Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Honeymoon, pt 1 - Momofuku

Okay, boys and girls, let's get back on track! It's been an emotional and disorienting couple of weeks, as I have been without a computer: my laptop got stolen. I was at a café with my friends and took out my computer to show them my wedding pictures, which I had finally received. Then I put it back in my bag, which was on the floor right next to me. When I got up to leave, my bag was open and the laptop was gone. The amazing thing is that one of my friends was sitting right opposite me, and she didn't see a thing. Apparently this sort of thing happens a lot in the neighbourhood, with professional thieves preying on students. The worst part is, I practically never bring my laptop to work in cafés, there's too much noise and I'm always scared I'm going to spill something on it. It really was rotten luck...

Anyways, after the first twenty minutes of hyperventilating and being paralyzed by the sheer effort of wrapping my mind around what had happened, while my awesome friends took action on my part and talked to the staff and surrounding customers, after a weepy call to Laurent and a trip to the police station to report the theft, after a couple of days of feeling blue, and finally after taking advantage of Black Friday sales to order a new laptop (a fine piece of hardware which I'm typing this on), I started putting the incident behind me. Fortunately, I had backed up most of my important documents (including the wedding pics and my thesis), so there was no big personal loss. The thought of someone going through my data made me feel sick, but I knew the thieves would most likely be interested in the hardware, not my vacations photos or articles on Japanese pop culture...

And then, a few days ago, I got a call from the police informing me my laptop had been found! I'm picking it up tomorrow. Apparently, it's still in one piece, but they haven't tried to open it, so I don't know if the hard drive has already been wiped or not. Fingers crossed... But honestly, given that less than one in ten stolen laptops is recovered, I wasn't expecting mine to ever be found, so I'm happy either way. The good luck has balanced out the bad!

The moral of the story: always report stolen items, you never know.

So, on with our regular programming. Well, not that regular, as today's post is the first part of the Honeymoon Chronicles. Laurent and I couldn't get away for very long, so we decided to just spend a few days in New York. I grew up there, and Laurent has never really visited the city, so I was looking forward to showing him around. We had a wonderful time. I showed him the classics (the view from the Staten Island Ferry, Time Square, etc.), and also some places which were more personal to me (my old school, specific spots in Central Park). Over the course of five days, we pretty much covered the list of places I had compiled in my head.

My list of restaurants, however, was comparatively shorter. I was just a kid when I lived in NY, and fresh from Europe. At the age of five, I was impressed by things like grape juice, deli sandwiches, pizza, hot dogs, and frozen yogurt, most of which I had never tasted. Then we discovered ethnic takeout, especially Indian and Mexican food, which was not really available in Belgium at the time. My parents took me to a few restaurants, but I can't say I recall whether they really were good, or just conveniently close; and anyway, they've probably been closed for years. My parents lived in New York again several years ago, but none of us, myself included, really kept track of the food scene. No particular place stood out in my memory.

Our hotel was conveniently located near a Pain Quotidien, a chain I was familiar with, so Laurent and I often had lunch or breakfast there. It's ironic, because Le Pain Quotidien is actually a Belgian concept, so it kind of felt like eating, say, McDonald's in Tokyo. Except that Le Pain Quotidien is a million times tastier and healthier than McDonald's (and more expensive, unfortunately, but hey, we were on our honeymoon), and the setting is a billion times more attractive, with its wooden hues and cute little spreads. Besides, I have to admit I never feel bad about eating "foreign" food in North America, probably because immigrant cultures are such a huge part of this continent, and hence the concept of "local cuisine" has always seemed a lot looser here than it does in other regions.

Even though I don't really know much about the current New York restaurant scene, there was one place I knew we had to visit: Momofuku Noodle Bar. Back when I was making David Chang's ramen a few months ago, I took the time to read the non-recipe parts of the book, specifically how the restaurant came to be. I liked how things apparently really kicked off when the chefs decided to stop trying to be "authentic" and just started to make whatever they wanted, according to the seasons and their own whims. And the ramen I had whipped up in my kitchen had been really very good, so I could only imagine how great the real thing would be.

If we could get in, that is... I knew the place was hugely popular but not correspondingly huge, and fully expected to find people lined up in front. Which we did. I asked the hostess how long the wait would be for two people, prepared to wait for over an hour if need be (I've done it for Kazu on more than one occasion), and nearly fell over when she answered that she could seat us right away. And smack in the middle of the counter, no less! Luck of the newlyweds!

We started off with some shiitake buns. They were great, with very salty mushrooms, soft steamed buns, and crunch pickles.

But the real treat was watching the cooks prepping bowl after bowl of ramen. These guys were maintaining a serious rhythm!

I ordered the shoyu (soy) ramen, while Laurent ordered a miso version. I knew Chang had recently changed his broth recipe, to make it more environmentally and economically friendly, which I can only applaud; he now makes the broth with only chicken bones, no more pork bones. The result was still very good, with strong umami and smokiness compensating for the lack of meatiness. The noodles were awesome, firm bordering on chewy, as far from limp, sissy noodles as you can get. The pork was tender and deliciously seasoned. But... I have to say this: how I wish I could have tasted the original version! I get that it uses a lot of meat and generates a lot of waste, but I was honestly blown away by what I managed to make myself with the old recipe, and have no doubt the served far superior bowls at Momofuku back then. This new version is definitely great, but the difference is nonetheless felt...

Laurent's miso ramen, however, was spectacular. Neither of us had anything bad to say about it: it was simply perfection, with ideally balanced flavours. It's right up there with the burnt miso ramen we had in Tokyo and have been fantasizing about ever since. Maybe we just have a special weakness for miso... But Jesus, it was good.

So, that was one of the high culinary points of our trip. More to come!


  1. OMG!
    Where have I been lately. You got married! COngratulations. Truly! How exciting! Look what I miss when I take off for the fall - and almost the year!
    My daughter got married Thanksgiving weekend in San Fran, so your wedding is close to my heart because of that, too.
    And, your laptop got stolen out from under you. Unbelievable. Same thing happened to my entire purse once - similarly - and it was found in the restaurant garbage - cash missing all else recovered.
    I hope so much your stuff is all there - and it is a great lesson to report stolen items. I may not have. This has definitely motivated me to do exactly that.
    I didn't know you came to New York at 5... so funny what you were interested in as a child. Your visit to Momofuku seemed completely insignificant to me compared to the other information in the post - but, I am dying to get there - and really glad you did, too!
    ") V

  2. What a lovely post!! Thanks for this lovely post! I also love Le Pain Quotidien! We have several here in Brussels! I love their food too!
    I never visited NY but one day I will!

    It looks that you had fun on your trip to New York! :)

  3. I can't believe they stole your laptop and then you actually got it back! You must be a lucky girl as I think one in ten is probably too positive of that ever happening... Hoe you can still retrieve something from the harddrive. Now on to New York. I love New York; have only been there once but fell madly in love with the city and have ever since been wanting to take Tom there, but well it hasn't happened yet. The meal at Momufoku sounds great. Although I'd be curious to taste the original too; I guess they could do a 'retro' version of that. But that probably defeats the purpose of the change in the first place lol..
    Looking forward to hearing the rest of your adventures!

  4. Oh no I can't believe you got robbed in pubic like that. SO sorry for the stress it caused you but good on you to do back ups!

    I would hit a Momofuku place too and how lucky you go those amazing seats so easy. it is like the bar at Kazu...just way fancier lol. Your meals look awesome.

    Wow remember all the bones for the ramen broth in Tampoco.

  5. You are one lucky girl, for a number of reasons, but I just can't believe you got your laptop back. Dinner at Momofuku sounds great--I need to get back to New York, as it's been quite a while. I was in Montreal for the day recently and I went to Kazu for lunch on my own and got the last seat at the counter--the one that's practically on the cash register. Anyway, I had ramen and it was fine, but not as fine as that miso one.

  6. I'm so glad you got your laptop back that's like an early Christmas miracle because the chances are so slim. I've been robbed twice (once my purse at a restauramt, and someone stole some expensive clothes and jewelry from me in college), never got anything back except for my driver's license, found in a park by a nice person. That said, loved this post on Momofuku. We used to go to the Noodle bar once week when I lived in the city. Miss it, and always try to get a pork bun when I'm there for any reason - no matter what part of the city - as well as Levain Choco chip cookies :)

    BTW..might possibly be in Montreal in February :)