I had heard of the Momofuku restaurants many times before I finally ate at one last week. I really don’t know why. I suspect that they were, for a time, quite trendy, because now when I hear snobby New Yorkers mention them it’s usually with a dismissive snicker, as if they’re somehow not cool now because they were too cool for too long or something.
Whatever. Because I don’t pay much attention one way or the other, I’m not sure that’s the case. My only standard for coolness in eateries is delicious food.
The following sandwich is that, so I will hereby deem the Momofuku Milk Bar incredibly cool. Just a very hip place to hang out if you’re someone that appreciates pork. And a big hat tip to fellow pork enthusiast Alex Belth for dragging me there, and for filling me in with all sorts of inside knowledge about the pork.
The sandwich: Pork buns from Momofuku Milk Bar, 2nd Ave. and 13th St. in Manhattan. I’m told the pork buns are also available in at least one of the other Momofuku restaurants, which are mostly in the same neighborhood.
The construction: Pork belly on a steamed bun with scallions, pickles and hoisin sauce. I added sriracha.
Important background information: These are nothing like the pork buns I had in China, though both are good. Those looked more like dinner rolls, only they had delicious pork stuffed inside. I was sort of expecting that when I heard the term “pork bun” bandied about so often, but, like I said, it worked out OK.
Apropos of almost nothing, in the course of a month in China I learned how to say all of six things in Mandarin Chinese. One of them was roujiamo, or meat sandwich — knowledge that obviously came in handy with street vendors, but took part in a silly exchange with a young Chinese woman in a bar. She smiled at me so I figured I’d try my hand at flirting, and it went something like this (only, you know, in Chinese):
Me: “Hello. I am Ted.”
Her: (Something in Chinese I can’t understand.)
Me: “I am a student.”
Her: (Smiles, more Chinese.)
Me: “Internet cafe.”
Her: (Clear international look of confusion.)
Me: “Meat sandwich.”
Her: (Blank stare.)
Me: “Thank you.”
What it looks like:
How it tastes: Oh, lordy.
You stand up to eat at the Milk Bar, and I had to brace myself on the table after taking a bite out of the first one. Holy hell, that’s good.
And for the second straight week, the amazing sandwich was highlighted by amazing pork. This time it the pork didn’t even need to be breaded and fried — just roasted, and without a lot of seasonings either. I’ve never tasted pork like this before — it was so fatty and tender that in terms of texture it almost seemed like duck. But then it was bursting with amazing pork flavor.
Belth tells me that the pork comes from special, extra-fatty super-pigs bred from other famous amazing pork pigs. Apparently the swine are so coddled that they can distinguish between organic and non-organic feed and refuse to eat the latter. I love that: stubborn, uppity pigs. And I get the last laugh!
The rest of the sandwich is good too: The bun is spongy, sweet and moist, but strong enough to hold the ingredients and preserve sandwich integrity. The pickles aren’t overwhelmingly pickly — more like slightly tangy cucumbers, really. But that’s fine. They add a note of flavor and don’t take away from the pork, which is clearly the prize here.
The hoisin added some sweet flavor and a little additional moisture, though, honestly, I think I could have eaten the pieces of pork on their own and they would have been plenty moist. The scallions were only barely noticeable, but they brought a little more pungency and depth to the whole thing. I went light on the sriracha — especially on my second bun — because I didn’t want it to overwhelm the pork, so it served mostly to make the tastes linger in my mouth a little longer, which was welcome.
But again, it’s all about the pork. I need to meet some of these pigs. I want to go pet them and coddle them myself and show them how much I appreciate what they’ve done for me. Outstanding.
What it’s worth: If you can convince Belth to buy — and he’s a pretty obliging dude — they’ll run you only the cost of subway fare. Otherwise, they’re $9 for an order of two, but you’ll probably want at least three for a meal. Not the world’s cheapest sandwich, but you can tell you’re paying for quality.
How it rates: 95 out of 100. Inner circle Hall of Fame sandwich.
Three blocks from my old place. Congratulations Ted, you have made me miss New York more than I have at any point since moving to Cali.
For what it’s worth, the pork buns are also next door at Ssam Bar, and two blocks down and one over at Noodle Bar. Both of those places serve phenomenal food, by the way. They’re not the cheapest places in town, but they might be the most delicious. Plus David Chang has a total pork fetish, which is just awesome.
Two summers ago, noodle bar started serving slushies with booze mixed into them (a friend and I called them “lushies.”) I don’t know if they do it this time of year, but they are also delicious.
On the plus side, I had the best bacon of my life yesterday out here. So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.
I meant to mention this in the post, but Belth actually knows Chang’s pork distributor, and he hooked me up with some bacon from these same pigs not long ago. It is ridiculous.
I am what you might call a girl-drink drunk, so I’ll have to check out a lushie.
You know you’re a New Yorker if you go to California and miss the food here. All the Californians I know do the exact opposite. Do you at least have access to an In-N-Out?
There’s an In-N-Out about 20 minutes away by car. I did go there once and got a double-double animal style. It was pretty damn delicious.
When I was looking at apartments, one of the guys who was renting out a place was a butcher and a *huge* foodie. He told me that basically, the ingredients are better here, so chefs get spoiled. All the best chefs in the area have gone to New York to learn to cook right, and then come back to work with the superior products.
I will say, some of the food here is just fantastic. I’ve had some amazing burgers and sandwiches, and the ingredients are definitely phenomenal. But, aside from the delicious Mexican food, it’s all basically either California cuisine or a California take on something. You can’t get real pizza, bagels, or deli, and I have yet to find good Chinese delivery or any ramen. And that list also happens to be a list of my favorite things. I do imagine it’s better in SF or Oakland, but I don’t live in those.
Also, I cannot tell you how jealous I am of your Chang bacon. Or maybe it’s Changcon? Mine was from Niman Ranch, which definitely does a pretty excellent job. But I don’t think they fetishize it the way Chang does.
I resent being Jewish right now. You had to go pork-heavy over Chanukah, of all days, Ted? Thanks. Dick.
Bacon and/or cheese make 99% of known meals taste better. Steak is awesome, but steak wrapped in bacon is better (and artery cloggier). Pasta is delicious, but parmigiana cheese makes it better. Burgers, obviously improved with the addition of both cheese and bacon. The only food that isn’t helped by these two gifts of god, that I can think of, is peanut butter and jelly.
Have you ever had a peanut butter and bacon sandwich? I didn’t think I would like it but I decided to try it anyway, and it’s amazing. I don’t think it would work with jelly, though.
My Navy-man roommate and I used to try to one-up each other constantly when ordering at restaurants, which usually meant adding bacon to everything. One time for dessert he ordered chocolate chip pie and a side of bacon, which he draped over the pie. Surprisingly good.
By the same token, cream cheese and jelly is also a tasty sandwich.
My sincerest apologies.
Fun fact: My love of pork has convinced two previously Kosher friends to experiment with the meat. In neither case was I actively lobbying the guy to try it, but I think both times all my raving about pork’s deliciousness finally broke them. One guy was unimpressed, the other gave up keeping Kosher. I am like a man-shiksa of some sort.
Jon Stewart once listed history’s three biggest threats to Judaism as the Spanish Inquisition, the Third Reich, and the bacon egg and cheese crossainwich from Burger King.
1 – that, uh, flirty (?) exchange is hilarious.
2 – david chang totally owns. i used to go to the noodle bar a fair amount when i lived in the east village. the size of the ramen bowls there are outrageously huge and loaded with 72 different kinds of pork. the shiitake buns are also on another level.