"I doubt you will see noodles disappear from the menu altogether, the way Ssam did at Ssam Bar, but the dishes on this prix fixe menu herald a welcome new direction at Noodle Bar."
Momofuku Noodle Bar
171 First Avenue, New York NY (b/n 10th and 11th Streets; map); momofuku.com/noodle
Service: Casual, friendly, sometimes hurried but knowledgeable about the food
Setting: Modern, minimalist room with counter seating and short tables and stools, pulsing rock soundtrack does its best to mask the throng of the inevitably crowded room
Must-haves: Scallops, Oxtail Ragu, Pork Tonkatsu
The Deal: Monday to Saturday, 6 to 10:30 p.m. $45 prix fixe for three courses plus dessert
Leave it to David Chang and Momofuku Noodle Bar chefs Scott Garfinkel and Kevin Pemoulie to travel in the opposite direction to virtually every other restaurant during these recessionary times.
While most restaurants are looking for ways to offer more food for less money, Momofuku Noodle Bar reverses the equation by offering fewer calories per dollar on their new $45 prix fixe menu. While the quantity of the food may not be such a bargain—you could spend half the amount on a bowl of ramen here and feel more sated—the level of cooking the prix fixe offers is impressive and represents a departure from Noodle Bar's traditional fare. I would argue that some of the dishes, particularly the first two courses, would not be out of place on the menu at Ko, the crown jewel in the Momofuku empire.
The Prix fixe menu offers three courses (three choices for each) and a choice of soft serve. I recently sampled a few, but the menu is a constantly changing based on seasonal ingredients.
Such is the case with the Maine sweet shrimp, which will only be available through the end of this week. I will miss them, the tender lemon infused tails and crispy fried heads made for a wonderful pairing.
The raw scallops served in a bacon infused dashi with kimchi and soy were equally compelling. The sweet scallop was balanced by the saltiness of the soy and the subtle smokiness of the bacon. Texturally it was creamy, almost buttery, the shards of bacon adding a pleasing contrast. The third option is a sliced fluke over spicy carrot puree.
My favorite dish, and one that I could have happily eaten a heaping bowl of, was the oxtail ragu served over perfectly al dente hand-rolled garganelli pasta, dotted with pine nuts and a creamy Bulgarian feta.
The Kamja Tang is a riff on the classic Korean dish, traditionally made with potatoes. Here, tender potato gnocchi are used instead, served in a fiery broth. The third option is a mini version of the Momofuku ramen noodle that comes strewn with shredded pork shoulder and Chang's famous pork belly.
A nicely grilled, oily, Spanish mackerel served over a tangy raisin miso puree and dotted with grapefruit and radish was suggestive of warmer climes, offering a brief respite from the chilly weather. I could imagine myself eating this dish on an Iberian beach.
The pork Tonkatsu—succulent with a crispy panko crust, served over shredded Savoy cabbage—might have been classically Japanese in preparation but the sweet mustard was evocative of something far less exotic: chicken fingers! The third choice, that I did not sample, is a roasted hanger steak served over kale and fingerling potato.
To finish off, you have a choice of soft serve flavors. Currently they have vanilla wafer and banana.
Just as Ssam Bar moved from a rudimentary menu concept to one offering increasingly complex and avant-garde dishes, I sense Noodle Bar may head in a similar direction. I doubt you will see noodles disappear from the menu altogether, the way Ssam did at Ssam Bar, but the dishes on this prix fixe menu herald a welcome new direction at Noodle Bar.
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