On my recent foodie retreat to NYC I knew I wanted to experience David Chang's cooking and when reservations for Ko proved impossible I opted for Noodle over Ssam simply because my sister isn't the biggest fan of eating pig. That said, 15 minutes into our meal at Noodle I found myself fighting her for the second steamed pork bun. :) Is it really possible that Chang can take such simple foods and concepts and make something remarkable? Damned right it is.
Let me preface the rest of this review by noting that we'd eaten at Babbo for dinner the night before and had the gourmand lunch at EMP the same day....the bar was set quite high. Let me also note that we arrived at Momofuku at 8:15pm having walked all the way from Saks Fifth Ave and we were starving. Seating took approximately 10 minutes and we got the end-seat looking directly into the kitchen. Nice!
While college-esque and 'sceney' for sure, having attended OSU for 4 years I can absolutely say there is nothing like this in Columbus. Water was served immediately and refilled infinitely before the glass was ever half empty...amazing considering every employee was working at a frenetic place and seemingly doing 2-3 things at once....without ever missing a beat.
For our starters we ordered the grilled octopus salad with konbu, menma, and pickled chili and two of the famous steamed pork buns plus two of the steamed chicken buns. Though I had to look up many of the ingredients later, everything in the salad blended perfectly while providing a textural rollercoaster of crisp, soft, moist, dry, salty, spicy, and sweet. While not quite as good as Babbo's Grilled Octopus, I'd order this every time I attended Momofuku. The buns? What can I say that hasn't already been said? Perfectly cooked fatty pork and moist delicious chicken with just enough spice and some crunch from the pickles...alone worth the trip.
For our next round we selected the fried veal sweetbreads with salted cucumbers, sweet chili sauce and the chicken ramen. While the ramen was pretty standard for an oriental restaurant, the noodles were very thick and hearty and the price was excellent for the size of the bowl. I especially liked the shitake mushrooms and crispy chicken skin. The sweetbreads? Good lord, why didn't someone think of this before? Think of the best chicken nugget you've ever tasted; but more moist, tender, and tasty. The cucumbers were delicious and the chili sauce, albeit unnecessary, was delectable on the sweetbreads. If you've never tried sweetbreads and are hesitant about trying organ meat (as my sister was) I'd say this is a great starting point to qualm your fears.
While eating our sweetbreads the individual next to my sister received his order of the roasted rice cakes with shrimp, tamago, and cashews....we couldn't resist. The rice cakes were fried crisp yet chewy, the shrimp lightly barbequed and spicy, the cashews crunchy and salty, and the egg sauce perfectly light and balanced. In a meal that consisted of all hits and no misses, this dish was the biggest suprise and on par with every other offering. To be fair, I cannot even rate which dish I liked best as all were remarkable in their own way.
Feeling full and wanting to take in more of the NYU scene we opted to skip dessert. The check was delivered and with tax/tip the total came out to less than $85, a steal for such a great experience. Great unique food, no reservations required, fantastic service with minimal pretense, great prices and big portions all combine to make Momofuku a hit.
Going into the experience I half-thought the hype over Chang was just hype....it turns out that even if it is hype, it is justified.