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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!


            2. Try the pork buns before you dismiss them. I grew up on mantou as well and the Momofuku buns are not quite what you would get from Chinatown, Taiwan, HK, etc. They may still be overpriced at $9, but I will continue paying it unless I find the same item for less.

              However I do agree that the broth at Momofuku is subpar -- I read somewhere that David Chang actually does not intend his broth to be an "authentic" ramen broth, so that might be the explanation. The other ingredients in the ramen are top-notch, however. I often wish I could get those ingredients in a Rai Rai Ken broth.

              1. I've been to momofuku twice and encountered real deliciousness both times, but the ramen is the least interesting thing I've eaten there. First time I had ramen, the pork buns and a razor clam dish. The second time I had a crab dish and the pork buns.

                I'm not a ramen expert so I could only judge the ramen on its general tastiness, complexity of flavor and texture, etc. Based on those criteria I found it only "pretty good."

                The pork buns, on the other hand, were close to my personal idea of, as you put it, food heaven. Admittedly, I'm a pork fiend, and I love the fat. I also have a soft spot for dishes that hinge on a sweet-savory contrast. Given those predilections, the berkshire pork buns really, really, really hit the spot.

                I also loved my razor clam dish on the first visit. The crab dish was less memorable (I say that because... I can't remember it right now).

                Service was friendly but spotty on both visits - the first time they forgot our ramen order altogether and when they finally brought us a bowl - after being reminded of our existence - it wasn't the one we had ordered. BUT I found I was eager to go back, based on those buns and clams.

                So I'd say give them one more chance and go for the non-ramen dishes before you write the place off. If you try the buns and they don't excite you, you never need to go back.

                4 Replies
                1. re: GDSwamp

                  Based on the feedback received so far, I will swallow my doubts about paying so much for the buns and try them. I really regret not trying them today. I was pretty full from the ramen and the buns looked pretty hefty. I did not see the razor clams on the menu unless I missed them. If anyone has had the kimchee stew (I don't think this is the actual name of the dish but that's basically what it is), please let me know what you think. Regarding service, maybe it's because it was lunchtime as opposed to prime dining time, but the servers were very attentive and constantly refilling the water glasses. They also kept asking people "How is everything?"; "Is everything okay?"

                  1. re: gloriousfood

                    Well, I hope you have a good time. And if you go and you find the pork buns average after all, please post back about your preferred alternatives...

                    1. re: gloriousfood

                      the kimchee stew is the best thing ive had at momofuku, other than the pork buns.

                    2. re: GDSwamp

                      I'm with you on the pork buns. Fatty Berkshire pork belly! If you're a pork fan, they'll take you to heaven. I also like the sweet-sour contrast, and the mixture of the textures.

                    3. On all three visits we made, my wife- a Korean who grew up in Japan -pointed out that the staff has a bad habit of letting the noodles sit in the soup long before the bowls are served out. This is a big time no-no in any die-hard ramen shop; it potentially compromises the texture of the noodles.

                      That said, I've found the Momofuku Ramen to be very rich and tasty, if not an altogether purist ramen experience. It's so much to eat, that I've never tried the buns. I look forward to checking them out, as well as the burritos at the Sam Bar.

                      1. Oh and I forgot to mention... I love going to Momofuku to look at that poster of the crazy-eyed chef that's up in the bathroom.

                        Is that thing still there?

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: jakew8

                          Rest assure that it is indeed still there!

                        2. Here's the dilemna with the bun situation in my opinion. I grew up eating baked pork buns (char siu bao)--I love them even when they are not good (frozen ones)--BUT I have friends that don't get it. They think I'm crazy for being infatuated by them. Yet, they love the mantou-sandwich style ones. The Momofufu buns contain way more costly ingredients than bao. Most bao lately are skimping on the filling but at .75 cents each they are still some of the greatest things on earth (IMO). For $4.50 each the mantou are real tasty & costly but worth it if you like fatty Berkshire pork. The mushroom and chicken ones are great as well (not as fatty). Try the ones at Province also.

                          1. If you want the best noodles, go to MINCA in the East Village.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Liquid Sky

                              What's good there? What's different than other noodle/ramen bars?

                            2. I went to momofuku once, and my wife did not speak to me for 3 days. I made it up to her by taking her to Santoka 2 weekends in a row.

                              1. The buns are good, but if you live for more authentic buns (sounds like you probably do), just make sure your expectations are managed.

                                Personally, I actually think they're more worth the money than at a place like Chinatown Brasserie (where the goal is authenticity and you really do feel like you're being ripped off).

                                1. Momofuku has lots of nice things to eat but the noodles are to be avoided. I like the bacon/corn dish a lot. There are much better noodles in this town and this place is a showcase for a hot young chef, not a real noodle bar. Check out this thread:

                                  1. Yeah i agree the noodles are kind of bland. I'm surprised you haven't been attacked by commenters stating, you obviously have a terrible palate since momofuku is ranked really high in magazines and that the chef is one of the bests chefs of 2006.

                                    Yes the buns are good, but it is a ripoff. Pork belly is cheap.

                                    If you're a fan of pork belly, try finding some braised pork. I find it much more tastier than the stuff at momofuku http://littleguykitchen.wordpress.com...

                                    Minca's pork that they use in the ramen is quite tasty too.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: randumbposter

                                      Most Cantonese places offer a delicious casserole with thick slices of pork belly braised in a rich sauce, with pickled vegetables... the vegs taste like collard greens, and this dish would do well in the southern US. It's not usually called pork belly on English menus, though.

                                      A good plan would be to eat a pork bun or two at Momofuku and then walk to the fabulous noodle shops of Eldridge street and get handmade noodles in a rich soup for $4.

                                    2. I went there once a year ago, and was underwhelmed. The ramen seemed ok, although yes it was on the bland side and bears little resemblance to regular Japanese ramen, but it was refreshing in its own right and had quality ingredients. I had dumplings I think which were good but nothing amazing. I had a cold somen type special which was the weakest dish, because of the overly sweet broth. I did like the freshness and greenmarket quality of the ingredients (especially the veggies/there were some wonderful sugar snap peas in my somen), but the flavors as a whole were sort of on the bland side/not that incredible. I would like to try it again though, especially these touted buns.

                                      1. i went a few months ago and wanted to like it. unless i also went on an off night, i agree it is so BLAND! i had the ramen and pork buns. the texture of the pork was too mushy (for lack of better way to describe it). there was no flavor in the broth and noodles. i didn't finish my meal, wanted to leave fast. however, service was good. i liked watching them prepare my meal too. just wished the food tasted good.

                                        1. MOMOFUKU IS NOT TRYING TO BE AN AUTHENTIC RAMEN RESTAURANT. This thread is so old and tired.

                                          Everybody should go listen to the podcast interview that Jason Perlow did with Chef David Chang about Momofuku. http://www.offthebroiler.com

                                          Understand that if love Ramen, or love pork buns and are going expecting the "best" Ramen you've ever had, or Pork buns that are going to be 4 times as good as a pork bun in Chinatown (because of the price) you are going to be unbelievably disappointed. The price is what it is because of the quality and cost of ingredients... not because it claims to be twice as good as a any bowl of Ramen in the city. It's just different...

                                          For some people Momofuku is great, for some it is not great. No reflection on the food whatsoever, just on the personal preference of diners.

                                          Seriously... if you are a hater- or are looing for the "best" and most authentic ramen in the city- please go listen to the David Chang interview. It will shed a lot of light on what kind of restaurant Momofuku is, and might save you the money of trying a place that you're already destined not to like...

                                          4 Replies
                                          1. re: zGustibus

                                            Unauthentic food doesnt have to be god aweful

                                            1. re: zGustibus

                                              "For some people Momofuku is great, for some it is not great. No reflection on the food whatsoever, just on the personal preference of diners."

                                              Well, that pretty much says it all for ALL restaurants, eh? Replace "Momofuku" with the name of any other restaurant and it'll apply.

                                              Also, I would never think of Momofuku as the most "authentic" ramen shop. I don't even know if there is such a thing in the city. If you've ever been to Japan, you'll know what I'm talking about.

                                              1. re: gloriousfood

                                                Without question, Momofuku is trying to take Ramen in another direction, to do its' own thing with it. In that sense, it is not authentic. Having been to Japan, I've noticed that a lot of places do that.

                                                Glorious, I would say that Rai Rai Ken is attempting to be authentic. Compared to what you might get in Hokkaido, it might not be all that good, but the look of the place, and what they serve, is a genuine attempt to bring an authentic ramen shop to NYC.

                                                1. re: gloriousfood

                                                  The difference is not ALL restaurants are loved by so many people. The food is clearly not god awful, or so many people wouldn't talk about how great it is...

                                                  Some people are looking for something cheaper, or better noodles, or more authentic, or smaller line... but for some (myself included) it is one of the best restaurants in the city.

                                              2. Personally, I don't go to Momofuku for ramen. There's almost no point when you can get the sanme thing for cheaper elsewhere. I do, however, go to Momofuku for Dave's composed seasonal dishes, which are always, always, always out of this world. His dishes remind me very much of something you'd find at Craft (where he was a sous)--very seasonal, very simple, and made with the best local produce money can buy--but always with his own unique personal touch.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: iheartoffal

                                                  Momofuku rocks the pickle plate!
                                                  not like oshinko, the veg are barely pickled and very fresh, slender carrots, cucumber, corn, cabbage/young radish, and a couple other things.

                                                  the momofuku ramen and kimchi stew are both pretty satisfying (and leave you with lunch for the next day. who eats apps AND a monster bowl of ramen anyway?)

                                                2. I think the pork buns are worth going back for to try once... BUT I do agree the price is a little ridiculous when you can get amazing pork buns for $0.50 at the little bakery at Hester and Elizabeth.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: Ali B

                                                    I don't think the price of the pork buns are high, given the high quality ingredients that go into them. You get what you pay for; the 50 cents pork buns are full of junk.

                                                  2. While I enjoyed my one recent meal there (pork buns & baby octopus salad), I'm still not sure there's not an emperor's new clothes element. The pork buns are really tiny (almost canapes), and sorry, no way are they worth $4.50 each. It may be high quality pork, but the preparation is not labor intensive, and there's high turnover and minimal service at the place.


                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: Peter Cherches

                                                      i never saw this thread until now but personally, i prefer ssam bar over momofuku noodle any day of the week. as for ssam bar, there are plenty of items that are unique and delicious that you cant really find anywhere else in the city, hence its popularity. its casual vibe and no reservations have there pros and cons but overall, its definitely a top dining destination.