I've been on a David Chang whirlwind tour in the past 30 days. Mind you, it's not my first tour of the different Momofuku outposts. I've experienced the Southern vs. Korean fried chicken feast (preceded by everything else on the menu) at Noodle Bar, done the Bo Ssäm at Ssäm Bar, and got the scoop on Vietnamese "Beef 7 Ways" as imagined by David's co-chef Tien Ho at Ma Pêche. But I only lost my Ko virginity a few days ago at a 17-course lunch, and it inspired a culinary retrospective.
Of course, the experience at Ko in what was the original location of Momofuku Noodle Bar, brought me back to my first memories of Chang in that little galley kitchen. I brought my wife for that first experience at the original Noodle Bar, and I remember she initially groaned in pain when she sat on the uncomfortable backless stools. Soon she was groaning with pleasure when David himself served her his pork belly steamed buns. It was around the time that Martha Stewart had been in and she was falling over herself for the pork buns and sharing her love for them with her audience.
Back then everyone was going to Momofuku for the ramen. It wasn't best in class, but when David would throw a shrimp 'n grits and poached egg on the menu people were blown away. Like Jimi Hendrix making Clapton and Townsend want to quit playing guitar, Chang humbly received accolades before his mentors Carmellini, Canora, and Benno though he seemed embarrassed and apologetic and self-deprecating while doing so.
I write this while sitting at Ssäm Bar eating Chilean uni covered in whipped tofu, tapioca and shrimp crackers. All I can think about is how much better it is than the oysters and pearls dish at Per Se, and how fantastic Ssäm Bar's bo ssäm is. Once, after experiencing it, I ordered traditional Bo Ssäm in a Korean restaurant and realized how inspired the psychedilicized Momofuku version was.
I had to have been the third person on line when Milk Bar first opened next door to Ssäm Bar. I remember having homemade English muffins and bacon with poached eggs followed by chocolate flavored milk. It reminded me of the milk left over in the bottom of the bowl after eating Cocoa Puffs. Then there's the volcano — a Yonah Shimmel's Jewish knish conquered by Cossacks with the addition of potato cheese gratin and Benton's bacon.
Ko was, for lack of a better description, unf@#%king believable. Chang celebrated artisanal American country hams long before Murray's Real Salami started offering Benton's smoked ham and Edward's "Surryano." His preparations have been so unbelievable as to actually make me forget about proscuitto di Parma. Spain's jamón serrano, and even Ibérico — particularly when served with Momofuku's red-eyed gravy, which I would willingly be drowned in.
Benton's bacon resurfaced as the smoke in the etheral dashi in which more uni was swimming. There was the best sashimi followed by the best steak tartare. Only Chang would have the audacity to serve a single oyster on a huge wooden box of ice. But when he's garnished it with a kimchi puree or something equally brilliant you just shrug your shoulders, close your eyes and enjoy the ride. Anthony Bourdain may talk the talk of the badass rock 'n' roll chef, but Chang walks the walk. The creator of Momofuku is one creative mother.
So are you Momofuku-experienced? Have you ever been experienced? Well, I have.