Dinner at Momofuku Noodle Bar.

If there’s too long a line at Momofuku Ssäm Bar in the East Village, walk an extra five minutes or so around the corner to its sibling on First Avenue, Momofuku Noodle Bar.  The music is just as loud, the scene just as sceney, and the food just as lip-smacking.  It’s also a good deal cheaper, with large plates ranging from fifteen to twenty dollars, as opposed to Ssäm’s twenty to thirty.  Most importantly, you can get Chef David Chang’s not-to-be-missed buns at both spots.

momofuku-noodle-1When I say these buns are an essential order, I am not exaggerating.  If anything, they’re a revelation — soft steamed buns brushed with hoisin, sprinkled with scallions and layered with thinly-sliced cucumber, in the middle of which is the most glorious piece of pork.  The buns can be made with chicken or shiitake instead of pork ($9.00, regardless of protein), but I can’t see why anyone would want to have anything aside from the pork.  Honestly, I can’t stress how completely amazing it is; there’s impossibly tender meat under the most incredible strip of luscious fat.  Each bite of bun is an incomparable combination of flavors: sweet, fresh, crisp and just plain divine.

momofuku-noodle-2I went a different route than usual with my main course, ordering the sole vegetarian entrée from the restaurant’s menu: ginger scallion ramen ($11.00).  While the Momofuku ramen, with its three different pork preparations and its poached egg, is almost twice the size, the meatless dish is tasty in its own way.  The ginger scallion ramen is served warm and is tossed with seasonal vegetables.  In my case these vegetables were roasted cauliflower and cucumbers coated with a sweet and tangy dressing.  These were actually the high point of the bowl for me, even more so than the salty, nutty noodles (which, it should be said, were tremendous).

The restaurant’s walls are paneled in chunky slats of blond wood which play off the black ceiling, chalkboards and slate floor really nicely.  While most of the seats are at communal tables lined with squarish stools, I highly recommend getting a seat that overlooks the kitchen; from that vantage point, it’s possible to watch the chefs prepare each dish — and, of course, drool.

Momofuku Noodle Bar
171 First Avenue
New York, New York 10003

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A Bite + a Cocktail at Jazz Standard.

Just a few steps away from the 28th Street subway station is Jazz Standard, the jazz bar New York Magazine called “the best jazz club.”  It’s also below Blue Smoke, which Time Out New York named “best barbecue.”  The thing is, I can’t speak to either — my knowledge of jazz is limited to smatterings of bossa nova and “Take Five,” and barbecue is not my forte.  When I can speak to is the ambiance downstairs, the taste of a certain side dish and the Mingus Dynasty.

Judy, Dorian, Dennis, Keith and I swept past Blue Smoke entirely, heading straight downstairs for the nightly live music.  As a bassist and lover of jazz, Dorian had been looking forward to seeing a show since he and Judy had arrived for their brief stay in New York.  That night we were seeing Ming Dynasty, the seven-piece original Charles Mingus “legacy” band; the bassist even plays Mingus’s lion’s head bass, the scroll of which is carved to look like, well, a lion’s head.  Like I said earlier, I don’t know uch about jazz, but the band was thoroughly enjoyable, maintaining an incredibly level of intensity.  My favorite member of the Dynasty was its most adorable pianist, who fairly launched himself off of his stool with his energetic dancing.  I also liked the trombonist — why do players of brass instruments always look so surprised with each breath?

I was feeling a bit peckish and knew I’d need a snack before dinner; along with a cocktail called the Illinois Swing (Tanqueray, prosecco and lemon juice, $11.00) I ordered a side dish: roasted cauliflower gratin ($6.95).  Each bite was buttery, garlicky and salty, with a hint of lemon and something that I swear was nutmeg.  I found myself almost sucking on each crisp-tender piece to get all the juice out.

Unfortunately, Jazz Standard doesn’t allow photography during the show — which is when I was eating — so let my words describe the aesthetic of the place.  For me, the standout feature was the red upholstered wall behind the band.  It added an oomph to the matte gray walls ans black ceiling and matched the curved red banquettes.  If anything, it was like being in a comfy, secret den — that everyone should know about.

Jazz Standard
116 East 27th Street
New York, New York 10016

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