Saturday, July 31, 2010

Lucky son of a peach: Momofuku, East Village

Oh East Village. How I love thee. Let me count the ways: 'everything' bagels with cream cheese for US$1.75 from the bakery on 9th, PinkBerry on St Mark's, Butterlane Cupcakes (IMHO, better than Magnolia!) Cienfuegos (Cuban cocktail and snack bar - bowls of Cuban-rum punch and 'clean' empanadas) Xi'an Famous Food hand spun noodles; and that lucky son of a peach, Momofuku.

Translated as Lucky Peach, I would hazard a guess it is called this as if you actually manage to get in, you should consider yourself bloody lucky.

After trying several times to get in (ok, walking past on our way home and it having a line out the door every time) we finally managed to get three stools overlooking the kitchen area at 10pm on a Sunday night. These seats, while disregarded by some, are the equivilant of a foodie peep-show.

While quite simply a noodle joint in the East Village, Momofuku has managed to capture the gastronomic imagination of fickle New Yorkers by presenting itself in different forms throughout the city. A restaurant-proper a couple of blocks away on 13th and 2nd, fine dining on 1st between 10th and 11th, a 'bbq inspired soft-serve' and sweets bar in mid-town and East Village. Momofuku is everything to everyone (who matters).
But back to our East Village noodle bar.

Seated over-looking the kitchen, the first thing that struck me was the fact that all the chefs/cooks are white - that really typical-looking hospitality white-boy white. Regardless, they handled all the right ingredients - shallots, fresh shiitake, lychees and lots of condiments in bottles that I assumed are pickled-something-or-others.

Despite it being a Sunday and past 10pm, the place was still crowded - which was great for us to be able to use of mad spying sk!LLz to ogle other diners' dinner choices. In the end, we decided to start with steamed pork buns, with Momofuku Ramen and chilled spicy noodles to share for our main.

Knocking back our tumblers of white white, we were initally confused when our pork buns arrived looking like folded, white, fluffy tortillas, hugging beautifully layered pieces of pork belly. Those in Melbourne would know that one may expect a BBQ pork bun ala Yum Cha, from the menu's name of the dish, but as with some other things in New York (or the US) sometimes things may have a similar name, but an entirely different meaning (Biscuits, jumpers, thongs). Such false friends are usually embarassingly deceptive, however this was one false friend that became my new besty. As described above, the 'bun' was steamed and encapsulated its pork belly piece, dripping with a plum-like sauce that we happily licked off our hands. This dish resulted in no-one being willing to sacrifice the forth portion and it being cut into thirds. This is a clearly popular 'appetizer' at the restaurant, as we saw these pumped out of the kitchen, one dish after the other.

Next came our ramen and chilled noodles. Sadly, the ramen, which bears the restaurant's name, was a bit of a disappointment. Ultimately, this is a 'niced-up' version of typical ramen - and perhaps as suggested by the kitchen's staffing, very 'white'. Pork belly (same cut as steamed bun) pork shoulder and an egg, with bamboo shoots and shallots, floated above fresh ramen noodles in a perhaps-too-salty broth. The real winner of this meal was the chilled noodles. Sichuan spiced pork sausage, spinach and cashews, made nice with chilled, fresh ramen. We were warned this dish was spicy - but we found it to be the perfect kick.

Perhaps is was the fact it was still 30C outside at 10pm, but the cold dish was the one we unanimously agreed was the dish that perhaps Momofuku should have put its name to.

Fighting eachother for the last bits of cashew and sausage at the end of the meal, our tumblers drenched with perspiration, as we had been an hour and a half earlier, we vacated the restaurant at 11:30 - when finally the restaurant had cleared out a bit.

Perhaps Momofuku is New York's current 'it' but I didn't find the place to be OMG-worthy. For noodles in the East Village, I implore you all to check Xi'an Famous Food restaurant around the corner on St Mark's - and make sure to bring your appetite and some tissues. Sans warning, THESE were the noodles that caused our eyes to water and noses to run, and at $6 per serve and no wait, we all finished our enormous boxes of hand-spun noodles AND a pocket-pack of tissues in one sitting.

Xi'an Famous Foods:

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