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).
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.
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.
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.
Momofuku – Noodle Bar
190 University Avenue (Ground Floor)
Tags: Asian Contemporary, featured, Momofuku, ramen, Sidedoor Restaurant, Toronto