 30 seconds
- Drain everything together and immediately run under cold water
- Set aside
In a non-stick pan, brown the garlic and ginger. Add the ground pork, and when almost fully browned, add fish sauce. Stir in the cooked yellow noodles, vegetables and fish balls. Add sesame oil while the noodles are in the pan, stir fry for about a minute and place in bowls. Once the noodles are in the bowl, mix in sugar and lime juice.
Add the roast pork or hard boiled egg (optional) and top with scallion and cilantro.
Momofuku Ssam Bar
207 Second Avenue
According to my waiter at Momofuku Noodle, Ssam Bar was the next step in the formal direction from the Noodle Shop, yet still far away from the holy grail of Momofukus, ‘Ko’. I meet three friends at Ssam–none of them had been to Ssam, but two had been to French Laundry, so I knew I was in good company. And instead of being able to only enjoy two dishes, here was a great opportunity to sample several delicacies with fellow foodies.
Already, I knew I was in for something special. In almost every dish, there was at least one ingredient, I didn’t know or had ever heard of. Although in English, the combination of words escaped any memory I had ever had associated with dishes I was familiar with. We all joked that no matter what we ordered, it would not taste of look like anything we imagined it being. We all agreed we should at least try the signature dish, the pork belly steamed buns. I’m glad I had eaten the shiitake steamed buns at the Noodle bar, because after having the pork buns, I will never stray away from the pork again. The buns, hoisin, pickled cucumber and scallion were made for the pork belly, that was delicate, yet fatty. All the flavors combined perfectly.
We tried two seasonal dishes, that we were curious about. The Fried Baby Artichokes were absolutely nothing you would imagine. The artichokes were actually sunchokes, fried to the consistency of a shavings of shoe string fries (or crispy bonito flakes) with a pistachio paste with a salty sardine like paste, called bottarga. The pistachio paste was super rich.
We also tried a buttermilk with dashi; the buttermilk whipped to the consistency of slightly sour yogurt in a fuji apple dashi. OMG on the dashi. I almost picked up the bowl and drank it. Dashi is the Japanese soup stock equivalent to the French chicken stock. This dashi was sweet because of the apple base.
The Whole Boneless Porgy was a fish recommended by our waiter–boneless and enough for 4, we shared this fish that came with chive pancakes. It may have been the most delicious fish I’ve ever tasted. Along with this whole fried fish, was maitake mushrooms–which I had never seen or heard of until earlier that day, when I saw them at the Union Square Farmer’s Market. They were gone within the hour of being set out at the stand. Also on this fish was a green called ramps–which I learned is a cross between leeks and garlic. The entire combination, with the crispy skinned, flaky and moist fish was unbelievable. And we are still wondering how every bone was removed.
Momofuku Milk Bar
207 Second Avenue
Finally my chance to try one of Momofuku’s infamous soft serve savory ice creams. I don’t know how they make this, but its just delicious. Heavier than the Carvel I’m used to. Dense with an initial taste of sweet, then a savory finish. The options change, but when I was there, the choices were a salty pistachio caramel, olive oil, and cereal milk.
Also recommended was the compost cookie. I am not much of a baker, but the pastry chef for Momofuku Milk, Christina Tosi, was on Regis & Kelly and her recipe for this inventive cookie is available online. I am going to try to make it once I am back in LA. The compost cookie, isn’t about dirt, but rather the blend of sweet and savory (as with almost all Momofuku menu items) and is a mixture of cookie batter with pretzels, potato chips, oats, and chocolate chips.
15 W. 56th St
On my quest to try every Momofuku I could get my hands on, I read about Ma Peche–and it was in mid-town, near my office. I walk over for lunch one day, and realize it is across the street from Trump Tower. I worked on ‘The Apprentice’ for four seasons and everyday for lunch ate at Hale and Hearty soup or Chop’t Salad. Oy–had I known Momofuku could’ve been my cafeteria, I may have seriously reconsidered working on the show again. Visions of sharing banh mi sandwiches and other delicacies with Ethan would’ve been like a culinary crash course for him. When I went, my waiter told me they had just opened the day before. Finally–a Momofuku no one's experienced yet! The restaurant is gorgeous–very uptown, spacious, modern and reminded me of the early days of the Whiskey Bar.
First off, they were playing the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street at a perfect volume, so it wasn’t overwhelming but made me feel like I had come home. But if I thought that I couldn’t read the menu at the other Momofukus, there was no way I was able to read the one at Ma Peche. It was in Vietnamese. I recognized some of the words from having eaten at Vietnamese restaurants. There were a lot of symbols over the letters that I don't know how to copy here. It seemed definitely more exotic and upscale than the other restaurants. My waiter confirmed that my initial instinct in trying the bo taratare (beef tartare, scallions, mint); the moules bouchot au bia (mussels in crab paste and beer); and the oc sen sauvage (snails, pork sausage, garlic and tarragon) were also his favorites.
I went with the mussels. A cast iron pot of a dozen of the hugest mussels I’ve ever seen appears, along with toasted slices of baguette. At the bottom of the pot is a sauce that is salty, spicy, and tomato-ish. At first I thought the sauce alone was too salty, but realize once I sop it up with the baguette, it is a delicious soup for the bread and mussels. From what I can taste, the mussels were cooked in a broth made of beer, shrimp paste, and Korean chili paste. It tasted like a spicy tomato sauce, but not so tart. There were also pickled bean sprouts to bring the sweet to the dish. My waiter perfectly paired the mussels with a white wine from Austria, a Glatzer Gruner Veltliner. Perfection.
Ma Peche offers a $10 Midtown take-out lunch of the banh mi sandwich. One available banh mi sandwich is the lemon grass chicken (banh mi au poulet). At $10, I am sure the Ma Peche banh mi is worth more than your average banh mi sandwich you could get at a storefront stand. My sister’s ‘Rock n Roll Noodle Company’ makes a great lemon grass banh mi sandwich, available at Chicago’s farmers’ markets and at the events she caters.
Lemon Grass Chicken Banh Mi
Marinated daikon and carrots (this can be made and saved)
- ¾ cup sugar
- ¾ cup distilled white vinegar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 3 cups daikon—cut into matchstick-size pieces
- 3 cups carrot—cut into matchstick-size pieces
Mix the first 3 ingredients until dissolved. Add daikon and carrots and coat with the mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for 2 hours. Drain well.
Lemon Grass Chicken
- 1 pound organic chicken breast (pounded flat)
- 2-4" stalks of lemon grass (pounded)
- 3 cloves of garlic (minced)
- 2 Tablespoons of palm sugar (liquified by microwaving a piece for 20 seconds)
- 2 Tablespoons of fish sauce
- 2 Tablespoons of chopped mint
- 1/2 teaspoon Thai chili pepper
- salt and pepper to taste
Combine all the ingredients and marinate the chicken for 2 hours in the refrigerator.
Grill or pan fry the chicken. Cook chicken for about four minutes on each side.
- 6” inch baguette, cut down the center like a hot dog bun
- 1/2 cucumber cut into ¼ inch thick slices
- ½ of one small red onion, cut in strips
- 12 fresh cilantro sprigs
- 2 jalapeno chilies, thinly sliced crosswise (remove seeds and wash)
Grill the bread until just toasted. Spread spicy mayonnaise on both sides of the baguette. Top with cucumber slices. Fill sandwich with the chicken, pickled daikon and carrot, onion slices and cilantro sprigs. Add jalapeno slices.
163 First Ave
Sadly, it is my last few days in New York; and I wasn’t able to get a reservation at the ultimate Momofuku, Ko. Reservations can only be made for the week of, and there are only 12 seats available for 3 dining times per evening that last 2 hours each. Well, at least I have something to look forward to on my next visit to New York. Or if you have a chance to go, don't keep it a secret…let me know how it was!