When a work conference I was attending sent me to New York City for 6 days, I was super excited. Although the conference started on Sunday and was 9-5 every day so I would lose the weekend (Saturday was almost all travel to you know, cross to the other side of the country and absorb the 3 hour time difference and 1 additional hour lost because of Daylight Savings time), I was determined to make the most of my time in checking things off my wishlist.
After all, NYC is one of the major food capitals of the world. And I Love Food. If a foodie will plan trips by first researching and planning what to eat, and if a foodie wins the lottery would plan an eating adventure around the world, then I more than qualify.
I’ll have another post or two to share about how I used Custom Google Maps to show me where everything on my wishlist was located, along with logistics like hours and tips for each location and how I gathered that info.
But for now, I’ll share the first meal I had when I arrived that Saturday evening. After the long flight from PDX to San Francisco to JFK, I craved comfort but also Saturday vibrancy and energy. And, I would wind up with my first bites in New York being Momofuku Noodle Bar, and just for convenience for me I’m also going to cover my stop at Momofuku Milk Bar even though it was a few days later.
The United flight had been fantastic in being on time and with an individual TV for each seat from San Fran to New York. The seats I had passed up in business class were those kind that fold into beds, but even in coach I was OK in comfort.
Usually I don’t experience those kind of nicer planes unless it’s an international flight, but apparently they also use the United p.s. Premium Service Boeing 757-200 aircraft for this leg. There was an outlet in front in between the seats (I was in an aisle) for power cords, but since they also had a USB plug right by the personal monitor I used to to keep my phone charged up. I appreciated that even in coach, I was given some amenities like access to chargers, every seat had a pillow and blanket, and all complimentary movies and TV shows.
I never thought I’d write on this blog about an airplane experience, but since it was so good I wanted to share it. This was so worth flying SFO to JFK rather than to EWR/Newark because of this plane (looks like it also works a LAX-JFK route).
I had felt empowered during my flight by watching Frozen and laughed outloud several times (than remembered to keep it down unlike the two college gals 3 rows diagonally from me that chatted loudly enough for the whole back section to hear, despite my headphones, on the whole 5 am flight!) and rewound scenes with Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2. There were actually a lot of movies I wanted to watch from their complimentary selection like Gravity, or Ender’s Game, or Hunger Games 2, but since I was planning on watching these with F anyway I tried to pick ones he would probably roll his eyes at. It’s definitely something when you wish the flight was a little longer so you could finish watching a third movie (I ended up watching White House Down because there were parts I could easily forward through and still follow).
But then there was the long ride to my Midtown hotel a few blocks from Times Square. I walked around Times Square after checking in to try to absorb the energy and excitement. But being alone I was a literal small face in a crowd and felt unimportant and lost and annoyed as people around me shared their sightseeing with their companions and caused me many times to walk around as they would suddenly stop short or walk 3 or 4 people across on the sidewalk, really really really slowly.
I decided I would go with some bao and a tummy full of ramen. I didn’t grow up with chicken soup as a comfort food when ill. It was Thai rice porridge or Mama Noodles (you can get them in Portland at Sen Yai as I wrote about here). I also remember when on family trips we touched down in Bangkok from a grueling long flight (back when smoking was still allowed and we always flew through Japan… I remember a haze sometimes above my child size head) this was part of our first meal as we got off the plane, often close to midnight there. I remember the flavors and smells meaning “welcome, you’re here, relax, rest from your trip but also be nourished, get ready to go out and explore”.
If you get off at the 8 St/NYU stop and walk on 8th street towards 1st, keep your eye out for a little red bunny (I mistakenly labeled it a dog in my Instagram) in the window of the 51 Astor Place building. Red Rabbit by Jeff Koons, the father of shiny balloon dog sculptures (he does them in 5 Colors- Blue, Magenta, Yellow, Orange, Red) is a 4 feet tall, 6,600 pound mirror-polished stainless steel sculpture. It has. four siblings (Magenta, Blue, Yellow, Violet) also out there somewhere.
I don’t usually mind solo dining. It lets me enjoy food and atmosphere without the distraction of conversation. I can devote my whole attention to the experience. Every bite and sip can be slowly unfolded uninterrupted, and my thoughts allowed to chase impressions into forming into something more solid rather than temporary emotional responses.
Also, it usually means I can easily get a seat. I walked into Momofuku Noodle Bar past a few groups and was immediately seated at the bar in the middle of the room- I hadn’t eaten since breakfast or I would might have waited for a counter seat by the kitchen, but this was fine.
I had seen earlier than I had a refrigerator and microwave in my room, so I didn’t hold back on ordering knowing I could take back leftovers. I started with 2 orders of buns- which come 2 buns each to an order, the Shrimp Bao with spicy mayo, pickled red onion, iceberg and the special on the board the Pork Belly Bun with soft white steamed bun folded around pickled cucumbers and green onions, sweet hoisin and roasted pork belly. I washed this down with a local beer, the Keegan Ales Mother’s Milk stout. This is pretty typical- I’m always asking what local beer, wine, or alcohol a place has.
If it’s one thing that Momofuku is famous for, it is these pork buns. When I bit into one, any annoyance, irritation, or tiredness faded away into the juicy tender melt in your mouth pillowy soft bun. I was only supposed to eat one each of the buns, but there was no way I wasn’t going to eat both these, and I even thought about ordering another but reminded myself there was a lot to eat in New York. I would totally come back here my next visit for these buns.
Man, I really wish I had some RIGHT NOW. They were so so so good. It sounds simple, but that’s like calling your favorite family dish just home cooking – embedded in these Buns is both nourishment and nurturing.
Eventually, new people were seated next to my left, and as they pondered aloud what buns to order, I turned and demanded that they had to order the pork buns. I tried hard to then return to my solitude and not listen too much to how the man was trying to set up the woman with various friends, and the woman complaining how hard it was to find someone in New York and dish on a recent date. I guess I wasn’t totally successful there huh.
It’s hard to not absorb some of the conversations around you since it is a crowded, loud restaurant that is popular and the communal seats so close you will probably exchange an elbow or two at one point. I’m not sure if it was me that changed, or the feeling of the crowd, but unlike the isolation I felt earlier at Times Square, here I felt camaraderie in everyone was seeking comfort, like I was. When I walked back to the station to return to the hotel, I no longer felt rushed, or irritated, or lost. I had transitioned into being relaxed, patient curious observer, and I was sorry for all the unkind thoughts I had when I was hungry (thinking back, I only had a breakfast sandwich I grabbed to eat on the plane in SFO and nothing else until this meal). I was back to smiling at strangers, the Portland me.
For ramen I went with the classic, Momofuku ramen, with pork belly, pork shoulder, poached egg. It’s homey, and made me regret having the beer because I had wasted previous stomach space that could have been used for all of the broth- I had to leave some behind. Don’t worry, only broth and maybe some green onion was left, nothing else.
If I returned, I would definitely try the Spicy Miso Ramen with smoked chicken and swiss chard or the Chilled Spicy Noodles with Sichuan sausage, spinach and cashews. This is the biggest negative of dining alone- if I had been with others I could have tried a bit of those all on this visit. I also would have had room for dessert… but not for this meal.
Instead, it wasn’t until a couple days later, on Tuesday, when I was able to try a Momofuku dessert at Momofuku Milk Bar, this was the East Village location. I made myself work for this dessert by walking here from Chelsea Market, and totally spacing on the fact that I had thought I would walk and visit The High Line Park first and then come for dessert. I would pay for this later because when I did return to The High Line another day it was raining hard. But that’s another post.
For now, be jealous of my Oatmeal Creme Pie flavored soft serve (this is specific to this particular Milk Bar location) with crunchies AND I got a slice of Crack Pie. FTW. The woman behind the counter even teased me that as I was ordering the slice that I had a really guilty look on my face, which may have had something to do with progressive eating for 6 hours and it wasn’t even dinnertime yet. I promise you that’s another post too! These desserts are all that they promise. The crack pie is very sweet and buttery but with a bit of saltiness, and the texture of that oat meal cookie crust gives it a bit of crunchyness while the filling is barely in solid form as its silkiness melts on your tongue.
Which Momofuku would you choose to go to, and what would you get!?
Other New York highlights from this trip that I have blogged about:
- An excellent lobster roll at Pearl Oyster Bar
- Scenes from Chelsea Market and Todd English Food Hall
- Best Bagel Sandwich in New York: Russ & Daughters
- Midtown Manhattan Lunches – Xian Famous Foods, ‘wichCraft, Zucker’s Bagels & Smoked Fish
- Bouchon Bakery Rockefeller