Sunday, August 8, 2010

Momofuku and The Siient Chef

If you've picked up any food or travel magazine over the last couple years you've likely seen some writer gushingly spewing praise New York chef David Chang and his Momofuku empire, now five restaurants strong.
Each of the Korean-American chef's tiny eateries are somewhat fusion, somewhat authentic, somewhat things I imagine the chef just likes to eat . . . and cook. Since I was in the East Village and still somewhat in a sleep deprived stupor I decide to amble over to the closest outpost. Momofuku Noodle Bar.
Inside the vaguely modern, vaguely Japanese space the music was blaring -- loud enough to wake the dead, and a good crowd was gathered even at nearly three in the afternoon.
With LA's Kogi trucks still attracting lines and inspiring imitators across the country, Momofuku has it's own Korean Mexican offering, the kimchi tamale. Filled with stewed pork and not quite enough kimchi for my taste this was a pretty interesting idea, but not one that I would walk back for.
Although I read countless tales of David Chang's near legendary pork buns, I still didn't recognize this dish when it came to my spot at the bar. Instead of meat encased in steamed dough, Momofuku's pork buns are little sandwiches. Soft springy steamed bread wrapped around two super fatty and succulent slices of pork belly with dressed cucumbers, scallions, and a light hoisin style sauce. Don't nibble, bite it all at once and the flavors meld together perfectly.
Unlike many places where patron can sit at a bar right by the cooks (sort of like a sushi bar except at the back section you are looking right into a quickly working kitchen, complete with flat tops, steamer trays, and two bubbling fryers), it seems that the kitchen staff doesn't even see the patrons. They make no notice of who is eating their food, although they chat among themselves a bit (this kitchen moves quickly so there isn't even much time for pleasantries), customers don't even get the sushi chef's stoic nod.
Right in front of my seat was this woman I'll call "The Silent Chef." As I sat eating she never once looked up from the dishes she was meticulously arranging with long metal chopsticks and occasionally with gloved hands. She never spoke to anyone in the kitchen or even seemed to turn around to get her orders. She just kept on opening a series of mystery plastic containers and layered hotel trays plating dish after dish.
Since I was at the noodle bar, I had to try the ramen. The broth was intensely flavored with more than a hint of soy and the noodles just chewy enough. The large bowl came with more of Chang's super fatty pork belly, shredded pork (like what filled the tamale but less dry here swimming in the flavorful broth), a couple slices of fish cake, and a curiously soft boiled egg with a delicate jiggly, but still fully formed shape (maybe it was a sous vide egg) which added just the right touch of silky mouthfeel to the bowl.
At first bite I wasn't sure this was much better than the ramen I'd eaten in Japan or in noodle bars across LA, but with every bite I liked it more. It was rich and porky and salty and the perfect cure for a sleepless night.

No comments:

Post a Comment