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.
When 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.
I 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