The Incredible Adventures of Gourmet Gal

Wednesday, November 08, 2006



163 First Avenue
New York NY 10003

I believe in heaven.

Suppose pigs also believe in heaven. For these creatures whose lifelong purpose almost always leads to the inevitable sweet sausage or Christmas ham, Momofuku is sure to be in their final prayers. Imagine ascending to a place where people constantly shower you with T.L.C. and gaze at you with awe and respect. Nothing could be better than this afterlife. The pork at Momofuku is in heaven, especially the fatty ones.

We arrived at this much-talked-about East village noodle bar on a Monday night. The place was small with modern designs and packed with trendy down towners, as well as European tourists. We settled elbow-to-elbow at the bar styled table which circles the open kitchen area, allowing you to see your meal as it is prepared. I enjoyed the view of three busy chefs, while browsing the menu with much enthusiasm.

J groaned, “Order whatever you want. Just get something that I can also eat.” He struggled to balance his heavy jacket and big backpack (containing, I’m certain, more than one back issue of some random video game magazines) on his lap. “I hate uncomfortable seats like these!” He fidgeted on the stool.

I ignored him and dove into the menu. It was divided in four categories - small dishes, local, fish, and noodle & rice - with brief heads-ups at the bottom like, “No substitutions or special requests“ and “We do not serve vegetarian friendly items expect Ginger Scallion”. The menu provided simple yet exciting items such as trotter terrine ($12), baby octopus salad ($13), and assorted ramens. Their pork reputation was too high to dismiss, so I settled on the followings:

COKE ($2)

J’s coke came in the old fashioned glass bottle which pleased him greatly. The roasted Brussels sprouts arrived shortly after. On a bed of scarlet kimchi puree, the sautéed sprouts bounced with bacon cubes which were lightly charred around the edges. I had a mouthful of everything and almost leaped for joy. It tasted simply divine. The spicy puree and crunchy vegetables harmonized gloriously with the sweet and savory bacon. No trace of anything artificial in the bacon, just good ol’ pork. The dish was truly one of those brilliantly simple ideas that left you with a memorable aftertaste. I just could not stop eating it. Even J liked it.

The steamed pork bun turned to be an upscale, mini interpretation of a popular Taiwanese street food called “split bun”. Our traditional version is a palm-sized flat bun split in the middle and filled with roasted pork, sweet Peking sauce, cilantro, and grounded toasted sweet and salty peanuts. The one at Momofuku was stuffed with pickled Japanese cucumber, roasted pork, and smeared with a sweet brown sauce. I took a skeptical bite - which was about half of the bun - and my eyes lit up.

The pork was excellent!

Not only did the fat melt in my mouth and turn into a delicious stream of rich juice, but the meat was also incredibly tender and savory. I appreciated the cucumber pickles for their slightly crunchy texture and clean taste - as they did not disturb the spotlight of roasted pork.

The momofuku ramen had the appearance of a promising bowl of Japanese ramen - tons of noodles (almost too much to my liking) in the middle, which was surrounded by a piece of roasted pork, slices of pickled bamboo shoots, handfuls of thinly chopped scallion with collar greens, shredded Berkshire pork, and a barely poached egg with two pieces of nori standing by the side. I tasted the broth, it was lukewarm and slightly muddy. I bit into the noodles, they were al-dente but not superbly textured like great noodles should be. The rest of the ingredients had the same mediocre effects - the lightly sour collar greens was competent and the shredded Berkshire pork tasted - well, cooked. It was not until my tongue touched the piece of roasted pork that I squealed with delight.

The pork was excellent!

Just like it was in the steamed buns, this piece of roasted pork was tender and burst with flavor. I savored every bit of it and wanted more.

J’s chicken and egg was quite a disappointment only in comparison with the extraordinary excellency of the roasted pork. It was basically grilled chicken with pickled cucumbers and an egg over rice. J was uneasy with the barely poached egg.

“What are you supposed to do with it?” He gingerly tapped at the surface like testing a water bed.
I waited until he finished inspecting everything else in the bowl and then pierced my chopstick right in the middle of the egg. “Like this.”
The look of disgust arose. He nudged the bowl away from him. J was horrified by the site of the running yoke. Too bad, this yummy lava would compliment the grilled chicken so well.

I devoured every piece of pork product in sight while eyeing the neighbor’s trotter terrine. As a long line had started to accumulated outside the place, the waiter came more than once to check on our possible departure. J asked for the check. It came up to $53 without tip, not cheap for two bowls of rice and noodles, but absolutely worth every bit of my hard-earned money. And frankly if I had a way with pigs like chef David Chang does, I would so totally charge that much for a bowl of noodle soup as well.

R.I.P. Charlotte, Babe, Miss Piggy, Porky and all the other pigs that were satisfied for my dinning pleasure. Next time, pick your script more carefully.

P.S. Momofuku’s Iowa Berkshire pork came from Berkridge & Piccinini Brothers and their bacon hailed from Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams - all this was stated affectionately in the menu.

Friday, November 03, 2006




Halloween, the evening before All Saints’ Day, the night when the spirit and the normal world allegedly become one. A time that’s considered the second most exciting night next to Christmas eve for kids and adults alike. All I could think about was the just-revealed winner for the 2006 Vendy Awards.

The curiosity was eating me alive.
I must have Sammy’s Halal food.

So J volunteered to go out into the cold. Okay, he didn’t. I begged. A good husband comes in handy all the time.

He came back thirty minutes later with two heavy takeout containers of Sammy’s goodies.
“Was there a huge line?” I was curious.
“Nope. But the guy’s cheesy. He’s got the trophy on top of his cart.”
I gave him a strange look. “Wouldn’t you do the same?”
He shrugged. “It’s freezing out there.” J took off his thick jacket and rubbed his hands.

Men exaggerate.

A whiff of intense aroma arose the minute I lifted the Styrofoam lid. One box contained grilled cubes of chicken with shredded lettuce on top of slender gains of basmati rice. The other had chopped beef and lamb kebab with the same rice and salad (slices of raw radishes were added onto it). I had asked for white sauce and just a tiny bit of red sauce. The result was a beautifully messy landscape. I dug in eagerly.

The beef and lamb kebab was indeed robust, savory, and full of satisfying Middle Eastern spices. So was the lightly charred grilled chicken. What surprised me the most was the rice. It was not the usual limp, yellow jondus looking crap you get from the generic Halal vendor you frequent. Samuil Haque’s basmati rice tasted healthy, chewy, and just plain delicious. Accompanied with the meat, it was a dinner of heaven at mere $5.

Here’s to Sammy the winner!

That being said, I woke up the next morning with intense heartburn. What went down smoothly the night before was arguing with me ferociously. Maybe I should have only one plate of Sammy’s Halal instead of two. Or maybe it was the five Jack Torres chocolate, one grande maple macchiato, and the bowl of Kettle Corns that I consumed after the meal that did the voodoo. Whatever it was, I am so totally going back Sammy‘s again. Next time, I’ll try the gyro.

For more info on The Street Vendor Project: