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Momofuku Noodle Bar (2004–2009)


Bond Girl
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I was at noodle on Sunday and had a similar meal (prawns/grits, kimichi stew, both pork and shiitake buns) I also got to try the new ice cream. I like getting the twists so it was Cracker Jack and Peanut Butter with what looked like bits of a mashed up candy bar (peanut butter candy and bits of chocolate). It was delicious. The peanut butter ice cream wasn't the overly sweet recees's type stuff you normally get, it was salty and thick and actually tasted like peanut butter. The Cracker Jack is hard to describe, it has a butter pecan quality to it, but only just so. The combination was very tasty.

I'm fairly new to all the momofukus but in my limited experience (a little over a half dozen times at both places) Noodle has been the better experience for all of the reasons you cited above.

Also, regarding the prawns and grits, I was very very happy with this dish. I think wrapping the prawns with ham instead of bacon is brilliant. I'm actually heading down to South Carolina today to visit my folks and i'm anxious to try the southern version and see how noddle's measures up. Those freaking prawns were gigantic!

Edited by Scotttos (log)
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I love that arctic char as well. The kitchen is firing on all cylinders. However, I don't feel compelled to compare it with ssam bar in the way you (fatguy) have. I haven't noticed any change in quality of service at ssam bar. They're still as sweet and attentive as always. I've also really been enjoying some new dishes at Ssam Bar: the branzino is fabulous, the skate special I had the other night was terrific, soft shell crabs were great as were the asparagus.

I think for a while I was getting a little bit tired of Noodle Bar but after they settled into their new space they really made a lot of strides in introducing new items on the menu and I'm loving having new, insanely delicious things to eat in an environment that continues to be so friendly and feel so homey.

Edited by spaetzle_maker (log)
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I think it's worth comparing them because, at least the way I'm judging the buzz, there has long been conventional foodie wisdom floating around out there that says Ssam Bar is better. I think that conventional wisdom may be wrong, thus the comparison.

I think it's virtually impossible to debate that Noodle Bar has improved. I'll be totally shocked if anybody mounts the opposite claim. I won't be at all surprised if lots of folks challenge the claim that Ssam Bar has slipped, but I feel pretty strongly that it has and I have enough data points to be quite confident of the claim. I'm certainly not saying the slippage has been dramatic. I doubt anybody who has dined at the restaurant less than 10 or 20 times would much notice (whereas those who dine there 10 or 20 times a month are seeing category of performance that probably hasn't slipped). But from my perspective as an infrequent regular it has been enough to warrant saying something about it.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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my meal at Ssam Bar the other night was kind of off. but then my meal a couple weeks ago was very good. my last meal at Noodle Bar was very good. but Ko's been sort of the object of my Momofuku affections and attentions lately. time to return to Noodle Bar....Sneakeater was raving about the fried chicken the other day.

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I think it's worth comparing them because, at least the way I'm judging the buzz, there has long been conventional foodie wisdom floating around out there that says Ssam Bar is better. I think that conventional wisdom may be wrong, thus the comparison.

I think it's virtually impossible to debate that Noodle Bar has improved. I'll be totally shocked if anybody mounts the opposite claim. I won't be at all surprised if lots of folks challenge the claim that Ssam Bar has slipped, but I feel pretty strongly that it has and I have enough data points to be quite confident of the claim. I'm certainly not saying the slippage has been dramatic. I doubt anybody who has dined at the restaurant less than 10 or 20 times would much notice (whereas those who dine there 10 or 20 times a month are seeing category of performance that probably hasn't slipped). But from my perspective as an infrequent regular it has been enough to warrant saying something about it.

It could be I go so often to Ssam Bar that it's not something I would notice. I'm always really delighted by my dinner there and I find everyone to be so friendly. But I agree whole heartedly about Noodle Bar - I feel like I'm rediscovering the place. There are so many new dishes to try. To me, the food feels so playful and clever.

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But let's not tell everyone just how good Noodle Bar can be - I still want to be able to squeeze in occasionally  :wink: .

Hmmmm - that's what I thought a year ago, and I still think it's my favorite of the two.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

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Unfortunately I only get the Kimchee stew at Noodle Bar because it's so good I can't bring myself to deviate. I go about 1 a month and can say that the quality of that dish at least has improved since the move.

And those fried sweetbreads are dynamite.

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I also get the kimchi stew every time I go to Noodle Bar. I can't help myself; it satisfies many cravings. That's always been my take on the place - which I've long preferred to Ssam - the food at Noodle Bar is generally more craveable to me. It seems to me that they're having more fun with the food than they did in the previous smaller space.

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I was there twice last week when I was in town! It's always so good! Steamed pork buns a must, the smoked duck was great, kimchi stew, and that soft serve (we had peanut butter) ice cream is sick!! I wish I had tasted the pistacio on the first visit...it was gone by the time I went back. They unfortunately stopped serving the yummy beer whose name I can't remember...it has an owl on the top of the cap. I hope they bring it back; their other choices were not so good.

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The Hitachino is not currently on the menu, however to my mind the Allagash White is better.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I think it's worth comparing them because, at least the way I'm judging the buzz, there has long been conventional foodie wisdom floating around out there that says Ssam Bar is better. I think that conventional wisdom may be wrong, thus the comparison.

I think it's virtually impossible to debate that Noodle Bar has improved. I'll be totally shocked if anybody mounts the opposite claim. I won't be at all surprised if lots of folks challenge the claim that Ssam Bar has slipped, but I feel pretty strongly that it has and I have enough data points to be quite confident of the claim. I'm certainly not saying the slippage has been dramatic. I doubt anybody who has dined at the restaurant less than 10 or 20 times would much notice (whereas those who dine there 10 or 20 times a month are seeing category of performance that probably hasn't slipped). But from my perspective as an infrequent regular it has been enough to warrant saying something about it.

It could be I go so often to Ssam Bar that it's not something I would notice. I'm always really delighted by my dinner there and I find everyone to be so friendly. But I agree whole heartedly about Noodle Bar - I feel like I'm rediscovering the place. There are so many new dishes to try. To me, the food feels so playful and clever.

I'm thinking more about what I said here. In some ways, repeating a specific activity many times will make me less likely to focus on the details because I already know what to expect. However, when I eat out, I am extremely focused on the experience - I do notice everything and in general, I have a fairly good memory. If I am eating something, I'm not thinking that I like it because I liked it a few months ago. I'm thinking that I like it because it is delicious that day. If a dish is not making me as happy as it did in the past, I will definitely recognize this and try and figure out what is causing the change. As a regular customer I'm very aware of the level of quality in a restaurant. If something in food or service falls below that level I'll understand right away that it's an anomaly and that could be where being a regular customer factors in. That said, I still think the food and service at Ssam Bar rocks.

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I have noticed a falling-off in service ever since Cory stopped being a constant presence in the Ssam Bar dining room, whereas I have noticed improved service at Noodle Bar especially under the direction of this guy Ami (not sure if that's the right spelling). At Ssam Bar they have made mistakes with my orders, there have been some crazy-long delays getting servers to take action on everything from taking an order to bringing the bill, and the flow of information -- the detailed, loving description of every dish -- is not as generous as it once was.

I'm not the only person who has been noticing things like this of late. Check out Eric Asimov's blog entry titled "Salty and Unpleasant, And That Was the Chef." He describes a pretty lame service experience at Ssam Bar (read the whole thing for more context):

We got a knife from the waitress and cut it off but the ham slices were so imbued with the flavor of the mold that it did no good. We hailed the waitress and asked her to show it to the chef and to express our feeling that it was no good.

This may not have been the best strategy since the chef — it was not David Chang — was not having a good afternoon. Through the open kitchen we could see him doing his best impersonation of a French tyrant, yelling at the staff and dropping f-bombs right and left. (Note to chefs: if you’re working in an open kitchen, play nice.) Not surprisingly, the waitress returned to tell us that the chef insisted the ham was fine. The restaurant charged me for it, too.

Foodwise, well, I think the Momofukus still have some of if not the most delicious food in the city. But Ssam Bar is not as consistently amazing to me as it used to be. There seems to be less care taken with some platings, and like I said I think some of the newer dishes are steps backwards. I'm not of the opinion that every new dish has to be an improvement -- there's always risk in change -- but at some point there are too many misses for comfort. Whereas, at Noodle Bar, it feels like just about every new dish is a winner and an improvement over whatever came before.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Yes - I had read that item from Asimov's blog. That definitely was unfortunate, but that is what I mean when I talk about anomalies. As a regular who is paying careful attention, I've never had anything like that happen to me, nor have I seen that happen to anyone else and it really seems like a highly unusual occurrence. It is clear to me, that that particular incident is not indicative of any consistent trend.

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Yes - I had read that item from Asimov's blog.  That definitely was unfortunate, but that is what I mean when I talk about anomalies.  As a regular who is paying careful attention, I've never had anything like that happen to me, nor have I seen that happen to anyone else and it really seems like a highly unusual occurrence.  It is clear to me, that that particular incident is not indicative of any consistent trend.

Yes, but various people are reporting service glitches here, and they add up.

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Well, I can only speak for myself, but a few weeks ago I ordered the chawan mushi and they brought the mushrooms. "Mushi" and "mushrooms," easily confused in a loud restaurant. But when I said it was the wrong dish, the server stonewalled me. Short of escalating to a more serious conflict, which I didn't have the emotional resources for that night (the purpose of the night out was to console and distract a friend whose mother had just passed away), I was stuck with the mushrooms (which were delicious). So when I read Asimov's account, it didn't seem like an anomaly to me. It seemed like a trend.

Meanwhile, over at Noodle Bar, I see a clear trend in the other direction. There's a guy named Ami (sp.) who seems to be playing the role Cory once played at Ssam Bar. He's really on top of the dining room, and has that ability to make every customer feel loved in that low-key Momofuku way. The servers, at least the three I dealt with, were very engaging and didn't seem harried (even though the place does a heck of a lot of covers), and even the cooks are upbeat and personable (more so than at Ko, I'll say) especially the woman (I didn't quite catch her name; Jo?) who seems to be in charge. I especially like that, if you're at the counter, you get to interact a bit with the chefs -- whereas at Ssam Bar if you're at the counter you get to interact with the wall.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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See, Cory is -- to use the usual hyperbole we Momo fans like to employ -- the great FOH guy of this generation. I'm serious about that. In terms of this "new" style of assertedly casual fine dining, he makes sure you get a level of attention analogous to (you can't really say "similar" to) what you'd expect in traditional fine dining establishments. It's too bad he's moved upstairs. But that's the consequence of being that good.

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See, Cory is -- to use the usual hyperbole we Momo fans like to employ -- the great FOH guy of this generation. 

Yes, Cory is the FOH poster boy for the new paradigm. I do not, however, hold all other FOH managers up to the Cory standard. That would be like holding all carpenters up to the Jesus standard. But I do think there are other good Gen-X (and younger) FOH people out there who can represent. Like the dude at Noodle Bar now. The thing is, there's just nobody at Ssam Bar even playing that role as far as I can tell.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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See, Cory is -- to use the usual hyperbole we Momo fans like to employ -- the great FOH guy of this generation. 

Yes, Cory is the FOH poster boy for the new paradigm. I do not, however, hold all other FOH managers up to the Cory standard. That would be like holding all carpenters up to the Jesus standard. But I do think there are other good Gen-X (and younger) FOH people out there who can represent. Like the dude at Noodle Bar now. The thing is, there's just nobody at Ssam Bar even playing that role as far as I can tell.

I'm not arguing with you, FG. Even as an apparent VIP regular, I've noticed the downturn in service you refer to. I think the point I was trying to make is that Ssam Bar was what it was owing to a fairly improbable combination of circumstances. We all talk about the genius guys in the kitchen, but somehow they happened to get a genius guy out front as well.

Maybe I'm just a sucker for the line David Chang feeds the press, but I'm willing to believe that luck played a big part in all the right things becoming alligned at the right time for this place. Unfortunately, it will now take skill to maintain it.

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
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fwiw, I had never met Corey and didn't know who he was (I'd heard of him), until about 6 weeks ago. but he seems very nice and affable.

but in general, I've always found the service at any of the Momofukus to be just fine, if occasionally brusque. but as good as the food usually is, they could all be Peter Lugers' waiters and I wouldn't care.

edit: I did like my last meal at Noodle Bar more than my last one at Ssam Bar...but that might be just because of a. overfamiliarity with the Ssam Bar menu and b. Ssam Bar was apparently out of the branzino.

Edited by Nathan (log)
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I'm probably a rarity in that I had never been to Noodle Bar until saturday, but I've been to saam a bunch of times (and ko once.) I really have no excuse, but I didn't get into the momofukus until saam bar opened and loved it so much that I always ended up back there. Kinda like I've never made it to that sushi place just north of lupa that everyone tells me is so good but I can't pass lupa on the way to a dinner and not go there. That and I foolishly didn't realize that noodle bar had all the small plates like saam I love so much and not mostly the noodle dishes. Also I knew it was small so I figured it was harder to get into...

well, enough excuses, I finally went to noodle bar saturday night. and then had a late lunch sunday at saam, but hey, I was in the neighborhood for other things both times, and I already discussed my will power.

in any case, I personally have not really felt that service has slipped at saam. maybe by the tiniest amount, and and it's surely had (slight) ups and downs, but I've had recent dinners there that were just as good as the early ones, which were excellent, if that wasn't clear.

I obviously can't really speak to how noodle bar compares with it's earlier incarnation, but from my one experience, it was fantastic. I'd say just about as fantastic as I find saam. I probably liked it a little more, but I think that was because it was new and slightly different, and I walked in alone at 8pm past a dozen people to the hostess, planning on cooling my heels for an hour, but she was able to seat me at the bar in front of the expediters station right away. So I guess that part was cool too.

In any case, for me, I think they are nearly perfect substitutes, really hitting me in the same place, and I'l try to frequent them both to sample the wider variety of dishes. I guess what I'm saying of I checked the waits at both, I'd go to whichever was faster and not be a bit dissapointed, and hopefully that plan will roughly have me alternating.

Ed aka Wordsmithing Pantagruel

Food, Cocktails, Travels, and miscellany on my blog:

http://www.wordsmithingpantagruel.com/

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