Momofuku - what to order? giving it another try
I tried momofuku a long time ago and I thought it was fine, but nothing special. But, I've decided that I'm going to give it another try tonight. I know this has got to be one of the most controversial restaurants b/c some people love it and others loathe it, so im not really posting to get opinions on it, I'll decide myself. What I want is dish recs? What r your favorite dishes? I want to make sure I give it a fair chance by ordering the best dishes.
re: Miss Needle
im talking about noodle...i tried ssam once too, but i think they changed their menu b/c i walked by it ther other day and the menu was totally different, do u like ssam better? (i think we generally agree on asian food)
tried the pork buns, ramen and maybe one or two other things, but dont really remember
Yeah, the ramen isn't the best thing at Momofuku. The noodles are too mushy and aren't proper texture. I did love the pork buns. There are two types -- one made with pork belly and the other one with pork shoulder. I thought the pork shoulder ones were OK, but the pork belly ones were fantastic. I always order the buns when I'm there.
I haven't been to the Momofukus in a while, and it seems that the menu has changed quite a bit. I'll just tell you about what I've had that's on the current menu. From the noodle menu, I've had the veal sweetbreads that were pretty fabulous. The kimchi stew was very good as well. It's kind of more appropriate during the winter, though. Much porkier than the traditional Korean version. And I don't think David Chang waits until the kimchi gets sour to make this stew.
On the Ssam menu, I've had the jonah crab claws which I thought were OK. But crab claws are crab claws. I prefer to eat them plain. So I wasn't too impressed by their yuzu mayo. I've had the banh mi as well, which I thought was very tasty, but very expensive compared to what you can get in C-town. But I still liked it and would recommend that dish. I've had the Benton ham which was pretty good. I don't get the santa barbara uni dish. I know most posters on this board love it, but I prefer my uni plain with a bit of lemon and sea salt. I find that the tapioca and whipped tofu detracts from the pure luscious taste of uni rather than enhancing it. For some reason, I think of this dish as something Jean-Georges would do (even though I don't think he's got anything remotely close on his menus). And I just don't jive with JG's style of food. And I've also had the cured hamachi. Good, but I didn't think it was revolutionary.
Even though from this post it seems that I like Noodle better than Ssam, I would probably recommend Ssam as I think it has more dishes that are appropriate for the summer. Noodle's dishes are more winter-like in my opinion. You should search for Kathryn's reports on Ssam. I think I remember reading that she goes there on a weekly basis.
re: Miss Needle
Both restaurants have a good portion of their menu devoted to seasonal ingredients and are constantly tweaking dishes. So, yes, the menu does change on a regular basis but some dishes are always on both.
Both Noodle Bar and Ssam Bar have the pork belly buns. I believe Ssam Bar got rid of the pork shoulder option a while ago. So the buns are basically the same between the two now, except at Noodle Bar you also have the option of doing a shiitake bun or a chicken bun. Delicious but not as amazing as the pork belly buns.
Overall, I think both restaurants do very well at raw bar dishes, pork-based dishes, and anything with seasonal ingredients. You didn't mention how many people you will be with -- I find that it is difficult to have a great meal as a solo diner at either, based upon portion sizes. I always go with at least one other person, I can try 4-5 different things.
At Noodle Bar, I never order noodles. At Ssam Bar, I rarely order the Ssams (lettuce wraps now, the tortilla option is gone) unless is it the Bo Ssam (whole marinated pork shoulder butt that is slow cooked and then roasted quickly at the end to give you some crispy skin.)
I just ate there (at Ssam) this evening. I prefer Ssam, although I like Noodle too.
My absolute favorites are the Spicy Sausage with Rice Cakes and the Pork Buns. I also really enjoy the Pork Shoulder Steak in Buttermilk Sauce, the Squid Salad, and the Pickles. Also good, though lower on my personal list of priorities: the Meachem ham, the Hanger Steak Ssam. Currently, they have Migliorelli sugar snap peas with XO sauce, which are very tasty. Nothing quite like pork fat to spice up vegetables!
I am not wild about any of the raw bar items I've tried. I tend to enjoy David Chang's meatier options more; I think pork is where his true interest lies.
If you really like traditional ramen, I think maybe you won't be crazy about the noodles at Momofuku Noodle. They are not remotely traditional, and the broth is nothing like a subtle shio broth. The signature ramen are piled high with tasty pork, which I like, but it's not remotely Japanese. Likewise, the very tasty Bi Bim Bap lunch special at Ssam is nothing like a normal Korean Bi Bim Bap - it's about 90% meat, 5% rice, and 5% vegetables, which is not the normal ratio at all. And the flavorings aren't remotely reminiscent of what I'd expect in a Bi Bim Bap. I think if you're going to enjoy David Chang, you need to not compare his dishes to traditional Asian favorites, because that's not what he's doing at all. But he certainly has a way with pork. Enjoy!
If you haven't been to Noodle since the move, then you might want to give it another try. I still haven't been in, but from what I've read, it's evolving more in the direction of Ssam. So, if you avoid the namesake dish (i.e. ramen, ssam), you should be able to construct a good meal.
Unfortunately, I haven't been to Ssam in about a year, but I loved the pork buns and their spin on the banh mi.
re: Miss Needle
yeah i went to ssam a long time ago and i thought their "ssam" was literally like a semi-korean influenced take on chipotle...literally when we went it was like a chipotle were u go down the line and tell them what u want in this ssam burrito...we both hated it
i did notice how much the place has changed b/c i took a look at the menu the other day after eating at zabb city...which is actually why i decided to give his restaurants another try...actually very curious about ko, but i havent had the time to go sit and wait for a res
Miss Needle - btw, have u tried their bo ssam at ssam? i really like bo ssam, but im trying to keep expectations in order as this is obviously not trying to be traditional
No, haven't had their bo ssam yet. I can imagine it being very tasty as Chang uses very good pork. I've made Chang's pork buns using regular pork belly, and it's just not the same as using higher quality pork. The only thing I could see having an issue with is his kimchi -- it tends to be on the sweet side.
I'd also like to go to Ko but really don't want to deal with that reservation stuff. I tried one day this week and got to the screen where there were several available. But by the time I checked them, they were already snatched.
The Bo Ssam is great but very filling and fatty. If you want to eat it, be prepared for a food coma afterwards. And leftovers. My favorite way to eat it is to skip the oyster, grab a chunk of the tender pork shoulder with some tongs, making sure you get some of the crispy skin on top, a big sprinkle of maldon sea salt, and a little bit of ginger scallion sauce and kimchi puree. A bite of white rice as a palate cleanser. Then lather, rinse, repeat, until you fall over. It is 7-8 lbs of shoulder, too. Huge. Heavy. Meaty. Fatty. Delicious.
Grilled Octopus Salad for a starter,
Fried Veal Sweet Breads as a second item,
Roasted Rice Cakes as a noodle based main,
Dessert Truck for Bread Pudding for dessert!
Smoked hudson valley duck breast – very sweet, tender, fatty. I crave this dish. Very freshing on a hot day, too. If you love duck, you will love this.
Cured arctic char, dill tofu, rye flatbread -- very high quality fish, also fatty and tender, and the dill tofu and rye flatbread (it's deep fried triangles of rye) are clever and fun. I like this just a tiny bit more than the fluke but it might be because it's a fattier, stronger tasting fish.
Steamed buns -- must order. If anything, please please order these. Fatty pork with hoisin and scallions and crunchy cucumber. Add a little hot sauce (just a smear) if you like it spicy. I have these about once a week. I momentarily forget how good they are until I bite into this. Every time, I'm impressed (which is pretty difficult for me). And just think to yourself, I'm sitting in the house that these steamed buns built....
Fried veal sweetbreads -- my friends and I wonder why he can't just open a street cart doing these. Or a stand in a movie theatre. Think "popcorn shrimp" but with luscious bits of sweetbread, and a sweet chili dipping sauce. Totally addictive. Chang could make so much money selling this on the street. Mmmmmm. We usually end up fighting over the last one.
Grilled tri-trip sirloin is probably the best "main" course right now. Perfectly cooked steak, medium-rare. Tender, juicy. Drenched in kimchi butter. And some creamed spinach (I think it's creamed with tofu). I was reading one some food board that a foodie went to Noodle Bar and spotted Adam Perry Lang, eating by myself, and ordering this steak. Amazing, when you see the price and compare the quality. It doesn't seem right that a non-steakhouse has steak this good.
The softserve ice cream is fun and refreshing. I like getting the twist. You have a choice of two flavors or the twist with both. The best part, though, is getting it in a cone, and realizing they put brittle at the bottom of the cone to prevent dripping. The brittle is amazing. I think it was pinenut last time I went. And banana before that. It's a fun way to end your meal there.
I like the smoked chicken wings, too, but they may not be super impressive if you like American style chicken wings more. Ditto with the fried chicken here. They're not battered, more like marinated and cold-smoked and served with Asian sauces (non tradition but excellent flavor). I did find that the light meat on the fried chicken dish wasn't as delicious as the dark meat parts -- a little bit bland. It's a big portion, too.
I do really like the tongue at Noodle Bar, too, but some people might be freaked out by the big torchon of tongue they get, in addition to the thin slices. The flavor is excellent though. Also, the rice cake prep and the asparagus prep is better at Ssam Bar than Noodle Bar, IMHO. The flavors of both at Ssam Bar is a bit better, and I'm not a fan of how Noodle Bar chars their rice cakes on the grill, it makes them chewy. I like but do not love the squid at Noodle Bar. AND, as everybody else said, don't order the ramen. The menu at Noodle Bar in terms of non-noodle dishes isn't as varied as Ssam Bar, but you can assemble a pretty great meal.
Diver sea scallops -- these made a friend tear up recently. I love the creaminess of the raw scallops, mixed with the pickled cherries, and lemon puree, with tiny bits of seaweed on top. It's like a furikake they make in-house (can't remember the word they used to describe it). Really good. A Ssam Bar classic. They changed the preparation several months ago and everybody complained, so they brought it back.
Sliced Kona Kampachi - a really unusual dish. The capers are deep fried and if you don't like capers, these may change your mind. The pickled strawberries add a very interesting flavor contrast to the sweet and cold kampachi. And there's also arugula and arugula blossoms. This is a great, summery dish.
Seasonal pickles - nice palate cleanser but this plate is too big to finish unless you're with a large group but I really like the variety of their pickles. It's all done in house: mushrooms, beets, fennel, tomatillos, watermelmon on occasion, jicama, Asian pear, kimchee, cucumbers, carrots, all sorts of cool stuff. I would have to say that the mushrooms and fennel are my favorite. If you're with someone who loves pickles, though, get this.
Steamed buns - see above.
Roasted mushroom salad - a little more of a wintery dish but this salad just piles the umami on. Sunchokes! Mushrooms! Dashi! Excellent for fungus lovers. I don't like mushrooms but I love this.
Country ham - some are smoked more than others, some are dry aged, they are all delicious. I think the Benton's is my favorite because it's Berkshire pork but the Meacham is good too. I've tasted all four multiple times, and they are all delicious, just different. Ask your server to explain the differences so you can choose one to your personal taste. They are a little on the salty side. Also, it's not a huge portion size: thinly sliced, two pieces of bread, a big plate, the end. Oh, and red eye gravy with coffee. The gravy is made from the drippings of the pig.
Local veggies - currently the asparagus and sugar snap peas. Both are great. Get these! The asparagus is grilled and comes with miso butter. It is served at room temperature. The sugar snap peas are cooked in XO sauce with crispy shallots on top, and some Thai chilies. Delicious but a bit spicy.
Branzini - perfectly cooked, like some of the best grilled fish I've ever had. The cranberry beans and fava beans are nice too. Crispy grilled fish skin = the best. I don't think the rest of the cooked fish dishes are as good since the branzini is simply fantastic. They just don't hold up to perfection! :)
Roasted LaBelle Rouge Poussin - perfectly cooked, juicy, tender spring chicken. Some of the best chicken I've ever had. It's small because it's a baby chicken, though. Crispy skin. Wonderful sauce. Fresh morels. This dish makes me angry at all of the subpar chicken dishes out there. A blogger once said that he thought this was a dish you expect to see at Jean-George or something.
Rhubarb shortcake - mind blowing, the first time I had this. Sweet and tart but toothsome rhubarb. A buttery shortcake that crumbles perfectly. Nice creme fraiche on top, whipped into a tower of goodness. I'm going to be so sad when the season for rhubarb is over. IMO, the other two desserts don't hold a candle to this one.
There's also a new Ssam Bar pate en croute that is a "chicken and egg" one that they are experimenting with. I think it is fantastic, and superflavorful. If it's on the menu by the time you get there, definitely get it.
The oysters are good here but the only thing different about them is that there's a kimchee consomme on top. It's not super strong. I like it but you may not. The sea urchin was too weird and out there for me. I like the cured hamachi too but it feels too much like a dish you can get at a nice Japanese restaurant. And the crab claws are delicious but too pricey for 4-5 claws.
The lardo is also good and flavorful (Ossabaw pigs) but it is also a bunch of sliced fat. That might get too weird for some folks. I like the bread and butter too but think it is too filling, as I always want to try more things. Chawan mushi and squid salad are good but I think the other spring/local dishes are better. The banh mi is excellent but it's hard to get the buns AND the banh mi. The buns are slightly more bang for your buck. Pig's head torchon is interesting, but really it's a deep fried hockey puck of fat. Might be too weird for some. I like the beef tendon (a take off of Sichuan cooking) and lamb's tongue a lot (but the tongue at Noodle Bar might be slightly better). Sometimes we get these but if it's a choice between another dish and these, these dishes often lose.
The spicy pork sausage and rice cakes is awesome - kind of like a cross between Asian chili and gnocchi. It's a big portion though. The flavor is amazing, and so is the smell. But it's more of a wintery dish IMO. A nice bit of heat to it, too. I also like the pork shoulder steak a lot -- that buttermilk dressing is delicious! The meat itself is a bit on the chewy side but the pork flavor really shines. This is also a HUGE portion, and hard to eat if you're only 1-2 people and have ordered a bunch of other stuff. And I posted about the Bo Ssam above if you are curious.
I think there's only 1-2 items I haven't had on the current menu, so if anybody wants to pipe up about the ribeye or mahi mahi, go ahead! I eat at Ssam Bar pretty much once a week, and Noodle Bar often, but more sporadically, as I prefer the variety at Ssam Bar more. As well as the atmosphere. Noodle Bar just feels too bright to me. Also, the noise level at Noodle Bar is just a little bit higher than Ssam Bar -- maybe the Ssam Bar room is designed to absorb sound more? Sometimes at Noodle Bar I have trouble hearing the person that is only two seats away from me.
I just had the Ssam bar's lunch special - for a couple of bucks extra you get a bowl of pickles, a side dish (often pickled) and a soda in addition to your banh mi, pork buns, or bi bim bap. The soda choices were Dr. Pepper or Diet Dr. Pepper. Only Dr. Pepper? Weird, arrogant, or just plain funny? I thought it was funny. I'm tired of all of the East Village cookie cutter Italian restaurants that are way out of the price range of the local artists - not that this is cheap, but it's at least eccentric. The banh mi is far from traditional but it's rich and delicious. It's about half the size that it used to be, and one dollar more, but a little goes a long way. When Ssam first opened, it seemed like overpriced fast food for NYU students. The tortilla ssams were basically big bland burritos. The rice bowls were expensive and dull. The Bi Bim Bap we just had was delicious - at least the pork was, and it was mainly pork. Hard to imagine now, but the place sure has come a long way! And at least David Chang is a local creative and uncompromising character. As the neighborhood becomes more of a tourist trap, it's good to see a new regional cuisine develop. I only wish I could afford to go there more often.
The soda has always been the case. Good for us, though, as Dr. Pepper goes surprisingly well with pork!
I view Ssam Bar more as casual, creative, two-star restaurant cuisine (going by the NYT scale), that's surprisingly affordable when you compare it to a lot of other two-starred restaurants in Manhattan.