Day four of our seven-day trip in NYC, we headed to the East Village to Chef-owner David Chang’s Momofuku Noodle Bar. Momofuku is his group of award winning restaurants. Those in NY are: Momofuku Noodle Bar, Momofuku Ssäm Bar, Má Pêche, Momofuku Ko, Milk Bar, and Booker & Dax. “Momofuku” could be translated from Japanese as “lucky peach”, though Chef David Chang has written that the name is “an indirect nod” to Momofuku Ando, the Taiwanese-Japanese inventor of instant ramen.*
Arriving a tad early via the subway, my husband Michael and I roamed First Ave. We killed time by wandering through a drug store and grabbed a tea at Starbucks. At about ten to noon (opening time) we found that we weren’t the only ones with the brilliant idea to arrive at Noodle Bar early. A few folks were already forming a line. We jumped in line with them and watched more people arrive as the ten minutes passed.
Once open, we were seated at the bar, given menus and quickly served our drinks. The restaurant was instantly full and I realized that I’m in the midst of a New York City lunch rush. We really didn’t need much time with the menu, two orders of pork buns and two Momofuku Ramens, please! I watched as the Asian gentleman next to me devoured small plate after small plate of pork buns, ribs and what looked like an artfully prepared salad, and then his Raman. Our pork buns came and by the time I was done admiring my plate, Michael was done with his first bun. I had better hop to it! Not being keen on inhaling my food, I did the best I could to keep up. Food is meant to be savored and enjoyed especially if you’ve traveled almost 3,000 miles to eat it!
The buns were fantastic. Two lovely square slabs of pork belly were being embraced by a soft while pillow of sweet doughy bun. Add shiitake for earth, hoisin for spice, scallion for light onion, and thin cucumber for crunch, and you have a perfect bite.
Next was the artistically arranged, steaming bowl of Raman. If you like warm, cozy, soul hugging wonderfulness in a bowl, this is for you! The broth was light and subtle in flavor with a tad of smoke. If you are a fan of any kind of meal in a bowl, you know it’s all about the broth baby! I didn’t notice glistening globules of fat dancing on the surface, but you could taste their understated presence of richness and depth. When is more pork belly a bad thing? Pork shoulder anyone? Accompanying the pork were two paper-thin sheets of seaweed, Asian radish or daikon, and a perfectly poached egg perched atop like a jewel. And noodles, don’t forget the noodles! Made in house, these noodles were the ideal balance of chewy, starchy, slurp worthy masters of all that is holy in a bowl.
That evening we were one of those lucky enough to see a preview of Betrayal on Broadway, staring Daniel Craig (6th James Bond, Cowboys & Aliens), Rachel Wiesz (The Deep Blue Sea, The Constant Gardner), Rafe Spall (Life of Pi, Prometheus). Betrayal is a play about infidelity, essentially, but with far more humor than I expected. All three actors were superb and surprisingly enough, Craig had the smallest role of the three. None-the-less, I was prepared with my theatre glasses or mini-binoculars that I commonly use at the ballet. Yes folks, being the Craig fan that I am, I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity (nor did my husband deny the chance to spy on Ms. Wiesz). We did however, waltz past the throngs waiting for them at the stage door after the show. I saw them in a remarkable performance in a professional capacity, I didn’t need to gape at them as they left the theatre and leapt into their black Range Rover to go home for the evening.
The following day was pretty much spent at 30 Rockefeller Plaza (cue the 30 Rock theme music). I got us both the 30 Rock Tour and the Top of the Rock Tour. I thought the 30 Rock Tour was the studio tour, but I was wrong, it was a tour of the buildings and architecture of Rockefellar Center. Soooo after the Top of the Rock Tour, 70 stories high with out of this world views of Manhattan, we booked a studio tour. All was not lost; we did walk down a few SNL hallways and see the stage.
We saved the big guns for the end of our trip. Michelin, a French company (same as the tires) produces Europe’s oldest and best-known restaurant and hotel reference guide, usually referred to as the Red Guide. The restaurants are rated on a star system:
One star: “A very good restaurant in its category”
Two stars: “Excellent cooking, worth a detour”
Three stars: “Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey” *
Le Bernardin is one of only seven restaurants in New York awarded three Michelin stars, and is the restaurant which has held four stars from The New York Times for the longest period of time, having earned the ranking in early 1986.
Now, with all the pomp and circumstance out of the way, can we eat? On our final full day in NYC, and as a birthday celebration for Michael, we ate lunch at Le Bernardin. There was some confusion over dinner reservations, but we managed to secure (extremely hard to get) reservations for lunch. Perhaps it was the better value, a three-course, prix fixe menu for $75 pp. Jacket required for gentlemen (even for lunch), Michael and I dressed up in our smart duds and took a taxi to our noon lunch date.
We breezed through the large glass revolving door and into the foyer. I gave my coat to the coat check attendant and we were seated. The staff, who were dressed all in black were incredibly professional and courteous, and many of them were French (undeniable accent). Since I didn’t really have a feeling for what I’d like to drink, Michael ordered us both a glass of lovely white wine from France’s Loire Valley (we had visited it during our adventures in France last year). One of the staff introduced the lunch menu to us. One could make a choice of two courses from three categories on the prix fixe lunch menu and dessert would be on a separate menu. The selections would come from: Almost Raw, Barely Touched or Lightly Cooked. Michael and I both chose our first course from Almost Raw and our second course from Barely Touched. Descriptions below.
Layers of Thinly Pounded Yellow fin Tuna; Foie Gras and Toasted Baguette, Shaved Chives and Extra Virgin Olive Oil
M YELLOWFIN TUNA
Ultra Rare Seared Tuna; Marinated Fennel, Basil and Capers
K BLACK BASS
Crispy Black Bass; Roasted Shishitos and Kabocha Squash “Ceviche”, Peruvian Chicha
Baked Cod; Warm Razor Clam “Salad”, Turnip and Shiitake, Spiced Tomato Nage
K CHOCOLATE MILLE-FEUILLE
Caramelized Phyllo, Thyme Gelée, Salted Milk Chocolate Ice Cream
Madagascan Chocolate Ganache, Candied Peanuts, Popcorn Ice Cream
Besides the food and the experience of dining at Le Bernardin, which were sublime, I have a confession. I have a small chef crush on Eric Ripert (come on, he’s French!). During our lunch I happened to look up and see someone in a white chefs jacket walk past us. I thought it was odd to see someone from the kitchen in the dining room simply because all of the dining staff were in all black. As my eyes traveled up, I saw Chef Ripert walking past us. Gleefully I smacked Michael on the arm several times and said “Eric Ripert just walked by!” As our meal continued, I began scanning the dinning room for more sightings. I was lucky enough to spy him one more time walking past our table. I turned my head and smiled at him, he smiled back and gave a polite nod of his head. On our final day in NYC, while having lunch at Le Bernardin, Chef Eric Ripert smiled at me. Ah, NOW my trip to New York is complete!