Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Momofuku - My Return to Ramen

My collegiate culinary experience was an eclectic mix of dining hall gorge fests, burrito attacks and a never-ending supply of Ramen Noodle. While the former was mainly reserved for my Freshman year, and when I was lucky enough to coerce an undergrad to buy me a meal, the mid and latter parts of my experience lasted the length of my four year endeavor. While burritos were regulated to once a week (Anna’s Taqueria on Sundays at approximately 3pm), Ramen Noodles were regrettably a larger part of my diet. Fortunately, Ramen costs about nineteen cents a packet, so there was a lot of room for experimentation, some that worked (Ramen with vegetables) and some that didn’t (Ramen with hotdogs). Although Ramen offers over a dozen different types of “flavors” (everything from chicken to pork to beef), after a few weeks on the Ramen diet, it all began to taste the same and my body began to feel, well, appropriately “off”. In fact, I grew so sick of Ramen that until a few days ago, I usually steered clear of anything associated with Ramen.

Momofuku, which is Japanese for Lucky Peach, is a minimalist, East Village, noodle bar, that serves traditional Ramen dishes with a modernly, organic twist. Instead of the commonly found low-grade meat scraps and wilted vegetables one would expect from a New York noodle bar, Executive Chef David Chang (2006 James Beard Nominee for Rising Chef) has curated a menu that offers organic farm raised animals and vegetables. The result is classic Japanese fare, with an invigoratingly fresh and organic taste. So with this in mind, I decided to suck it up and to give Ramen, once again, the good ol’ college try.

To fully enjoy Momofuku’s dining experience, try to hold out for a seat right in front of the open kitchen. Although the thought of waiting any more than one would have to seems like a type of self-masochism (the average wait for dinner is about forty-five minutes), a seat in front of the kitchen allows one to fully experience the fast-paced (and may I add snarky) interactions between the chefs, their food and the waiters. We started off the meal with Baby Octopus, which was served with konbu, menma and pickeld chilis ($13). These full octopi were first boiled and then pan fried, which resulted in incredibly sweet and tender meat, with a dark and crispy out side. The pickled vegetables and light broth did well to compliment the octopi and gave the overall dish an additional tart and salty kick. Next up were the Chicken Steam Buns ($*8), two airy and fluffy pillows, with just the right balance of dough and soft, shredded chicken.

Finally it was time for the Ramen and we decided on the signature Momofuku Ramen ($14), which was Berkshire pork, shanghai think noodles and a poached egg, all served in a long-simmered stock (made from 70 pounds of chicken legs, roasted pork bones, ham hocks, and bacon). We started by cracking the poached egg, which was used for its creaminess instead of adding dairy, and mixing all of the ingredients together. The noodles were impeccably cooked and the pork (which came from Eden Farms and the Piccinini Brother in Iowa) was on par with some of the best slow cooked meat I had ever had. The dish, which was more than enough for two, was so impressive in taste and presentation, that I have officially added Ramen back into my culinary rotation.

Now for all of you who might think that I over reacted to what was widely considered a staple of the college diet, allow me to share this Ramen horror story. Upon my first trip home from college, one of my good friends told me that in an attempt to save money, he had cancelled his dining plan and eaten nothing but Ramen since day one. Around the end of October he began suffering from sever mouth pain, especially in his teeth. In fact, his teeth began to hurt so badly that he eventually had to visit the campus dentist. The dentist asked him if he had suffered any accidents or injuries, to which my friend answered no. Stumped by the student’s pain, the doctor finally asked what he had been eating. My friend answered, with a painful grin, “Well to be honest, I’ve been living on the Ramen diet: All Ramen, all the time.” With that, the dentist went to his textbook and with a little research, and much head shaking, diagnosed my friend with Barlow’s Disease, better known as scurvy.

Momofuku is located at 163 First Ave in New York City.


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