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Nov 16, 2008 09:26 AM

Momofuku Milk Bar - mixed, desserts seem best (w/ pics)

So we decided to stop by Momofuku Milk bar yesterday after happening to walk by the soft opening the night before b/c we ate at Zabb City, which is next door.

Momofuku Milk Bar is basically a bakery attached to Momofuku Ssam Bar. It's got the same wooden interior. Its sort of a weird layout, its a square room where the line wraps around from the right side around, past the baked goods and soft serve ice cream to the cash register, where you order and past the cash register is where are the savory items are made. In the middle of this square is a series of tables where you can eat.

It was a bit chaotic as the place was fairly packed, there was a decent size line and I dont think they have their numbering system down quite yet. That said, it wasn't a logistical disaster, which i was sort of expecting.

They have a variety of things, but the main items are: pork buns, a couple types of breads w/ interesting toppings / butters (like kimchi butter), pies, cakes, soft serve ice cream and cookies (there maybe one or two things im missing).

We decided to try a few different things to get a feel for what everything is like. Here's what we got:
- pork bun: this is obviously a david chang signature dish, given that I love the original dish he based this on (a taiwanese street food called gua bao, which is a favorite of mine) ive always been inclined to like his dish since it combines a series of things i really like pork belly and mantou (a steamed chinese white bun). Here I thought it was good and tasty, but not great. The pork belly itself was very nice albeit richer and fattier than at other David Chang establishments (very heavy / decadent)...definitely melt in your mouth type meat (and clog your arteries). The bun was good as well, nice and fluffy. I thought the cucumber went well with dish and was a nice complement. The issue I had with it was the hoisin type sauce they put on it, it was pretty salty and completely slathered way too much on to it, so it made the whole bun very salty (too salty)...if they toned that down it would've been very good. Btw i didn't get the fried egg on it (didn't know it was an option), but i imagine that probably couldve been pretty good although made it even more over the top rich.
- focaccia w/ kimchi butter: this was sort of disappointing, the bread itself was pretty decent albeit a bit chewier than expected (think it was slightly overcooked), but salty maybe too salty and decent tasting. They put some type of roasted tomato puree type of sauce on top of it, which has this intense smoky flavor that neither my gf or i were particularly fond of since it overpowered everything. The kimchi butter was sort of interesting, it tasted sort of like tangy butter, but didn't move me one way or the other (not great, not bad). I wouldn't order this again
- blonde pumpkin pie: this was pretty good, but doesn't have the slightest taste of pumpkin haha. Its got a layer on top pumpkim mousse, followed by a sort of thicker layer that almost has the consistency of the pie crust and then a pie crust that is a sort of very decadent graham cracker crust. It's pretty heavy for a pie crust, but it is very tasty. Again it does have a salty aspect to it.
- salty pistachio caramel soft serve ice cream: excellent, this was the best thing i had here. It tasted exactly what I thought it would taste like. It's pistachio soft serve ice cream that is salty and not very sweet, but really great flavor. Not the easiest thing to explain, but I really like this alot although I can imagine some people who like their desserts very sweet, not liking this as its not that sweet at all

For some reason all of his foods here have a fairly salty aspect to them and in some cases it was probably too salty (all the savory dishes we had).

Overall, I thought it was good, but not great, which is the way i've felt about all his restaurants, but I do want to try Ko as that seems like it may have the makings of being great. This is a gross generalization, but I'll throw it out there anyhow that I find people who are less familiar with asian food are totally wow'd by his food, while I find that people who have a good understanding of asian food tend to be less wow'd by his food b/c while it is fusion he generally doesn't diverge from the original dish that much. Anyhow, that comment really only applies to the pork bun.

I'd come back for certain dishes and I'd like to try other ones. I think the dessert side of his menu from what I tried was more impressive than the savory side and I'd definitely like to try more

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  1. >>while I find that people who have a good understanding of asian food tend to be less wow'd by his food b/c while it is fusion he generally doesn't diverge from the original dish that much. Anyhow, that comment really only applies to the pork bun.

    Considering myself having a pretty good understanding of Asian cuisines, I would agree with you on that comment only to the pork buns and some other dishes like the rice cakes or the spicy tripes. They are not very different from the original, but they are done right and done with great ingredients. It is in a sense unfortunate because you think you can get a version of pork buns in Chinatown but in realtiy most places use low quality pork and prepared sloppily with no care into details whatsosever.

    The dishes that wow me in Chang's restauarnts tend to be the offal dishes. Offal dishes are usually prepared in simple ways like stir-fry with hot spices or marinated in sauce for cold dishes. Offal dishes at Momofuku are able to change the underrated products into something more modern and interesting (and perhaps better looking), without comprismising the flavors. Those are the reasons that his restaurants impressed me.

    When I had the pork buns there were times that there wasn't enough hoisin sauce in them, so I think it depends on the cooks, and it's quality control problem that they should address.

    6 Replies
    1. re: kobetobiko

      well im actually pretty critical of chinatown generally b/c many places cut corners and produce a pretty sub par product (which is the opposite of asia b/c there is the same type of cutthroat competition there, but the product is amazing and many people take alot of pride in their cooking).

      The pork buns at momofuku are not even available in manhattan chinatown (prob b/c they are taiwanese) and momofuku's are better than most that i've had in flushing although they are not widely available there either (apparently this temple snake place in flushing makes a good version, i haven't tried it yet). im generally just sort of critical of this type of food just b/c i know what its supposed to taste like; however that said momofuku's aren't that far off and as you said the hoisin sauce issue is an execution issue not a quality issue (i.e. they are using good ingredients....and like i said, the pork belly itself was very good and thats probably the easiest thing to screw up)

      i've actually been meaning to go through and re-try chang's restaurants exactly for what you're talking about to try things like offal dishes, i have a high degree of respect for chefs that can take low quality pieces of meat (offal or otherwise) and turn it into a great dish b/c in fact many of those dishes are some of my favorite dishes (oxtails, pork bellies, intestines etc). when i originally tried his places, i had things like the ramen, which were fairly underwhelming and that may have been a mistake on my part on the ordering

      1. re: Lau

        Hi Lau,

        Hope you didn't think of my comments as being argumetative as I have a lot of respects on your posts and reviews. I hope you will enjoy Momofuku next time and in addition to the offal dishes, try the vegetables too! I didn't really eat brussels sprouts that much (as you know, not common in Asian household) but I really enjoyed the one at Ssam bar. My mom was even happier than I was as she said I finally would have some vegetables in my meals :D

        1. re: kobetobiko

          oh no not at all! im always happy to debate on something and have a thoughtful discussion about it

          i actually always hated brussel sprouts until maybe the last few years or so when i finally had them prepared in ways that fit my tastes (you should try the ones at alta, i think they're pretty good), so id def like to try them at ssam bar. I definitely need to re-visit ssam bar the most since when i originally went there it was a totally different concept than it is now (originally it was this almost chipotle like place where u literally went down the line and they made you this sort of ssam burrito, it was very subpar)

          1. re: Lau

            If you are just getting into brussel sprouts check out Otto's. My SO only liked Momofuku's but now has found that he likes Otto's as well. They are pretty fantastic.

            1. re: roze

              ill have to give it a try...i like otto for what it is, pretty reasonably priced pizza that is a cut above the general pizza joint in manhattan...i think Otto gets a bad rap alot of times (although if u try pizzeria mozza in LA, which batalli is a part owner of and the exact same concept...u could understand that Otto could be much more than it is b/c that place is awesome)

        2. re: Lau

          Yeah, I do think the ramen isn't his strongest suit. The texture is a bit too soft. I do like the poached egg in the ramen though (actually I like poached egg in almost anything). Morimoto actually visited a whole bunch of ramen places in NYC (Ippudo, Momofuku, Minca, Setayaga and maybe another place -- I forget) and rated Momofuku as being #1. I'm not sure if it's because Chang prepared it himself. Maybe his workers aren't making the ramen correctly. And like Kobetobiko, I've sometimes had the pork buns with too little hoisin on it. So I definitely think it depends on who's making them. I've definitely had some misses at Momofuku. Not everything is great. But his hits definitely outweigh the mediocre dishes.

          Kobe, I actually think his rice cakes are pretty different from the original. I'm not a fan of the original (called dduk bo ki in Korean) as the sauce is a bit too sweet and they just tend to throw the rice cakes in. Momofuku's version called for (at least the last time I had it as it seems that they alter their recipes a lot) the rice cakes being grilled or fried first creating the crispy/chewy contrast. Yum!

          Milk Bar sounds great. The savory stuff all sounds awesome! The volcano! The pork and egg bun! And some of the sweets sound good as well. Not sure about the milks as I'm not a huge milk drinker to begin with. But I don't think I'm a fan of waiting on line. Will probably wait a bit until the craze dies down and they work out the kinks.

      2. I like Momofoku (I’ve only been to Noodle Bar and Ssam) for what they’ve done in bringing the Asian food to a different level of popularity. In spite of that, I totally agree with you that “people who are less familiar with asian food are totally wow'd by his food, while I find that people who have a good understanding of asian food tend to be less wow'd by his food b/c while it is fusion he generally doesn't diverge from the original dish that much. Anyhow, that comment really only applies to the pork bun.”.

        I’ll admit, too, that your hoisin sauce comment is spot on, imho.

        Nevertheless, I’m excited to look for the first available time that we can make our way to the Milk Bar.

        1. Lau, I have to agree with your mixed reviews of the Momofuku chain (excluding Ko, since I've never been). Went to Ssam last night, followed by dessert at Milk and found both to be lacking. It was my 6th or 7th time at Ssam, and every time I go to the restaurant I am either overwhelmed or underwhelmed. The execution is definitely inconsistent, and the seasonal menu items are hit or miss. As for Milk - despite it having been empty when my friends and I got there, the men behind the counter were completely disorganized and didn't know what they were doing. Plus the place was freezing - the only heat came from the baking ovens. The servers couldn't answer 1/2 of our questions about the food (i.e, "what kind of cookie is that?") and after handing us our receipt made us wait while they served the people that came in AFTER us. We had to go back to the counter to ask about our desserts, at which point one of the guys tried to explain to us how the system worked, having forgotten all about our existing order. He couldn't even slice the cakes properly. Granted, had the food been incredible, all could have been forgiven. But we found our desserts to be too salty and sadly underwhelming. I'm disappointed in Chang.

          1. although i live in LA, i am often in new york and, every trip, find myself at one of the momofuku's; they (and century 21) are my don't misses. i love the modern, casual decor (architecture is my other passion) and always always feel comfortable dining alone, which i often am when i travel.

            on the east coast to meet someone in philly, i took the train in and flew out of jfk so i could try the new dessert restaurant. unfortunately, i wasn't thrilled and am quite sad to report it.

            i love soft serve, but prefer mine on the creamy side. because i'd had the soft serve at the noodle bar, i knew i'd probably get something on the icy side, so i put my preconceptions on hold and ordered a cup. they'd just filled the machine with the salty pistachio, which was what i really wanted, but it wasn't yet frozen, so i had the grapefruit instead. it tasted just like fresh squeezed grapefruit juice, which was nice, but i wanted it to be creamy.

            before i write any more, i'd just like to say how much i disliked the girl behind the counter. bakeries are supposed to be fun, happy places, but she was so stern and abrupt i felt like i'd just told my seventh grade teacher my dog ate my homework and was about to be scolded. this was quite a contrast from the waitress at the momofuku noodle who, after i'd spent some time chatting with on my last visit, practically jumped from behind the counter to say hi when i popped in for lunch before dessert.

            to go i ordered spicy banana bread, i think it was green chili, but can't exactly recall, and a corn cookie. both were extremely greasy which turned me off. the banana bread had a nice afterburner kick, which i enjoyed, but honestly, i was pretty grossed out by the oil slick the single slice left on the bag, my hands, even my lips. the corn cookie, also extremely greasy, tasted like a slightly crunch corn muffin. yawn.

            i'll be in new york again on monday and will instead stop at chickalicious and have a cup of what i consider to be the most delicious soft serve i've ever tasted.

            1 Reply
            1. re: jrnlmkr

              u should probably try the salty pistachio (assuming u like the salty sweet combo), it is creamy and its the one item there that i think is a standout item

            2. I stopped in last night at about 6:30 and the Milk Bar was totally empty. Maybe times have changed there, or maybe it was the weather. Picked up a double chocolate cookie to go, which was intensely flavored, salty, not too huge, and very delicious.