Receipts at Momo Sushi Shack come printed with the following: "a prayer for the wild at heart, kept in cages." Not exactly what you expect to see when paying the bill, and yet the elegiac, vaguely political note doesn't feel forced. It's the sort of intelligent touch that shows that this perennially packed Japanese restaurant in Bushwick has more in its sights than California rolls and sake bombs.
First up, a seaweed salad ($5), a mound of hijiki, a brownish sea vegetable, and wakame, a deep green sea plant. The rehydration process had softened the dried, slightly salty shards. Hanging out in this part of Bushwick will likely make you more hip, and eating this mostly macrobiotic mix will likely make you healthier. Win-win!
With some trepidation, we ordered the Mexican bomb ($5). We feared we'd doomed ourselves to a frat party on a plate, all posturing and froth. However, the hemispheres of vinegared rice, topped with delicate strips of organic Scottish salmon and avocado, as well as a teensy drop of tomatillo salsa from the Brooklyn Salsa Co., were adorable. Flat side down on the tongue, the bomb is just right. The owners developed the concept at their other Japanese restaurant, Bozu in Williamsburg, and the result is a little gimmicky, sure, but oh-so-elegant.
Our spicy scallop hand roll ($6) arrived in a shot glass. Eat it quickly, our server advised, before the seaweed de-crisps. Mayonnaisey chunks of scallop gave way to tangy, tacky rice. Thoughtfully, the chef had tucked one last bite of scallop into the hand roll's triangular bottom. We added wasabi and spicy wasabi sauce, from wee vats, for even more punch.
We were also struck by the presentation of the lamb offal gyoza ($12), a thin, crispy pancake, adorned with hot pepper jam and a basil ponzu sauce. Cracking the shell revealed the tiny dumplings nestled underneath. A neat trick, that.
The pork betty ($10) deserves to be celebrated, its name carved into stone structures and sung from rooftops. Slices of pork belly bobbed in a sake-and-soy sauce mixture, each slice boasting a polka dot of wasabi cream and a burst of pure porcine flavor, a holy union of bacon and umami. We would have drunk the dregs.
Momo's interior is one dead light bulb away from being featured in the Saw franchise. Seating consists of three long communal tables, lit from above by thin neon tubes, their orangy yellow glow evocative of Dan Flavin. Walls and floor are metal and concrete. There are no windows. To combat the starkness, someone hung a banner above the bar that proclaims, "Magic surrounds." Blasting funkadelic and an extraordinarily considerate waitstaff help too. The hungry crowds eying your seat will keep you from lingering, so Momo Sushi Shack is best for: a zippy date.