When exactly did David Chang stop being the edgy East Village ssam-slinger, and when did he become, uh, Bobby Flay? It was definitely sometime after the first noodle bar and before this one.
Momofuku Noodle Bar #1 opened in 2004 on 11th Street & First Ave in the heart of the East Village. It was narrow, packed, and probably ahead of its time, although who knows, I was a college junior at the time. Chang was definitely doing smokey chicken ramen before it was cool.
Momofuku Noodle Bar #2 opened in 2018 on the third floor of the Time Warner Center, a luxury mall on the Upper West Side. It’s spacious, still packed, and working hard to show that it’s still trendsetting, although its not clear these Guccistas care. They are here for the famous and now-basically-traditional smokey chicken ramen.
So, credit to Noodle Bar #2 for bothering to take some risks in between the safe favorites. The special of the night was a whole chicken, deep-fried, neck and feet and all.
I played it somewhat safer with my meal, choosing two cold dishes with bold flavors. The cucumber salad had a mayonnaise dressing with a bitter, burnt flavor– good for the first few bites, and especially good doused over the radishes, but overkill well before the end of the dish.
The spicy noodles were… interesting? A modest portion of chilled ramen noodles, toothsome to the point of chewy, dressed in a spicy pungent (fermented bean paste?) sauce, buried under a pile of lettuce, a fried egg, and togarashi. Again, good flavors, but maybe I didn’t need a whole plate it.
I know, I know, I should have had the ramen. But I’ve had the ramen! I’ve even made the ramen myself! And as your intrepid ramen blogger, I am obligated to explore the boundaries of ramenspace so that you don’t have to.
Don’t fault Mr. Chang for selling out. It’s a slippery sell-out slope from doing what you love really well, to doing it again, to starting a food magazine with a cult following, to hosting a great show on PBS, to hosting a less great show for Netflix, to signing a deal with KraftHeinz to sell your chili sauce in grocery stores.
And since he is not done yet– Noodle Bar #3 opens in West Hollywood later this year— let’s give the guy credit for keeping it a little weird while he rakes in that Big Ramen Money. He’s one lucky peach.