"There may be better chicken out there in New York, but I haven't had it."
David Chang's recession antidote? Fried chicken for as little as $12.50 a head at Momofuku Noodle Bar. Sure, that same amount can probably get you a whole bucket of chicken at a fast food joint—but as with all things Momofuku, a traditional recipe is used as a point of departure for a complex and evolved revision. Get seven of your friends together and you will be in for a feast; eat there with less, and you will probably leave with food.
Just don't do what I did—eat with four people and order a slew of appetizers before the chicken arrives. You won't need to order pork buns, roasted foie gras, heirloom tomatoes, and a bowl of noodles; honestly, who in their right mind would order a bowl of noodles before eating fried chicken?
Don't expect biscuits and gravy with your chicken here; though one of the preparations is "Southern style," the accompanying sides and sauces are distinctly Asian, evoking Mu Shu and Peking Duck.
Your chicken arrives with pancakes, a heaping bowl of vegetables (shisito peppers, baby carrots, red ball radishes, shiso leaves, bibb lettuce, opal basil, Thai basil), and four sauces (hoisin, ginger-scallion, jalapeño-garlic, and bibim). The combinations are virtually limitless, although Alan Richman reports that David Chang himself assembled a wrap for him that he felt was the best: "Crisp skin from the classic chicken, chunks of meat, bibb lettuce, both kinds of shiso, hoisin sauce, and ginger-scallion sauce." We might have made some wraps ourselves, but since we had consumed a few too many appitizers we just ate the chicken straight, dipping it on occasion in to the lovely sauces.
I can imagine Chang, who was not there that evening, shaking his head in disapproval at our wanton disregard for his carefully curated ingredients, as we ripped the chicken apart like Philistines relegating the vegetables to mere decoration.
The Southern style is a single fried, buttermilk batter unorthodoxly infused with Old Bay Seasoning. Consider it an homage to the fried chicken Andrew Carmellini prepared at Cafe Boulud, which is itself a homage to Southern style. Despite its rather convoluted origins, I find it deeply evocative of Southern cooking (although purists will balk at the inclusion of Old Bay). The chicken was tender and moist throughout, with dense, crunchy, tangy batter.
Less heavily battered than the Southern variety, the triple-fried Korean chicken is marinated in bibim sauce; everyone at the table preferred it. But both were excellent. There may be better chicken out there in New York, but I haven't had it.
Ultimately, I found the real value in the feast is not the quantity or quality of food, but the communal aspect of the meal itself. There is something so convivial about sitting around the papered table, digging in to a heap of fried chicken with a bunch of friends. In fact, when I ate there, the goodwill spilled over in to the adjoining table of fried chicken diners as we shared chicken parts and condiments between us as needed.
While you won't have to stand in a line to get your chicken, you will have to brave the vagaries of the Momofuku online reservation lottery system. It is perhaps the only downside to the meal. But think about what a hero you will be, when you finally secure an elusive reservation and invite seven of your friends. They may even feel the urge to buy you dinner.
Momofuku Noodle Bar
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