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Momofuku, too

Ginger scallion noodles ©DPaul Brown

Oh, the kerfuffle over a couple of high-profile New York chefs dragging out that tiresome trope: Bashing on San Francisco’s food scene. Back in October, at the New York Food & Wine Festival, media darling David Chang and media whore Anthony Bourdain had an affable banter, calling bull**** on various aspects of their industry, including themselves. One of Chang’s salvos was that, “there’s only a handful of restaurants that are manipulating food … ****ing every restaurant in San Francisco is serving figs on a plate
with nothing on it.” Later, Bourdain referred to Alice Waters as “Pol Pot in a muumuu,” since she evidently killed off a couple million people in her Berkeley kitchen.

Nablo09.90x33 First of all, ha ha! Funny! No, really! And any San Francisco foodie types who got their panties in a bunch over this need to grow a sense of humor. But it’s funny like pull-my-finger kind of funny. It’s a joke we’ve heard a million times before, from that corny old uncle who still thinks it’s as fresh and high-larious as the first time he told it decades ago.

Anyway, the whole point of our cuisine of unmanipulated food is that we have access to some of the best, freshest and most flavorful ingredients available anywhere. Why manipulate perfection?


Not that I’m casting aspersions on New York’s food. It’s one of my favorite cities in the world, truly iconic of all that is America: Diverse, energetic and innovative. I’ve had amazing food there, though most of that has been at the very bottom end of the economic scale. Of course New York is also home to expense-account powerhouse restaurants swimming in Michelin stars. What we do best, always and still, is the reasonably priced neighborhood restaurant that just bangs out killer food day after day.

I actually do harbor a fascination with Chang’s Momofuku empire. In many ways, though I’ve never eaten at his restaurants, I intuit he has a Californian sensibility — a desire to throw convention to the wind and merge his influences into something new. We used to call it Fusion Cuisine. You know, in California. Where it came from.

I haven’t been to New York in quite a while, and do not currently have any trips planned, so am forced to take matters into my own hands. Luckily, Adam posted an ad-hoc version of Momofuku’s ginger-scallion noodles, and so I simply had to try it. Well, sort of. I knew we had some 100% buckwheat soba in the house, and so forewent purchasing ramen. However, I was too lazy to go to the store ahead of time and so instead of the delicately light and crispy pickled cucumbers, I subbed in some of our bread-and-butter pickles that we more or less always have on hand. So sue me.

DPaul found the ginger overpowering, but like cilantro it’s one of the flavors that he always finds overpowering. He did, happily, really like the cauliflower treatment, which is remarkable since he doesn’t care for cauliflower in general.

As for the soba, I really adore the nutty, earthy flavor of buckwheat, but the 100% version of the noodles tend to take on a pasty texture, no matter how much you rinse them. Next time around, I’ll go with mixed-flour soba (more common, anyway) or ramen as indicated. I also felt this dish needed heat. I dashed some pepper flake on at the end, but a nice dollop of chili paste in the condiment would take this to a whole new level. 

Still, it’s simple, satisfying, vegan, low-fat and, if you use 100% buckwheat soba and wheat-free tamari, gluten-free to boot. And it requires scarcely any more manipulation than a plate full of ripe, juicy figs.

  • “…corny old uncle who still thinks it’s as fresh and high-larious as the first time he told it decades ago.”
    Pretty sure that’s the best description of Bourdain’s schtick I’ve heard so far. And you are totally right on in nailing Chang’s take on Asian Cuisine as “fusion”.

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    To be fair, it is fusion, but it's fusing pan-Asian flavors, mostly, so it's not really "Fusion" in the '80s sense. But yes. It's still fusion.
    And I like Bourdain as much as the next guy, but really. His bad-boy attitude is poorly supported by his cush lifestyle right now.

  • David Chang should just shut up and cook. His food is insanely delicious. In his recent cookbook he actually praises SF style burritos. Wonder where he’s eating while he’s in town? I suppose he could just eat raw figs he finds at the farmers market since that’s all he’d get in our restaurants anyway. Ha!

  • Uh, I had NO IDEA he was actually in town to speak at Cafe du Nord TONIGHT. Uncanny.

  • The US is so big, New York is like a different country. Let them have their own cuisine. (They pour sugar on meat, is all I’m sayin’.)
    I love this post, Sean.
    (And GF? Blessings.)

  • I don’t even know what to think anymore. I tried his fried chicken recipe and while it was okay, I’ve still had better in New York (I mean Korean fried chicken). Everyone’s raving about the ginger-scallion noodles and red dragon sauce, maybe I should try those 🙂
    The soy sauce-vinegar-onion combo is pretty common here in the Philippines, though, so Chang’s raves brought about major eye-rolling from me, haha 🙂

  • I too am intrigued by David Chang and his empire though have never been to one of his restaurants. I kind of don’t want to like him, having read a number of articles about him in which he sounded kinda jerky. But there’s no doubt he’s creative and talented. Nice post.
    Your doggy Reese is adorable!

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    I'll give Chang his due cuz at least he's actually in the kitchen. Bourdain is just a talking head at this point. I'll let Reese know she has another fan!

  • brownox

    There is no need to manifpulate perfection, but unmanipulated perfection is what you go to the market for, not pay 3 times the raw food cost for.

  • i’m singaporean chinese so i’m quite fascinated by the way he’s fusing asian methods/flavours but i’ve never tried momofuku, so i don’t want to judge. your descriptions are hilarious! anyway, i think beautiful ingredients don’t need to be over manipulated, but like what brownox said, i would then just go to the market for them. (i work at a farmers’ market, in london (: )