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The Great Momofuku Debate (Long)

So, finally, after reading about Momofuku on these boards, other sites, magazines, newspapers, etc., etc., I went to Momofuku this afternoon. I ordered the Momofuku Ramen, keeping in mind that there have been comments about it being overly salty (something I find all too common in many noodle/ramen shops in the city), so I was prepared for that. What I wasn't prepared for was how underwhelming and bland and tasteless the broth was (and I am very sensitive to salt). Did I go on an off day? David Chung was not in the kitchen--does this matter? Have people found the food to be better when he's there?

The ingredients--peas, bamboo shoots, Berkshire pork, etc.--seemed fresh enough, were plentiful, and if nothing else, made for an attractive-looking dish. However, since the broth was tasteless, there was only so much the ingredients could do. The ramen itself was fine--not overly mushy (or even mushy), which some people have noted. Another frequent complaint seems to be the fattiness of the pork, which did not bother me since I grew up eating them that way.

I wanted to order the steamed Berkshire pork bun but was full and could not justify paying $9 for 2 buns when I could take the subway a couple of more stops to Chinatown and get so much more! The buns did silence the couple next to me who was talking incessantly, and they appeared to be in food heaven with comments like "Oh my god" and "Wow...."

So am I being short-sighted in not ordering the buns simply because of the price? Are they truly worth it?

A side note on the buns. It amuses me a great deal to see how these "buns" or "pancakes" or "montou" seem to be all the rage now and what people are willing to pay for them. I remember growing up eating them--my mother used to make them from scratch along with piping hot soy bean milk while the rest of my family eagerly waited for her to take them out of the bamboo steamers before putting in the next batch. The ingredients were so simple and pure, and the most "adventurous" my family and I would get would be to eat montou with peanut butter or dried mince pork.

Reading past posts on this place, it seems that there are distinctly two camps on Momofuku: people either love it or don't. I won't be going back anytime soon, but I am curious about the kimchee stew and the buns. I am willing to give this place another shot. Should I?

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  1. The buns are made in heaven and well worth it - try the sister shop Momofuku saam - for an out-of-this-world Korean burrito!

    1. Unfortunately, you didn't try the one thing that most people (myself included) seem to love there: the pork buns.

      Also, the roasted rice cakes are good, but very heavy and the sauce seems to vary from vinegary to sweet depending on the day. I like the sweet better.

      Oh and having tried them at both Momofuku and Ssam Bar, I'd say go to the original place for the pork buns--without the cole slaw.

      1. For some reason, the pork buns are a dollar cheaper at Ssam. I had them at both Ssam and the original Momofuku, and I wasn't sure what all the fuss was about. I found the pork too salty at Ssam. I, too, found it hard to pay $8-9 for two pork buns.

        1 Reply
        1. re: janethepain

          Ssam bar uses shredded pork shoulder, not pork belly. And I'm not sure how long the cooked pork shoulder sits out before being turned into a pork bun, but that might have something to do with it.

        2. I loved the momofuku ramen, and thought the broth was rich and flavorful. Maybe an off day? I went to elementary school in Japan and have visited many times since then, and momofuku is definitely my favorite ramen place in the city (although admittedly not very traditional).

          The pork buns are good but like other commenters above, I find them to be horridly overpriced. I'm glad I tried them once, but will find it hard to justify ever ordering them again.

          Your story about eating the buns when you were younger is amazing ... I wish I had been so lucky!

          1. I was pretty disappointed by Momofuku after those serialized segments in the Times Dining section.

            Maybe I went to the restaurant too soon after watching Tampopo, that seminal ramen movie (about 2 days after, actually), and the movie's ramen ideology was a little too deeply engrained!

            Nonetheless: I think there's a reason why ramen toppings are traditionally so compartmentalised - because you want to experience different textures! Having a pile of shredded, oily meat (which I'm not saying isn't tasty)... and fresh peas, of all things, makes for a kind of uniform mushy coating on every bite. There's no variation.

            I wasn't blown away by the noodles, either - I thought they could have been more elastic.

            I also ordered a large plate of seasonal mixed pickles. They were doing some interesting things in this selection, I just don't know how successful they all were. I remember baby carrots, baby radishes, Asian pear. Some of them didn't taste pickled enough, still way too firm. Also, the serving was way too big, for something as intensely-flavoured as pickles. I can imagine sharing it between at least 4 people, and a counter-top restaurant is really built for parties of 1 or 2, no more than 3.

            Basically, the Times article led me to expect something really virtuosic - a restaurant with a hardline philosophy ("pork fat makes everything taste better, to hell with vegetarians" - fair enough) and all the answers. What I found was a good little restaurant that was still learning and still had plenty of creases to iron out.

            1 Reply
            1. re: frenetica

              $9 for pork buns! Jeeesh...I'm in Taiwan about once or twice a month and pay ten Taiwan dollars for a pork bun from the lady around the corner from the Hyatt.

              That's about thirty cents American...LOL! And they are soooo good!

              Tipsy