First opened in 2004 Momofuku Noodle Bar was one of the original restaurants on my ever-growing iPhone list of restaurants that I hope to visit in my life time (and yes I know iPhone hasn’t been around that long). Now one of 13 restaurants owned by David Chang, including one in Sydney Momofuku Seibo, Momofuku Noodle Bar is renowned for its signature pork buns and having the best ramen in New York. Forget the ramen – we came for the pork buns. Usually my skills of navigation are on point but this time around I led us in the exact wrong direction of where we wanted to go so we ended hailing a taxi to take us there.
When we arrived there was yet another large line – much to MS’ dismay because he was getting a little fed up with having to line up for food everywhere we went. In my defence all the good places I take him to are usually quite popular hence the hefty line up but I always assure him that it’s worth the wait. For Pete’s sake if he hadn’t met me he would still be eating dinner at Cock N Bull on a regular basis, now he’s dining at trendy restaurants in New York that he knows nothing about and doesn’t care for either ha! I was well aware from reviews that it could take up to an hour to get a seat but I played it down to MS telling him that I read the wait was usually only about 15 minutes – what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him. Inside the door it was hard to differentiate between exactly who’d had their name taken by the hostess and who was waiting to get their name taken by the hostess. Lucky for me a friendly local (surprisingly the only kind that we met in NY despite their gruff reputation) arrived straight after us and ushered me up to the front of the restaurant with him and within ten minutes MS and I were in!
*Goddammit! Why didn’t I take more photos?!*
We took a seat near the end of a long communal table next to a group of three that were high up in the corporate sector of Starbucks. They had come together in Manhattan from various parts of the USA to inspect a few of the Starbucks stores and make sure things were up to scratch. MS and I ordered our meals and chatted to them about the terrible coffee that we had encountered on our trip so far with the worst of all being at bustling LAX diner LA Roadhouse Route 66 – the food was also terrible. We told them how Starbucks had become a beacon of light and hope on our six day road trip from Columbia, SC to New York City and that it was our ‘go to destination’ for a decent cup of coffee in the USA. Although he worked for Starbucks one of the men of the trio told us to go to Blue Bottle Coffee shop for a decent cup of coffee when we were in San Francisco much to the dislike of the other guy and girl in the group.
I’m 90% sure I saw that kid (now grown man) from Billy Elliot standing inconspicuously in the corner at Momofuku but either no one else recognised him or they are just so conditioned to seeing famous people in New York that no one gives a f*ck. I pride myself on my uncanny ability to pick random D grade celebrities out of a crowd and know exactly what obscure movie they were in back in 1996. Kind of like this one time back in 2007 when I served the kid from the 1st Jurassic Park movie at the Cairns airport. He’s been completely ‘not famous’ since starring in Jurassic Park except for a run with Meryl Streep down the Kootenai in The River Wild and man did he get ugly but I knew exactly who he was from the moment I spotted him. A true talent that I could really go places with I’m sure.The seating conditions at Momofuku are practically elbow to elbow and you have to shout to speak to the person you are dining with but despite how busy the restaurant was the kitchen was absolutely pumping out dishes and our bun entrée took no more than about 10 minutes to arrive. We had ordered two each of the Shitake Buns with Hoisin, Scallion and Cucumber (US$10 each) and two each of the Brisket Buns with Horseradish, Pickled Red Onion and Cucumber (US$12 each). The buns were actually quite filling and the Shitake Buns were a clear winner for both of us. Anything with Hoisin Sauce is normally a winner for me. MS enjoyed them so much that he ordered himself two more (he is a fatty though). Not long after we polished off our buns our bowls of ramen arrived.
Momofuku’s signature ramen is your typical ramen with Pork Belly, Pork Shoulder and a Poached Egg (US$16) but they also have a yummy sounding Chilled Spicy Noodle on the menu with Sichuan Sausage, Spinach and Cashews, only thing is that it was a little too cold out to have chilled noodles. The hearty bowls of pork broth were huge and we struggled to finish them especially since we’d already had entrees. Purported by many to be the best ramen in all of New York City it certainly may well be because we didn’t have any other ramen to compare it to while we were there. The ramen at Momofuku Noodle Bar was delicious but, well, not to brag but MS and I were not that long ago eating ramen from some of the best ramen joints in Japan so our tastebuds have been a little spoiled of late. In the end I think I had hyped the place up a little too much in my head but the buns alone were worth walking in the wrong direction for. I just looked at photos of the inside of the restaurant online and I didn’t even recognise it because when we went there were that many people there you couldn’t even make out the walls and furniture. Don’t let that deter you though. If the crowds are anything to go by then even after 11 years as one of the most popular eateries in New York City, Momofuku Noodle Bar has still go it.
For MS and I Katz Delicatessen was kind of the crème de la crème of places we wanted to go in New York because if there’s one type of food we can agree on it’s a pastrami sandwich aka The Reuben. The place that made Reuben Sandwiches famous Katz’s Deli is still the talk of the town in New York even after over 125 years in operation (it was first founded in 1888) and is hugely popular for its pastrami sandwiches and hot dogs. Some of you might remember it from the famous scene in Where Harry Met Sally where Meg Ryan fakes an orgasm but me, nah I just remember it for the sandwiches.
MS and I figured eating a Reuben Sandwich on a Friday night was the way to go so we took a taxi down to the Lower East Side and made our way along the busy street to Katz’s. As we entered the door we were handed a ticket by the door attendant. I had read many a review about Katz’s and the one thing that stuck in my mind was that we must hang onto that ticket for dear life because if we were to lose it then it’s a lost ticket fee of US$50. A bit steep but neither of us planned to lose that damn ticket. You have the choice of sitting in a particular section where you can get table service or go straight up to the servery. The huge deli is absolutely pumping with restaurant workers, tourists and New Yorkers alike – so much so that it’s a bit of a spectacle.
We both got a bit of a shock when we realised that it was almost US$20 for a Reuben Sandwich which going by the Aussie Dollar these days is about AU$30 – that’s one bloody exy sandwich – and we wanted two! If all the hype was to be believe then it was definitely worth it right? We ordered two Reuben’s from our friendly server, a small middle aged man – one with corned beef and one with pastrami. He promptly took out two enormous slabs of freshly cured corned beef and pastrami and proceeded to expertly slice pieces off for our sandwiches. He even cut us a few extra pieces for us to try whilst we were waiting.
What makes Katz’s pastrami and corned beef so special is that it’s cured using a ‘slower method which best flavours the meat, without injecting chemicals, water or other additives. Their finished product can take up to 30 days to cure whereas most commercial prepared corned beef is often cured in 36 hours (from the Katz Deli website). What the hell is the difference between corned beef and pastrami anyway? Well corned beef is brined whereas pastrami is rubbed in spices and smoked. The corned beef and pastrami is seriously unlike any that I have ever tasted before. So juicy, so succulent and a hell of a lot better than the sh*tty corned beef and pastrami that you get from the deli at Woolies or Coles. There’s just no comparison. When he was done making our sandwiches the man handed us back our precious tickets and we parked ourselves at a table smack bang in the middle of the restaurant.
Photos ensued and MS was finally allowed to take a bite of the most expensive sandwich he had ever bought. After the first bite we both agreed that the Reuben sandwiches with Swiss cheese, Russian dressing and sauerkraut were well worth their US$20 price tag. No orgasms were faked during the making or eating of the sandwich but I may have been close to having a real one whilst eating my Reuben.
There had to be close to 300g of meat on each of the sandwiches and the rye bread was deliciously soft. It was a mean feat to finish a whole sandwich because of the sheer size but I more than managed. Seriously on my top 10 list of the best things I have ever eaten. Believe all the hype you have heard about this place – it’s well worth going to not only for the delicious Reuben sandwiches but also for the atmosphere and spectacle of Katz’s Deli.
Last time I was in Philadelphia was way back in December 2003 and it was the same day that that the USA captured Saddam Hussein. We didn’t stop in Philly for long back in 2003 because it was snowing but I do recall losing the keys to our family’s RV. Lucky for us they weren’t lost in the snow and after a frantic search I ended up finding them in the kitchen sink, phew! This time around MS and I were overnighting in Philadelphia, a decision we later regretted because of Philly is actually a fantastic place to visit! Sadly I had only booked a one night stopover for the sole purpose of breaking up our drive to New York. After spending the afternoon there we realised that Philly wasn’t just A) the home of Philly Cheesesteak Sandwiches B) where Rocky famously ran up the stairs and C) the only place other than San Francisco that serves decent coffee. Philadelphia is also quite an up and coming destination in the USA and well worth spending a bit of time to explore!For our one night in Philly I had booked a room on AirBnB at a place which also moonlighted as a yoga studio. The price was good and I am all for staying in places that are just a little bit unique – most of the time. When we arrived our host Valerie gave us a tour of what literally was a yoga studio and informed us that we would have to vacate between 6 and 8pm that evening to make way for her yoga class. In that time she would pack up the air mattress and bed side tables and then return it all to its original place for our return. Yes I know it’s a little random but you seriously couldn’t beat the position of the yoga studio in terms of location – it was literally a 10 minute walk from the Rocky Stairs, fantastic restaurants and the Eastern State Penitentiary (a National Historic Landmark that was no longer in use). The only downside to the yoga studio was a bit of an unpleasant smell that I attributed to her two cats that proceeded to wander in and out until MS locked them out. Also it turns out that sleeping on an air mattress pretty much guarantees you the worst nights sleep of your life! First place we headed after dumping our bags was to the Rocky Stairs where it seems we weren’t the only people attempting to follow in Sylvester Stallone’s footsteps (literally). There was tonnes of tourists there doing exactly this as well as quite a few locals using the stairs for some HIIT. As with most popular landmarks in US cities there was someone at the top offering to take photos of us. l’m not an idiot and I’m also not one to be conned by this type of ‘friendly and helpful’ photographer however I did want some photos of MS and I together for once. When handing him my iPhone I was fully aware that I was going to be asked for some money at the end of it all. What I didn’t know was that he would ask me for US$20. That’s nearly AU$30 to take a few pics with my own camera!!! When he finished and asked for the money I nearly fell down the stairs in shock – You’ve got to be kidding me?! Apparently the had been taking photos at the top of the stairs for nearly 20 years and in the end I gave him US$5 for his terrible photos and he moved onto some unsuspecting Chinese tourists.
Later on that evening, after a few rounds of shadow boxing, we were both feeling pretty hungry andI had carefully researched where to go for the famous Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich in Philadelphia. For those unaware of what a Cheesesteak is (do you live under a rock?!) well it’s a sandwich made from thinly sliced pieces of steak and melted cheese, served in a long roll. Despite there being plenty of places claiming to serve ‘the Best Philly Cheesesteak’ in all of Philly I thought it would be fitting to go to the place that started the Philly Cheesesteak movement – or so they say – “Pat’s King of Steaks”. Located in South Philadelphia Pat’s Steaks is directly across the road from rival Philly Cheesesteak restaurant Geno’s Steaks. After navigating the narrow streets and stopping to ask a friendly lolly pop lady just who had right of way at an ALL WAY STOP SIGN meant MS and I were lucky enough to find a park just across the road from the busy eatery.
The man that served us at Pat’s was abrupt and spoke in a thick Jersey accent which I found to be not only amusing but pretty awesome! There’s a sign next to the counter that explains to newcomers like ourselves just how to order the Cheesesteak. As a humorous reference to the Philadelphia accent ordering with the simple words ‘wit’ or ‘wit-out’ means with or without onions so ‘wit’ it. We also added the wiz cheese instead of provolone after a recommendation from a friend of mine who had only a few weeks earlier visited Philly herself.
The wonders of NYC next xox