Last winter I ventured to Ivan Ramen, and it didn’t disappoint. With temperatures in New York City dropping again below 50 degrees on a consistent basis, ramen recently called back. I had not patronized a David Chang establishment in some time, so I decided to revisit one of my all time favorites: Momofuku Noodle Bar. This is the original restaurant that initially brought David Chang critical acclaim (2004).
Although he has since expanded to numerous other establishments (Momofuku Ko, Majordomo, etc.) and skyrocketed to celebrity status (recently featured in the WSJ Innovator’s Issue), his first restaurant still keeps me coming back for more.
Tucked away in New York City’s East Village, between 10th and 11th on 1st Ave., the nondescript, all glass storefront is easy to miss. Had I not noticed the peach on the front door, I may have passed it by.
I arrived almost immediately after it opened for lunch (noon on weekdays), and the place was already filled to the brim. The bar facing the open kitchen was teeming with hungry patrons. The staff was pleasant when greeting me amidst the chaos of the lunch crowd. Another solo diner had arrived just before me in a puffy Canada Goose jacket, which I had to roll my eyes at given that the temperature outside was still ten degrees or so above freezing – hardly Arctic conditions.
Thankfully the staff did not seat the two of us in the couples section of the bar where you face one another. Although we did end up sitting next to each other at the long bar that runs almost the entire length of the restaurant. It’s perfect for solo dining. Despite the obnoxious coat of my neighbor, which proceeded to smack all those around him as he undressed, I was perfectly content at the crowded bar.
Then came the menu. The waiters move quick and leave no time for small talk. That suited my preferences as I already knew I wanted the pork buns and ramen. I just needed to decide on which version of the latter. I first ordered an Other Half “Green City” IPA (out of Brooklyn) because why not? Pork buns and ramen match perfectly with a cold, frothy glass of suds.
Mr. Canada Goose next to me ordered chicken noodle soup, which might sound weird and juvenile at first, but that’s the magic of this restaurant – it’s unashamed of American influence in Asian cuisine and vice-versa. Traditional chicken noodle soup does not come with yu choy, garlic, and an egg yolk!
I finally decided to order the pork buns (no brainer) and the Spicy Hozon Ramen. When I was previously at the noodle bar a few years ago, I had indulged in the Pork Ramen, which is more of a classic, so this time I wanted to venture into the unknown. Boy, was I glad I did.
The pork buns, as expected, were delectable. The doughy, soft, and smooth bun perfectly complemented the crusty hoison coated pork belly. The pickled cucumber added delightful contrast, leaving me to stew in ecstasy at the bar. Coupled with the IPA, I was in heaven.
Next came the Spicy Hozon Ramen. Although it says spicy, it was more of a medium heat for my palate. The broth was powerful, with superb balance, not too salty, not too thick. With scallions, chickpeas, and bok choy, the ramen filled me with pleasure and satisfaction. Crunching on the crusted chickpeas floating in the broth added a good variance of texture. Paired with the flowingly delicious noodles, I could not have asked for a better combination. I finished every last drop of the ramen.
Below are some pictures of the food and storefront. My experience reminded me that while sequels can succeed, there is often little substitution for an original.