First Impressions: Momofuku Noodle Bar (TO)

Momofuku Ramen Momofuku Ramen
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Nearly two years ago, highly-acclaimed and Michelin Star-decorated New York City Chef David Chang announced he was bringing expanding Momofuku empire to Toronto. Like many excited food-lovers, I thought, “Steamed pork buns and Ramen…”

“Bring it on!”

Never mind the four hour drive from Ottawa. I’m completely obsessed with ramen noodles. And, I knew my noodle-loving Toronto friends would be eager to join me.

But, when you’re David Chang, expectations heighten. How does one export Momofuku’s reputation from New York City? The Momofuku empire isn’t just one restaurant, but rather a group of restaurants, each one focusing on a specific theme. In NYC, there’s the Noodle Bar, Ssäm Bar, Má Pêche, Momofuku Ko, and Milk Bar. In Sydney, Australia, you’ll find Momofuku Seiobo, which serves lunch and a tasting menu dinner. Looking to open more than one restaurant, finding an ideal location in downtown Toronto is challenging enough. And, with so many existing noodle and ramen-noodle houses in the city, how would this one compare?

So, amid great fanfare and anticipation, Momofuku Noodle Bar officially opened its doors in September in Toronto. Located on University Ave. (near Richmond St.), Noodle Bar is actually on the ground floor of a new, three-story glass building, loosely attached to the Shangri-La Hotel. Alongside Noodle House, three other Momofuku eateries are within, Nikai (second floor – bar & lounge), Daishõ (third floor – large groups), and Shõtõ (third floor – tasting menu only). With its high ceilings, white oak walls, communal tables with bench seating, dark steel bridges and lighted stairs, it is truly a beautiful restaurant. In the daytime, sunlight pours through the large windows. In the evenings, pedestrians walking by can see the action inside.

It was a Friday evening when I walked in with Abby, our Toronto food correspondent. As Noodle Bar takes no reservations, it’s first-come-first serve. Only 6pm, Noodle Bar was bustling. However, as we were just a party of two, we were shown our seats in less than 20 minutes. Rather famished, we ordered an appetizer to share, the famous pork buns ($10).

momofuku pork buns with hoisin, scallions & cucumber

Having grown up on a steady diet of steamed buns, we were really looking forward to this dish and curious to taste Chang’s take on them. We were not disappointed. At first glance, Abby and I were a bit skeptical as the pork belly was rather light in colour, appearing under done. Boy, were we wrong! The pork belly was simply beautiful, soft, delicate, and succulent. It literally melted in our mouths. The bun was light, airy, and soft. The hoisin sauce, scallions and cucumber were perfect accompaniments to the buns. They disappeared quickly, tempting us to place a second order.

Next up: David Chang’s ramen noodles.

Momofuku Ramen

As a gal with an appreciation for fresh ramen (my husband once lovingly and painstakingly spent two days making tonkotsu ramen from scratch), I was sure we were in for a treat. At $15, the Momofuku Ramen came with another slice of succulent pork belly and shredded pork shoulder, pickled napa, fish cake, and a slow poached egg (sous-vide at 145F). The verdict? The noodles were even better than I had hoped for with the egg adding a richness and creaminess to the dish, but the broth itself was a huge letdown. It was so salty that our server barely kept up with our demands for water. What should have been a satisfying and comforting bowl of noodles left us disappointed.

As our visit was four weeks after opening, it was clear the staff and kitchen crew were still working out some inconsistencies. But, I did enjoy my dinner enough that I’ll be back for a second visit, this time with Don at my side.

Total (including taxes, before tip): $28.25

Meanwhile, you can find Chang’s influences right here in Ottawa:

Murray Street Kitchen
In October, Don attended the inaugural Knives Out Ottawa, at Murray Street Kitchen. He was excited to try Sous Paul Dubeau’s “Liver & Scrape Amuse,” a hot dog served in a Chinese steamed bun. It is an occasional feature on the menu.

Sous Paul Dubeau’s “Liver & Scraps Amuse” – Pork and Liver Hot Dog, Served in a Chinese Steamed Bun with House Ketchup, Chopped Cornichons, and Spicy Mustard

Side Door Contemporary Kitchen and Bar
When Don and I crave ramen, we like to stop by Side Door Kitchen for Chef Jonny Korecki’s in-house made noodles. Fresh ramen is a regular item on the lunch menu and a side order on the dinner menu.

“BBQ Pork Ramen” with soft egg, shiitake & house noodles

Aside: The above photo was taken for The Food Bloggers of Canada‘s inaugural “Canadian Restaurant Roundup.” For November, the theme was ramen. Ottawa represented!

Momofuku – Noodle Bar
190 University Avenue (Ground Floor)
Toronto, Ontario

Teacher by day and blogger by night, I have always been passionate about food. I grew up watching my mother cook and bake as I sat at the kitchen table doing my homework. In the summers, I happily played in the backyard garden, picking strawberries as my parents tended their crops. A city girl with a love for the outdoors, my goal is to capture the ever-changing Ottawa food scene. When I’m not running, you can find me shopping for ingredients or in the kitchen cooking for my family and friends. Whether you’ve been cooking for a long time or are learning to cook for the first time, I hope you will find something delicious here to inspire you.