Once Arne joined me in the city – hours late from stupid Texas weather – the culinary exploration kicked up a notch. Our first stop was Madison Square Eats, a collection of food stalls in Madison Square Park featuring some famous names like Momofuku Milk Bar. (I had previously visited with Mom and Jeff – we shared three yummy Arancini Bros. risotto balls between us, but I forgot to take pictures.)
We followed that advice. (Happily, the line moved quickly.)
The Korilla menu offers its wares as many quick-eats Mexican places do: in tacos, burritos, or bowls. We chose a bowl with bacon-kimchi fried rice (did I mention we love kimchi?), pulled pork, Korilla sauce (a mayo-based spicy sauce), Korean chili sauce, and all the kimchi and pickles and veggies and cheese they could fit in the bowl. Even though cheese sounded a little odd with it.
The cheese was, in fact, a little odd with it, but the resulting over-the-top slumgullion was incredibly tasty. And gigantic. Despite sharing, we failed to finish the whole thing. I wish we had gotten it in burrito form, because it would have made an amazing burrito. Oh, well. Next time.
The next day, we made our way to Fatty Crab in the West Village. It wasn’t our first visit to Fatty: We were there once before, at Christmastime in 2009, as NYC hunkered down before a legendary snowstorm. (What a beautiful storm it was. I’ll never forget watching the snow fall late at night from the library/breakfast room of the gorgeous Library Hotel.) That time a gale howled outside, and we were the only customers. What a contrast to this lovely spring day, when all the sidewalk tables were taken, and the hostess kindly pointed us to a table at the front near an open window.
The first dish to arrive was squid stir-fried in a spicy sauce with… I forget what the green was. Anyway, absolutely fantastic. Spicy, tender-chewy, fresh.
And then the third plate hit the table, and all else was forgotten as Arne and I closed our eyes and made soft sounds of delight. A specialty of the house, the Watermelon Pickle and Crispy Pork was one of the most scrumptious things I’ve ever placed in my mouth. The pork was braised belly, fried until crispy on the outside and absolutely melting within. The watermelon pickle was sweet and juicy and tangy and cool and spicy with ginger. The contrast was enough to weaken the knees.
I will replicate this dish at home. This will be made much easier by the fact that I bought the chef’s cookbook. Zak Pelaccio’s Eat With Your Hands is a highly entertaining read, and the recipes I’ve made from it so far – including the braised pork belly this dish is based on – have been outstanding. I’m so excited to keep exploring it! (For the record, if you want to make pork belly, check your local Asian store. I don’t know what they charge for it at high-end places, but I bought some at Ta Lin for $2.75 a pound. Amazing for a current darling of haute cuisine!)
The next day we visited a holy site I’ve been dying to get to – Momofuku Noodle Bar, the first entry in David Chang’s growing Korean-influenced restaurant empire. Besides being an increasingly famous restaurateur, Chang is a main force behind the awesome in-your-face cooking magazine Lucky Peach. The dining room was sleek and simple, with a few picnic-style communal tables (behind me in the photo) and a long counter. We sat at the counter. There were more blackboards there, against simple tan walls.
I started with a Yuzu Palmer, a slushy, lightly alcoholic yuzu-flavored tea drink served from one of those revolving drum things. It was awesome. As we were about to order, I noticed that the guy next to us was eating some of the freshest-looking raw fish I’d ever seen. “Is that the mackerel special?” I asked. It was. I ordered it, even though I generally don’t like mackerel – it tends to be very fishy. It was a good decision.
The glistening-fresh mackerel arrived on a pool of pea puree with nasturtiums and smoked strawberries. The mackerel was incredible, rich and smooth and luxurious. It almost melted in the mouth. And the smoked strawberries were a revelation, with a real flavor of smoke but still fruity and moist. I’d expected them to be dehydrated. We tried very hard to eat slowly and make it last, but it was still gone way too quickly.
Then we moved on to the main event: ramen. Lucky Peach’s article on how to make ramen made a real impression on me. I made tare (tah-reh) – ramen flavoring – from their recipe, which called for a pound of bacon to make a cup or two of liquid. The stuff is awesome, and a little goes a long way. I also learned a lot about “alkaline noodles,” made with sodium hydroxide, which you get by roasting baking soda. No, I’m not kidding, you bake the baking soda. I haven’t tried them yet, but I plan to.
Anyway, I came away with the impression that a lot of thought had gone into ramen at Momofuku Noodle Bar. So I ordered the house special ramen with pork belly, pork shoulder, fish cake, and egg.
What a got was a big bowl of perfectly cooked, rich and firm noodles in a profoundly porky broth. No big surprises, but it was masterly. Arne was less thrilled with his duck ramen – the broth was too mild – but the crispy duck thigh atop the noodles was fantastic.
We finished up with Momofuku Milk Bar’s strawberry cake truffles. I’m not sure what I expected, but the cake cradled inside the rich, sweet white-chocolate shell was indeed truffle-like – underbaked, maybe? – insanely rich and luscious. I had to take the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook back to the library because I’d renewed it three times. I need to buy it already so I can find out how those sugar bombs are made!
One of our last food stops was Shake Shack. Not the famous outpost at Madison Square Park, which I always remember as one of the first ways I heard of Twitter (check the #shakeshack hashtag if you want to know just how long the legendarily long line is), but a newer one on Fulton Mall not far from my brother’s place in Brooklyn. I felt that it was my duty as a food blogger to check it out for you.
The verdict? Not bad. There was a nice flavorful grill char on the burger, and the bun was soft but chewy and crisp from grill-toasting. The condiments were plentiful and fresh, the waffle fries crisp, and the black & white shake tasty. But I’d sure as heck rather eat at Fatty Crab.
I came home inspired, and convinced that Korean is going to be the next food style to really explode in the US. I’ve been experimenting with kimchi (see my Quick Cucumber Kimchi post) and other Korean flavors, as well as the exotic Malaysian cuisine from Fatty Crab. Watch for more of them in future posts!
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