The past couple of weeks have been hard on us Arsenal fans. (I know you don’t come here for sports talk, but please bear with me for a moment. I promise I have a food-related point.) Let me recap: A depressing defeat at the hands of Barcelona on Tuesday, a frustrating tie with a midlevel (but highly competent) team on Saturday, and, the week before that, a fully preventable defensive error—with minutes left to play, I might add—cost the Gunners what would’ve been their first trophy since 2005.
This, folks, is what heartbreak looks like.
The only thing we could think to do—well, the only thing worth mentioning on a family blog like this one, at least—was drown our sorrows in a giant bowl of ramen. Our first choice was Ippudo, of course, but that turned out to be a popular idea for a Sunday afternoon: The projected wait time was an hour-plus, which wasn’t in the cards, so we meandered east until we found ourselves, quite by accident, in front of Momofuku Noodle Bar.
Longtime eagle-eyed readers of Itinerant Foodies may recall that when I was first bit by the ramen bug, a friend in the know had warned me away from David Chang’s noodle joint; we’d had a great meal at his Ssam Bar, though, and could be seated for lunch immediately, so we parked ourselves at a table and commenced with the ordering.
Between the four of us, we managed to put away three different kinds of steamed buns. I think I speak for all when I say that the pork were the best: Thick, fatty slices of belly meat, cool cucumbers, and a nicely complimentary hoisin sauce won the day.
Our friends ordered the prix fixe lunch, a menu that changes frequently, but, on this particular occasion, came with chicken buns as the starter. These were basically the same as the pork, with a straight swap for the protein. They were fine, but the leaner meat made for a much less luscious bite.
The seafood option had the element of surprise on its side. I was expecting one big shrimp per bun; instead, we received a lightly fried patty studded with good-sized chunks of crustacean, dressed with a tangy mayo-based sauce and garnished with shredded iceberg lettuce. In an alternate universe where McDonald’s is amazing, these would be the local answer to the Filet-O-Fish.
After the beauty that was those steamed buns, the ramen was almost anti-climactic. The Carnivore’s spicy chicken version may not’ve had as much heat as its name would lead you to believe, but it did feature shredded kale and a perfectly poached egg—two things that make up for nearly any transgression.
I chose to go with the simply titled Momofuku ramen, the main incentive being the aforementioned egg, with the inclusion of both pork belly and shoulder coming a close second. Though this broth wasn’t nearly as robust and flavorful as Ippudo’s long-simmered pork stock, it’s almost unfair to expect it to be: That restaurant has set the bar incredibly high. The other elements were fine—the noodles had a nice bite to them, and the meat was well-cooked—but when compared to the best, this was always going to be an also-ran.
The prix fixe’s main was a noodle dish, too, minus the broth and served cold. It combined the best ingredients from the ramen (egg and pork) with fresh cucumbers and enoki mushrooms, tossing in thin angel-hair-style noodles—my favorite—for good measure. I much preferred this one to both of the soups, actually, and am somewhat ashamed to admit that I helped myself to more than a few bites from my friends’ bowls. They were kind enough to refrain from shooing away my chopsticks, though, and even shared a taste of their dessert course as well. I forgot to take pictures, but visualize apple-spice donut holes rolled in that crumbly coffee-cake topping, and you’ll get the idea—they were a great note on which to end the afternoon.
Post-lunch, the sting of defeat hadn’t quite disappeared, but it had lessened considerably. Who needs therapy when you have meals like this one?
Momofuku Noodle Bar
171 1st Avenue
New York, NY