Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Oh Hi Momofuku Fried Chicken

I snagged a midnight reservation for Momofuku Noodle Bar's fried chicken dinner for this past Friday and soon had a group of 7 ready to inhale some food and alcohol. We planned on meeting at my apartment for a couple drinks before heading downtown.

My buddy Joe arrived early with a bottle Raspberry Firefly Vodka, proving that despite his Moroccan blood, he is actually a freshman college girl from Georgia. Firefly goes down easy though, and pretty soon we were nicely buzzed.

Now, for a quick digression. A couple of years ago I read an article about a 2003 movie quickly gaining a cult following in L.A. called "The Room." It was (air quotes on all four) written, starred in, directed and produced by Tommy Wiseau, a man of unknown European origin with long black hair and a fondness for baggy clothes and parachute pants.

Every line out of Wiseau's mouth (read directly and awkwardly from the script), is delivered either mush-mouthed and sedated, or crazily over-the-top. It's pure gold. The plot is deeply personal and very simple: Wiseau plays Johnny, whose live-in girlfriend Lisa, wants to fuck his best friend Mark. She succeeds easily because apparently she's very beautiful, but repeating that line 50 times does not hide the fact that Lisa looks like a bridge troll. In one scene, it appears that an alien is about to explode out of her neck. She also walks like my grandma.

The plot has many "cul-de-sacs," including a cancer scare and a drug deal gone bad that are brought up, but never mentioned again. It all ends with Johnny being the victim, and everyone wishing they had been nicer too Johnny, and that perhaps it was a bad idea to fuck each other behind poor, defenseless Johnny's back.

Wiseau has a weird charisma that makes it difficult to look at movies the same way, especially after trying to wrap your mind around the existence of The Room. Not many other movies do that. I could probably name them on one hand (that's definitely for another blog post).

The Room is also fantastic while drinking, and we were soon being entertained by Wiseau's amateurish directorial skills. The rest of our group arrived about 3/4 through the movie, so we finished and started it again. One of our group, Matt, generally prefers not to take gb's before going out, but was convinced to give it a try. Not a good idea. According to Matt, he was "tripping balls" before throwing up in the bathroom. Matt wasn't sure if he was going to make it to Momofuku, so half of the group hung back to make sure Matt didn't do anything stupid.

Sorry for the quick digression, I know you came here for the chicken.

We finally reached Noodle Bar in a sufficiently weird mood. Walking in, we were told that our table was taken because some assholes had just ordered two bottles of sochu. No problem though, we staked out a big space at the front counter, ordering Lone Star beers and pork buns while we waited for our friends.

Oh hi Pork Buns! (see this awesome clip from The Room for context).

A couple in our group had never been to Momofuku, so they dug these a lot. More people liking pork belly is always a good thing. I hadn't noticed the distinctive taste of the hoisin sauce in the buns before. The hoisin has a deep umami flavor and is not too sweet. We got a big bowl of it with our fried chicken as well.

Finally the stragglers arrived with Matt, who looked fresh and ready to eat some chicken. We gave the signal to start the chicken, and our tamales arrived.

Oh hi Tamales

The tamales (2 for $6 or 3 for $8) were very flavorful, and seem like a natural dish for Momofuku. According to chowhound, they were oaxaqueño-style, wrapped in banana leaves and cooked in lots of pork fat. They were moist and not at all like the dried out tamales you get at crappy Mexican restaurants. The texture was like very rich mashed potatoes. The Chinese sausage (bottom picture) was my favorite, but I can't remember whether there were greens in it or not. According to earlier reports, there are, but I couldn't taste any, and they may have changed the recipe. The kimchi tamale (top picture) was also very good, with pieces of chewy pork shoulder balancing the funkiness of the kimchi. I thought the jalapeno queso tamale was the least successful, just boring (i.e. not spicy) and lacking textural contrast.

Finally, the fried chicken and fixin's arrived:

Naturally I dunked the radishes and carrots in the bibim sauce, Korean style. There was also a ginger scallion sauce, which was more of a paste, and a jalapeno garlic sauce.

Oh hi Fried Chicken!

This chicken was huge, well seasoned and very moist with a strong chicken taste. The Korean triple fried chicken had wings, drumsticks, and thighs, whereas the old bay chicken contained halved breasts, wings and thighs.

The triple fried chicken was good, but there's a reason why the best Korean fried chicken is only fried twice. The chicken was too rich, with an msg-like aftertaste similar to cheap Americanized Chinese short ribs (some people will definitely be into this). You can only eat so much of it before you need to lie down.

The old bay seasoned chicken was the unanimous choice. The thick, dark crust had a nice crunch, and you could taste the bay leaf and spices in the crust even when covered in sauce and fixins.

Oh hi old bay chicken wrapped in tortillas and covered in hoisin sauce!

It took a serious effort for 7 of us to polish off this chicken. I worried that we might not have enough food, but we struggled to eat that last piece. Yet even with heavy stomachs, we still needed to try some soft serve:

Oh hi dessert!

The soft serve was a mix of iced-tea ice cream and banana bread with crumbs on top. I liked the tea ice cream, it had a Nestea flavor with a natural sweetness replacing the usual saccharine aftertaste (I normally hate Nestea), it was good match with the fried chicken. The banana bread ice cream tasted strongly of raisins, but not too much banana. I did like the crumble on top, which tasted like crunchy pieces of banana bread.

The bill worked out to $40 a piece, a very reasonable price for a damn good meal. After we left, those of us who still needed strong drink headed to International Bar, a tiny dive down the street, for a can of Genese beer (wtf?) and a shot of Evan Williams for $4. I drank my beer slowly, my stomach groaning as it struggled to make room for anything else. Realizing I had no choice-- my night was over whether I liked it or not-- I slowly headed back uptown. Back at my apartment, I debated watching The Room for a third time, but my belly full of chicken had other ideas, and I passed out while marveling at the new ways David Chang has found to squeeze money out of me.

Momofuku Noodle Bar

163 1st Avenue

(212) 500-0831

International Bar
120-1/2 1st Avenue

(212) 777-1643
Steve's Pics. To see all of them, click on the flickr link.

Momofuku Noodle Bar on Urbanspoon


  1. not rice tortillas, just regular ol' tortillas (think Mission brand) served in plastic tortilla steamers like the way they did back when wendy's had (and sometimes still has) a tortilla/nacho/fixins bar.

    dessert looks bangin'

    I went with a party of 8 too; next time, we're going 6, with no apps. bring on the chicken.

  2. Thanks Jeff, duly noted and edited. It's been a long time since I've seen a Wendy's fixins bar.

  3. Ohhhh ok, did plenty of those in my day ;)