Momofuku Noodle Bar
190 University Ave
In a recent discussion with the Foodosopher, we touched on the topic of this website, our former haunt where we used to regularly pen our thoughts on our latest eating adventures and released them to the oblivion of the internet. Was anyone still reading it? A good question. The WordPress stats seem to indicate there is still a stream of traffic coming mainly from search engines, much to my surprise. So let’s see what happens with this post, a testing of the waters so to speak…
The Momofuku brand led by chef David Chang has seen quite the rise in just a decade from its initial New York City roots. Celebrity chefdom aside, Momofuku seemed to have an energy radiating about it, with plenty of excitement from those I knew who had ever been to their homebase, usually raving about the steamed pork buns and the fried chicken. With Toronto as one of their satellite operations, housing a few dining choices, I decided to take the plunge and see what all the fuss was about, beginning on the first floor noodle bar…
Even for an early evening weekday seating, it seems reservations will help you get a spot at one of the tables. Without one, some limited counter seating along the walls is possible. Fortunately on this night, I was able to wrangle a seat by the window. The casual feel of the clientele, but clearly hipster vibe from the wait staff was an interesting contrast. I liked the open space, and warm material elements used in the decor. Back to the service… indifferent attitude I am used to at cafes, but when it comes to a ramen-ya, I just expect a more boisterous and enthusiastic approach by those who are taking my order. Alas, you can’t win them all. This was a twist on the norm after all. I kept having to remind myself that.
Ordering and subsequently digging into the pricey pork buns alleviated some of my concerns and early trepidations about the place. Loved the soft pillowy texture of the fluffy bao! The thick dual slabs of pork belly had some really good flavour and was not a limp oily mess, despite the nice segment of balanced pure fat cutting through each piece. The curing and roasting process they use left the meat beautifully tender. I could see why this is a signature item at Momofuku.
Garnished on the base and top layers of the bao was a smear of hoisin sauce and some chopped scallions and what seemed to be cured cucumber slices. The sweetness and slight tartness worked well as expected with the rich flavour of the pork belly. Two thick cuts of it I might add, which helped lessen the blow and thought of each being five bucks a piece – I’m sure you can get something probably just as good in some unknown Chinatown joint. If you know where I can find that in Toronto, leave a comment.
After that satisfying start, what came next was the big letdown. Like a baseball starter getting into the seven inning with a run advantage and handing it to a limp-armed bullpen and subsequently losing the lead in the ballgame. Two bowls of ramen were chosen as the mains. The Momofuku Ramen and the Chicken Tantan. Where to begin… Well let’s start with, “where’s the soup”? And “why is my soup spoon so short”? Lacking excitement in the broth, muted flavors, and in the Chicken Tantan, none of the advertised heat. The real killer for me was the noodles. Texturally, they resembled soba to me. A bit chalky and lacking the chewy consistency of true chukamen.
Rather than rag on the ramen anymore, I’ll leave it like that and save the other thoughts to myself. Slurping what I could after repeatedly dropping the short spoon into the bottom of the bowl which had too much height for the contents it contained, eating this was driven mainly to recover, in my mind, the cost of each overpriced bowl and walk away with at least some semblance of a full stomach. It was because of this disappointment, I made an effort to seek out other ramen-ya in town during the following days… and made me appreciate some of the good ramen that can be had on Canada’s west coast.