For five years, I lived really close to Momofuku, and in those five years, I had only eaten there twice. “Momofuku” apparently means “lucky peach,” but the three times I’ve been there, I have never left feeling lucky, peachy, or like a lucky peach.
The first time was clearly to try the special Momofuku Ramen which was and has been all the rave. I didn’t like it. Paying $16 for that made me even grouchier.
The second time was in the cold of winter. I know you’re asking what kind of person goes there again – waiting at least an hour while standing shoulder to shoulder with other customers and being pushed around by waiters – when she wasn’t impressed the first time? The generous kind. Like me. I ordered the Momofuku Ramen again. And, again, I was extremely disappointed. Ok, maybe stupid people like me give second chances with food.
The third and last time was just a couple weeks ago when I had to go there because it was on New York magazine’s soup list. Yes, I had to. Yes, sometimes this adventure is no fun. The third time was surely not going to be a charm. Since I wasn’t about to waste another $16 just so I could reaffirm to you that the Momofuku Ramen isn’t all that, I went against my very structured, do-everything-by-the-books nature and ordered the three-course prix fixe lunch for $20. I’m such a rebel! A rebel with a cause, that is. Now I can tell you that it’s not just the magazine-featured ramen that’s all hype; the restaurant in general is overrated, especially for the price.
Amuse Bouche – Smoked Duck with Lemon Puree & Pickled Mustard Seeds
The mustard seeds gave the bite a nice crunch, but the lemon overpowered the duck which became an aftertaste.
1st Course – Steak Tartare with Chili Flakes, Sesame and Quail Egg
A perfect-looking round of chopped raw meat was drenched in chili oil, sprinkled with sesame seeds, topped with a raw quail egg, and served with a side of greens that looked like butter lettuce. When the dish arrived, I just stared. I had no idea how to eat it, and no one bothered to explain it to me. I’ve had steak tartare before, but the meat and sauce were prepared and mixed in front of me. I had to flag a waitress down who then confirmed that I was supposed to mix the egg with the meat myself. Pretty unappetizing, if you ask me, especially when I couldn’t mix the egg well enough.
I took a bite anyway, and was surprised that, even with all the red oil, it lacked any flavor. Salt – where’s the salt?! Other seasoning would’ve been nice, too. The meat was also tough to chew, and made the experience even worse. If you want a great steak tartare, head over to EO (Employees Only).
2nd Course – Corn Ramen with Hand-Cut Noodles, Smoked Ham & Delfino
Thick and wide noodles sat in a small bowl with clear brownish broth and were accented with a square of dry seaweed, a few kernels of fresh-roasted corn, roasted pork chunks, scallions, and delfino (think awesome Cilantro). The noodles were cooked al dente, erring on the side of a touch too firm. But I did like them.
The broth had a good smokiness, but it was too salty, just like the Momofuku ramen broth. They could afford to use some of the salt in their broths in their tartare instead.
The pork was a tad on the dry side and was more like a tough Chinese roasted pork instead of the melt-in-your-mouth thin style one usually gets with ramen.
While the fresh roasted corn was extremely sweet and crunchy, I don’t understand why only a few kernels were included in the bowl. Seems a bit absurd to call it a “Corn Ramen” and then only use the kernels as an accessory and not the main feature. Even if they included an ample amount, they should’ve served the bowl with thin, delicate noodles instead. The thick noodles didn’t lend themselves to being eaten with the little round yellow pearls, unless I fished them out with the spoon and then put a tiny piece of noodle on top.
Let’s go back to the delfino, though. FABULOUS. I’d like to grow me some of this stuff. The rest of the Corn Ramen can remain a memory.
3rd Course – Cousin Leroy and Arlo’s Soft Serve – Spring Pea and Strawberry Twist
Imagine me happily running through a strawberry field in the spring. Sounds totally wrong since strawberry season is in the summer, right? Well this is how Momofuku’s soft serve made me feel. Spring pea flavor? What? Twisted with strawberry flavor? No way! Yes way! It was so crazily divine…
I happen to be a green pea fan, so this was a treat to get it in ice cream form. It tasted just like fresh sweet peas. MmmmMMmM. The strawberry flavor was also made with fresh strawberries – you could see flecks of the real thing. And, while the first few bites already made up for the previous two courses, I was later surprised with something even more heavenly. As I got closer to the center and the bottom of the tiny teacup, I discovered a mix of crunchy dried peas (think wasabi peas without the wasabi), salt and crumbled graham cracker or pie crust. These toppings may have been at the bottom, but they remained a top highlight of the dessert. I ate this last course so fast that I felt sick. If feeling sick feels this good, then I always want to be sick.
171 1st Avenue (between 10th and 11th Streets)
New York, NY 10003