Momofuku Noodle Bar @ 190 University Avenue, Toronto – Call: (647) 253-8000
My roommate Emily and I celebrated the end of (my) exams with a memorable dinner at Momofuku Noodle Bar this past Thursday.
Noodle Bar exists in the lower floor of the Shangri-La Hotel, which is also home to several other David Chang ventures, including Daisho, Shoto, and Nakai.
I was a bit early and hung out in the hotel lobby for a spell, which, and this may have just been my mood, came off as a little douchy. They had a pianist and a jazz singer, but most of the tables were filled with people who seemed all too happy to be on display. No one seemed relaxed or in the moment, and there was an overwhelming odor of bad perfume.
But that was the hotel lobby and the restaurant was a different story. Frankly, I was impressed with the system they’ve worked out at Noodle Bar – it’s efficient, fast, and the servers are supremely confident with the menu.
Em and I decided on splitting three dishes: the redoubtable pork buns (~$9), dan dan mein (~$15), and the roasted rice cakes (~$9).
The dan dan mein is probably the most true to the original dish of the three – really just an elevated version of a classic Sichuan dish, and my favorite of the night. We’re talking about a perfect pairing of al dente ramen-style noodles, peanuts, and the pungency of dried scallops. It doesn’t try to be more than it is, and it doesn’t need to. I prefer it to the Momofuku Ramen I tried in New York last summer, which is good ramen, but it’s not great ramen (and therefore something I would prefer not to pay $15 for).
The Momofuku pork buns are a classic for a reason. It’s a great idea for a dish: braised pork belly, a chewy bao exterior, with hoisin sauce and cucumbers. Everything is in balance, the cucumbers are a revelation, and now everyone has their take on this idea (see: Banh Mi Boys, which is cheaper and about as good). It’s the reason David Chang has been as successful as he is.
Finally, the pleasant surprise of the evening was the rice cakes. They stood out because of their texture, which was slightly chewy but then a little crunchy on the exterior. The chili onion sauce was compelling – sweet, a little spicy, and welcoming of the house-made siracha-inspired sauce each table is offered. It was a focused dish with a point of view, executed to the nines. The only complaint is, of course the complaint you’d have at any restaurant with $5 cokes: they were a bit pricey for food cost. But then again, hey, it’s David Chang. What did you expect?