Momofuku (NY) – The Revolution Will Be Eaten

I’m just makin’ my play
Don’t try to push your luck, just get out of my way

- AC / DC – “Back in Black”

It blares through the loudspeakers at Momofuku and it’s oh-so-appropriate. Momofuku, and Chef David Chang, are at the forefront of a movement that’s injecting a good dose of rock’n'roll rebellion and Schumpeter’s creative destructionism into fine dining across the country – small format restaurants, fused with personality, that serve seriously good food.

Talented chefs are leaving the factories and creating casual eateries at lower price points – while using the filtered-down techniques of the culinary elite. You could call it a democratization of fine dining. The lower price points and casual atmospheres attract a larger crowd unconcerned with the normal pretenses of fine dining – servants, hushed tones, “civilized” dress codes, and wine programs that flaunt unattainable $3000 bottles of wine. It’s an attempt to translate the essentials of fine dining (ingredients and technique) to a youth culture format.

And in this small storm, David Chang is the wunderkind of the moment. You can’t open a food magazine without the editors raving about his two restaurants – Momofuku Noodle Bar and Momofuku Ssam. On Monday night, he won the 2007 James Beard award for Rising New Chef. Despite the laughable nominations in many of the James Beard categories (Floyd Cardoz? Douglas Keane? Traci Des Jardins?), they got this one right. He’s that good and you should try a taste of this revolution.

1. Wax Bean Salad (Satur Farms) w/ pickled beets & candied pine nuts
As you can see from the pictures, it’s not refined but the concept could be featured in any Michelin 3-star restaurant. The beans and beets were perfect complements, a bright taste of spring. However, the sweet/salty pine nuts grounded the dish, gave it dimension, and tied everything together . Very Good.

Momofuku (New York) - Wax Bean Salad (Satur Farms) w/ pickled beets & candied pine nuts

2. Steamed Berkshire Pork Bun
Simple and perfect – a bun with faint hints of sweetness, delicious fatty pork, and a slighty sweet sauce. Some complain that it’s a bit one-dimensional but these buns are a must-order for any first-timer (and an always-order for me.) Very Good.

Momofuku (New York) - Steamed Berkshire Pork Bun

3. Fried Cured Pork Belly w/ smoked molasses, orange, & pickled celery
Sometimes I wonder if I’m being nudged towards vegetarian ways. This sounded great on paper but it should be sent back to the drawing board. The flavors, while complementary, were muddled. The pickled celery was excellent (and I hate celery) but its brightness couldn’t cut through the fat and cloying molasses. The orange’s acid could have done the trick but, while discernible, blent into the molasses. Ok.

Momofuku (New York) - Fried Cured Pork Belly w/ smoked molasses, orange, & pickled celery

4. Sauteed Sugar Snap Peas (Satur Farms) w/ grated horseradish & salted radish
The freshly grated horseradish gave this dish a nuance and subtlety befitting of a three star dish. Again, this is not a refined dish in presentation or control but it’s a great concept – three elements working together in harmony. Very Good.

Momofuku (New York) - Sauteed Sugar Snap Peas (Satur Farms) w/ grated horseradish & salted radish

Momofuku (New York) - Sauteed Sugar Snap Peas (Satur Farms) w/ grated horseradish & salted radish

5. Momofuku Ramen w/ Berkshire pork combo & poached egg
If this is your first visit, do not order the ramen – order the pork buns, oysters, salads, and seafood dishes. Despite it undoubtedly being Momofuku’s raison d’entre in the beginning, this is just above average ramen. The flavor and ingredients are fresh but it’s not hard to find tastier ramen. Why did I order it? It was a cold Sunday evening and I was wary of the fish’s freshness. Good.

Momofuku (New York) - Momofuku Ramen w/ Berkshire pork combo & poached egg

Momofuku (New York) - Momofuku Ramen w/ Berkshire pork combo & poached egg

Value-wise, there’s no better deal in the country. Momofuku is what Slanted Door wished it could be (adjusting for nationalities of course.) Momofuku and Momofuku Ssam (review coming soon) are bright, consistent lights of NYC dining – mandatory stops for anyone interested in food. If there was a San Francisco branch, I would eat there weekly – Manresa for the four hour meals, Momofuku for the night out.

And then there are rumors of a third Momofuku – a fine dining version.

- chuck

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  • sam grimes

    be careful of what you classify as 3 star techniques in these newer places. bean salad with beets and pine nuts reminds one more of an upper middle cliche from the early 90s then some 3 star technique.
    as the fine dining concept gets dumbed down, so does the ability to recognize the techniques in their pristine forms; it all becomes a parody. Enjoy Chang’s restaurants for what they are, great restaurants with great food from a very talented man with a great concept but don’t confuse them for something it only faintly resembles.
    the beauty of fine dining is the couture element and not the knock offs. you either dig it or you don’t but you don’t make exact copies nor should one even remotely confuse the two.


    What dah? ? ?
    Sam Grimes
    Location: Forest Lake, Minnesota

    18-year old Minnesotan solo singer/songwriter Sam Grimes first picked up a guitar on Christmas morning in 1993. With a truly intriguing playing style that began with initial improper instruction (“Thanks everyone for not telling me until it was too late,” she always says in response to the observation that she plays a right-handed guitar flipped left-handed and upside down), and over a decade of long hours spent strumming, picking, and hammering, Sam Grimes is emerging onto the Minnesota music scene with something unique to offer.

  • dbird

    I saw your comment on your 2007 itin. that the ssam bar was ‘even better than the original’. Couldn’t find the actual review so respond here that I have been half a dozen times now and each time find one or more of the dishes to be absolutely ruined with salt. Twice the chawan mushi was completely inedible. Also I think the uni with tapioca is a cute concept but cloying and clumsy in the execution.

  • ChuckEats

    dbird, i never got around to writing the Ssam review – and my notes are long gone. when i next visit NYC, Ssam will definitely be on the itinerary.

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