It’s not that the food was bad. At Ssäm Bar I had the duck lunch, several components of which were very good. The fried duck dumplings, in particular, got my hopes up perhaps inordinately high. Perfectly crispy on the outside, perfectly juicy on the inside, I could have made a happy lunch out of those alone. It was elsewhere that things began to go, if not downhill, than strangely plateau-y. The duck bun, for example, I was reliably informed would contain “[t]ender, fatty duck meat seared on the plancha such that its skin develops an incredible crunch, delicate but substantial, the kind that yields under the teeth to dissolve into duckiness.” (That is drawn from the Serious Eats review of the duck lunch, on which I based all my ordering choices.) The accompanying photo promised crispness. What we got was a disconcerting combination of sweet dough surrounding savory meat roasted to a melty consistency rather than a crisp one. (I will never get used to the flavor profile of Asian-style savory buns, I don’t think – but I know that’s my problem, Momofuku, not yours.) Now, other people might like meat cooked to incredible tenderness with the fat literally melting off it. I imagine they do, since you’re an incredibly well-reviewed restaurant helmed (albeit somewhat psychotically) by an award-winning chef. My co-eaters did not seem to have any complaints. But the texture, feeling the duck fat slide across the top of my mouth … sdfjalsdkjfadkjflsd. It was not to be borne. The meat part was nice, though. As for the rotisserie duck over rice … I mean, I like duck. But the flavor of these five slices was way too intense. I don’t know how or if they’re seasoned, or if rotisserie roasting brings out aspects of flavor that are usually more subtle. Maybe I just don’t like duck as much as I thought. (Unlikely.) But by the end of the bowl I was more than ready to hand my last slice over to my co-eater Max, who recently lost his duck virginity and is reacting as any 30-year-old virgin would: he’s fucking every piece of duck he comes across.
That metaphor got lost somewhere. Max, please forgive me. I still love you.
Anyway, Momofuku, I can’t say I unreservedly recommend any component of the duck lunch other than the fried duck dumplings. And for the love of all that is holy, what is wrong with your scallion pancake. It tasted like fried and it tasted like starch. I haven’t had a scallion pancake before, weirdly enough, but I feel confident in saying that for people to be as crazy about them as they are there’s gotta be more to them than “fried starch.”
At this point, Momo-chan, I thought there was hope for us. I thought it was me, not you. After all, everybody loves you. There must be something in you that I simply didn’t see. So when a friend invited me to Noodle Bar a few weeks later, I accepted. I was ready to approach your menu with an open heart, mind and mouth. I ordered the “brussels sprouts – spätzle, sausage, mustard” and the Momofuku ramen, and was ready to be wowed.
Now, call me crazy, but when I order brussels sprouts, I expect whole sprouts. If they’re gonna be shredded, I expect the menu to say “shredded brussels sprouts.” Maybe that’s my ignorance of this mode of ordering – I know Alinea and Eleven Madison Park both do it like that, and you can’t get much fancier than them – but I was quite startled, and just the slightest bit put out, to receive this:
(Photo credit: this guy)
I wasn’t put out because it looked bad. I was put out, insofar as I was at all, because I had expected a hearty veggie appetizer, not a funky hot salad. But I’m willing to put this down to my ignorance of the manner in which your dishes are described, and it was, quite frankly, delicious. It definitely wasn’t perfect – mustard is a tough ingredient, very easily overwhelming, and it definitely overwhelmed the lighter flavor of the sprouts. But I love mustard. I also love sausage, and now I love spätzle too. (Spätzle, for those of you following along at home who don’t make a habit of eating niche Central European foodstuffs, is this. It’s crispy fried dough but in the “savory” rather than “sweet” family of crispy fried doughs.) So while this dish was startling, and definitely underwhelmed my co-eaters, I was ultimately down with it.
The ramen, though. This is your signature dish. I’ve heard from multiple sources that it is knock-your-socks-off good. But I found my socks pretty firmly on throughout the meal. It wasn’t bad, exactly, but the gigantic bowl of soup I was served had a deep earthiness to the flavor that I found off-putting. Maybe the flavor is too porky. Or maybe, as has long been the case, Japanese food truly just ain’t for me. But though I ate my ramen dutifully, it was not by any stretch of the imagination the transporting experience I expected. This chick, whose blog I literally found five minutes ago when I googled “momofuku ramen,” says it better than I can:
…it’s time to make a teeny tiny confession. I don’t really like the food I’ve had at Momofuku and Ssam Bar all that much. I tend to blame myself rather than the recipe when something comes out kind of meh, but I’m starting to think my tastebuds just don’t work the way David Chang’s do … I stand by my comment that Momofuku is the single most entertaining cookbook I’ve ever read, but the recipes are not really rocking my world so far. In fact, the ramen broth, despite the fact that it took a whole freaking day to make, was strangely less palatable to me than my super-simple pork broth. Something about the kombu and shitakes added a weird funky aftertaste that muddied the broth instead of adding depth.
Anyway, Little Fuku, it’s not like I hate you. Your food is good enough. I don’t feel I wasted my money either time I went to you, and I’d even say the money I spent at Milk Bar was pretty well spent. (Although the corn cookie, of which Adam spoke so very highly, did not live up to expectations. It was a sugar cookie that tasted like corn, not an orgasm delivered by angels.) But I do not intend to return to your halls anytime soon.
Except for fried duck dumplings. God, even the name sounds delicious.