Friday, March 14, 2014

Momofuku: chapter 1



The Benton’s bacon arrived so we’ve started our Momofuku phase while continuing with the Sweet desserts. 

If you didn’t already know, Momofuku is a famous, fashionable New York City restaurant group that includes Ssam Bar, Noodle Bar, and the painfully expensive Ko. Founder David Chang, 36, is the original Korean-American bad boy chef and one of the people we can thank for adding “fuck” to the cookbook lexicon.

That’s Momofuku. Momofuku is Chang’s 2009 book (written with Peter Meehan) about founding and building Momofuku. It’s a real, readable book with roughly equal quantities of text and recipes. As of page 123, here’s what I’ve learned: Chang excelled at football and golf as a kid, majored in religion at Trinity College, and daydreamed about writing “a screenplay that told the story of the Bhagavad Gita through the lens of the Civil War with Robert E. Lee in the hero’s role.”  (Joke? I can't tell.)

He also daydreamed a lot about noodles and ran off to Japan to apprentice in a ramen shop. After working in various restaurants in Japan and New York City, he eventually decided to pursue his ramen dream and in 2004 opened Momofuku, a tiny noodle shop in the East Village. Where I left off reading, he’s just opened his second restaurant, Ssam Bar, and while things are going badly for hot-tempered, foul-mouthed David Chang, I sense a big turnaround is afoot. It has to be, or this book wouldn't exist. 

Sprinkled throughout the text are recipes and a lot of them are daunting. In order to do the book justice I will have to tackle Chang’s ramen recipe, which involves seven component recipes. Eight, if I decide to make the noodles from scratch, which I won’t. 

But there are some easier recipes I’m using to warm up.

The first recipe I tried was Chang’s Napa cabbage kimchi. I made this last month and let it ferment in the refrigerator until a few days ago. I’m not a kimchi connoisseur and suspect this version contains more sugar than is strictly proper, but I love it. The sugar is probably why I love it.  Be warned that it is very, very sweet and will not work on the Paleo or Atkins diet. The recipe is here

On Monday, I used the kimchi to make one of Chang’s brussels sprouts recipes. You roast some sprouts, toss with chopped bacon (Benton’s, of course -- Chang is hung up on Benton's), and then serve on a bed of pureed kimchi. It was really tasty. Not life-changing and not as streamlined as Roy Choi’s brussels sprouts/kimchi dish, but really tasty. 

The next night: asparagus with miso butter and poached eggs. You beat together white miso and butter, warm this with a little sherry vinegar, and serve with sauteed asparagus and a poached egg. My family would be aghast if I put this in front of them, so I made cole slaw and bratwurst for them. I alone ate the asparagus. And it was a very lonely meal indeed.

Not to mince words, but I hated this dish. You’ll find the recipe here followed by many glowing reviews, so don’t let me deter you from trying it.  Chang writes that the miso butter-egg combo resembles hollandaise sauce -- “in a similar appealing fat-on-fat sort of way.”

I found it unctuous, overpowering, cloying, and totally unappealing. Hollandaise has a nice, lemony bite that cuts through the “fat-on-fat." While the vinegar was probably supposed to do this for the miso butter, it didn’t, or not enough to suit my particular palate. The egg yolk mingled with the miso butter and pale yellow liquid ran all over the plate. Jokes were made. At the end of dinner, Isabel stood up to clear the table, looked at her father, and said, “Do I have to clear her plate?”

You get the idea.

For dessert: tangerine cake from Sweet. We all ate the same dessert and all agreed it was delicious. What Momofuku put asunder, Sweet joined together again, if only for about 7 minutes.


19 comments:

  1. Too bad about Momofuku. I just got back from NYC and had another great meal at Noodle Bar (pork ramen, pork buns + spicy sausage noodles) and another disappointing one at Ssam (rotisserie duck lunch + duck dumplings). I think his more "traditional" offerings are much more successful than his creative ones. Based on that, I've never had the desire to eat at Ko.

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    Replies
    1. I've never eaten at Noodle Bar, but wanted to. My first Momofuku meal was La Peche (is that the name?) and it was so good I decided I had to try the others. Then I went to Ssam Bar for dinner on the next trip and my experience there was very good. Ko -- I had problems with Ko.

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  2. I love kimchi, and I have never made it at home. Dumb, huh? It's just a ferment. And I like sugar, I admit it. I will have to try this. Buying kimchi is surely a waste of money. So, how was the Benton's? Tasty, salty? Was it worth waiting for the mule train? I have already ordered my copy of Sweet, you evil seductress!

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    Replies
    1. I hope you like the book, beckster. I just made the matcha-white chocolate-macadamia cookies and they are mostly delicious, just a little strange.

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  3. The kimchi-miso butter is fantastic from Momofuku. Fantastic. Even my pickle-averse fussy husband ate some and asked for more.

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    Replies
    1. There was no kimchi in this miso butter -- it probably would have cut the richness. I may have erred with this miso butter -- used a bad brand of miso, or made some other mistake. Or maybe I just don't like miso butter.

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  4. am curious to hear what you think of the Benton's!

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    Replies
    1. Very, very salty and not pleasant to eat on its own. It does work well as an accent. Someone told me that you need to soak it in milk overnight or cook it in coffee (?) to reduce the saltiness.

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  5. i will be really interested to hear what you think about his salting levels on a few of the basic meat (chicken and pork belly) dishes. I Looove salt but a few of these seem way off to me.

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    Replies
    1. Off in what way? The one dish I've made repeatedly (and the only one thus far that seems a bit off) is the bo ssam. Too salty, but just a little too salty. (I like things salty, so what I think is perfect is probably too salty for other people.)

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  6. Really interested to hear what you think of the rest of the book. My girlfriend and I went on our first trip to New York together a couple of years ago and were in the middle of a fight on the night we went to Noodle Bar, which was one of the places at which we had most looked forward to eating. Walking back to our hotel afterward, our mutual disappointment/outrage that the ramen was so crappy (it really just tasted like saltiness) was so strong that it helped us get over our (stupid) fight and the rest of the trip was much better. Maybe they were just having an off night, but on subsequent trips, we had much, much better ramen at several other places (Totto and Ippudo are my favorites, though I haven't tried any of the crop that just opened).

    Have you ever cooked his brussels sprouts with fish sauce vinaigrette, though? I feel like it was big a few years ago but I am just as addicted to it now. The vinaigrette is so good - I could eat it on anything (and have on various starches, meats, and other fresh and roasted veg - it also makes really good cooking liquid for en papilotte tilapia or catfish)

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    Replies
    1. Crappy ramen at Noodle Bar! Maybe I won't go through the ramen-making ordeal after all. I made the fish sauce vinaigrette yesterday to go with the lemongrass pork sausage ssam -- people loved it. Very little left so I'll have to make a new batch. I bought a head of cauliflower to try the vegetable recipe you're talking about. (Rice Krispies? I'm not clear whether that's what he's calling for in the recipe.)

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