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

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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.

              1. Pork and egg buns are AMAZING. the milkshakes are great too, you can choose any flavor soft serve to be blended with any of the different milks. I can't tell you how many moans I heard from everyone around me when I was there this past Friday evening.

                On a side note, Christina Tosi is incredibly friendly and approachable; even when I observed customers rudely telling her what she do to change her desserts, she remained pleasant and let them have their moment to rant. Lovely woman and I wish them all the best at the bakery.

                1. went to momofuku milk bar to pick up some snacks to sneak into the movie theater... while i was also a bit freaked out by the grease stain left on the brown paper bag containing the three cookies we bought, one of them (cornflake, marshmallow, chocolate chip) was in my opinion delicious! we also tried the compost cookie (but i couldn't get into the coffee grounds flavor) and the chocolate-chocolate chip (nice, but nothing to write home about). my boyfriend has more of a savory tooth so he got the green curry banana bread with kimchee butter. the bread was tasty (though not particularly spicy) but i didn't like the kimchee butter at all. we also had little tastes of the snickerdoodle and salty pistachio soft-serve... i thought the salty pistachio was amazing -- really rich and the most complex flavor i've ever had in a soft-serve -- and i would like to go back for a real serving soon!

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: hungry_united

                    Yeah - I was freaked by the grease stains on the bag too, after carrying the cookies around for about 4 hours before taking them home. Made me think twice about eating them...but I'm glad I got over the fear of cardiac arrest...the compost and cornflake I had were superb!! An indulgent treat...Momo Ssam and the milk bar are a perfect combination, better than the noodle bar. I'm trying Ko this weekend so looking forward to a feast from chang...:)

                    1. re: Scotty100

                      Did the cornflake also have that same chewy like no other chewy cookie you've had before thing with it? I thought the gummy thing on the Compost cookie was a bit unsettling texture wise. I liked the edges with a bit of crunch a little more to the barely cooked middle portion. They're unusual.

                  2. went to milk bar with a friend about two weeks ago - a tuesday night after seeing gogol bordello at webster hall. seems like the place is either packed or empty... my one aesthetic complaint is that there are NO places to sit. luckily, the counter staff let us sit our tired bones down on the counter to the left of the door.

                    what we sampled and ate: we both got samples of the frozen yogurt (it was far too cold for an entire serving), grapefruit and snickerdoodle. i enjoyed the intensity of the grapefruit but my friend found it too 'grapefruit-y' and a little too bitter. the snickerdoodle was divine, like the cookie but creamier and just salty enough. we shared a slice of the dulce de leche cake, which though a bit cold, was otherwise perfect. so many layers of the caramel! also, at the end of the night, since they were closing up, the staff also sent us home with four of the chocolate-chip-and-cornflake cookies. they had surprising longevity and were still an excellent mid-morning snack three days after.

                    conclusions: milk bar is delicious, i want to try their interpretation of the pork bun and if you arrive shortly before closing, you get free cookies!

                    1. As far as desserts go, the offerings aren't all high end or interesting. It's a fun menu but if you're not careful it's very easy to find your taste buds knocked out from sugar overkill after say a sample of the salty pistachio and a bit of a pie.

                      1. the banana cookie i had was rich and very sweet, but really tasty

                        1. I have been here a few times. The pies and cakes are actually not that good. The frosting is like biting in to a stick of butter, which is actually not as tasty as you would think. The women who work there are horribly rude, but the men are always friendly.

                          The PB and blueberry cookies are always excellent. The soft serves are excellent, especially when the cereal milks are the flavors du jour. Crack pie isn't anything to write home about, the cinnamon bun pie dried out within minutes, the candy bar pie didn't have any strong flavor besides sugar.

                          There are better places for dessert, if you are craving cookies or soft serve, it's worth the stop. But someone really needs to tell the ladies to tone down the attitude. It's a recession, and I'd rather support a small business that appreciates my patronage.

                          7 Replies
                          1. re: evdiner

                            I haven't experienced the bad service from the ladies that you have. But I will say that I find the desserts kind of so-so. Things are a bit too sweet and clumsy. I read an article about Christina Tosi (the pastry chef) eating sweets all the time. I'm wondering if their palettes are deadened from all the sugar they eat on a daily basis. I haven't tried the soft serves yet.

                            My choice for desserts in that area would be Chikalicious Dessert Club.

                            1. re: Miss Needle

                              the soft serve is really the reason that i think thbis place has some merit...i love pistachio and i like the saltiness...although if u dont like saltiness you might be ehhh about it

                              1. re: Lau

                                I'll definitely try the soft serve one day. I do like saltiness as long as it's not overly salty. One of my favorite ice cream flavors is salted caramel. Maybe I'll try the cereal milk ones as it seems a bit unique.

                                1. re: Lau

                                  They don't have the salty pistachio any more. Only the 4 cereal-milk based ones, but they plan on switching the flavors once a month. I think the cereal-milk based ones have been around for about 3 weeks now, maybe they will change again soon!

                              2. re: evdiner

                                I stop by often and I find all of the employees to be very nice and helpful. Christina Tosi is especially nice, and even works the counter when necessary. I normally just buy one item and bring it home, so they're not being friendly because I'm a big time spender. I like most of the desserts, love the green curry banana bread, chocolate cookies, and dulce de leche cake. For a couple of bucks you can bring something home that's probably delicious, definitely unique, and a change from another bland cupcake.

                                1. re: hungrycomposer

                                  I agree with you. I've always found the employees friendly and helpful. Although I usually buy more treats than any sane person should buy for himself, I am not a big spender by any means either. A few of my favorites I've tried so far are the corn cookie, marshmallow cornflake and chocoloate chunk cookie, and compost cookie. I tried the cereal milk soft serve this weekend for the first time, which was also delicious. I will say that the desserts tend to be on the salty side, but I love the salty-sweet combination.


                                  1. re: Eddie H.

                                    I think the salty/sweet flavors are a little addictive - I haven't loved every item, but I keep going back to try new things. In a neighborhood that's filled up with nail salons, dunkin donuts, and bridal dress shops (!?) it's nice to see some creative ideas in the East Village again. It's certainly more fun than one more cupcake or chocolate chip cookie!