Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Momofuku Noodle Bar - 11th St & 1st Ave

Momofuku Noodle Bar
171 1st Ave

This weekend, Little Scarlet posted a loving review of Ippudo. It’s hard to think of Ippudo, though, without drawing comparisons to its East Village neighbor and competitor, Momofuku Noodle Bar. Chef Morimoto may have ranked Momofuku higher by a single point - swayed in large part by David Chang’s personally serving Iron Chef Morimoto - but what kind of experience can the average ramen eater expect? It’s only fair that Little Scarlet revisit Momofuku Noodle Bar, so read on for the results of the competition!

Both ramen houses have lauded menus, full of successful, delicious items, but the real stand-outs at both are steamed pork buns and ramen:

Steamed pork buns
Both pork buns have the same steamed, white bun folded in half around slices of fat-laden pork belly, crisp vegetables, and Asian-flavored sauce. The bun is softer and lighter at Ippudo, and their pork seems to be fattier, and therefore more tender. Ippudo has a spicier, creamier sauce that makes a kind of slaw out of the iceberg lettuce and cabbage beneath it, but I prefer Momofuku’s sweeter hoisin sauce, with its raw cucumbers and finely diced scallion rings.
Winner:      Tie
Both pork buns are amazingly good with no clear winner, so it's up to personal preference to determine the “superior” bun.

Ramen (Momofuku Ramen vs. Akamaru Shin Classic ramen)
There are no additional toppings to order at Momofuku, but with piles of scallions, sliced radishes, bamboo shoots, both sliced pork belly and braised pork shoulder, and a perfectly poached egg, there isn't need for much more! One poke of a chopstick sends the egg's beautiful, sunny yolk oozing out over curled, squiggly noodles - much like bibimbap, these toppings are meant to be mixed on your own, at the table.
Winner:      Ippudo
The Momofuku Ramen gets extra depth and richness from the two cuts of pork, while Ippudo’s ramen is cleaner, flavored by the combination of ginger, miso, red-pepper paste, and sesame oil. Maybe it's the aphrodisiacal quality of Ippudo’s braised pork belly, but Ippudo’s Akamaru Shin ramen ranks ahead - but only by one point!

Ippudo's energetic attitude, shared tables, and “split-sofa” chairs make for a fun, cozy date night; all of Momofuku's chairs are backless (not the best for the geriatric crowd), but sitting at the counter is exciting, like dinner and a show!

Little Scarlet would sooner revisit Ippudo than Momofuku Noodle Bar, but it's such close competition, you should really taste for yourself - and then come back here and comment!