"I have the simplest tastes. I am simply satisfied with the best." - Oscar Wilde

"I came, I saw, I ate." - Au Gourmand

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Momofuku Má Pêche - November 7, 2010

You cannot really blame me, can you, for being a little bit skeptical – or truth be told, very skeptical – about a restaurant named Momofuku, which is not a real word in any language, including Japanese? A shake of the head followed by an immediate dismissal was my reaction, even after a perusal of a rather intriguing article in the New York Times. I was not about to jump onto the bandwagon and join the mad clicking contest, with wrists arched and shoulders tight, to snatch up the next available reservation at Ko. Times passed and now we are in 2010; Momofuku has aggrandized into yet another superpower on the gastronomic map of New York. Being a staunch opponent against restaurant empires and chef-turned CEOs, I preferred to live in a quiet contentment outside of David Chang’s territory.

However, that is all history now: Things dramatically changed when I stumbled upon the “epic” Beef Seven Ways. I could not not try it; there are a few moments in life where you have to prove yourself, rise up to the occasion and show the world what you have got – like singing the first karaoke or taking the bar exam. iPads, I could do without; but Beef Seven Ways, I had to have it. So, I gathered up six volunteers to embark on this ambitious adventure into the bovine wildness.

Shrimp Summer Rolls; Pork Short Ribs

The shrimp summer rolls were notable for two things only, and none involving the taste: one, the clever use of fried spring roll skin, rolled up like two long chopsticks, provided a pleasant crunchiness; and two, the “shrimp” was an incongruous stick of mediocre shrimp cake, without any discernible benefits to the taste or texture.

The stack of short ribs enlivened the mood of the corps; after a battle of splitting the summer rolls into seven fair and equal shares despite the long crispy spring roll skin, and an unsatisfactory investigation into the mystery of the shrimp cake. Wafting a complex aroma of spices, herbs and porcine sweetness, the ribs were tender but not stringy (overcooking will do this); and the well-seasoned Asian flavor was welcoming change from the mundane fixation on red wine.

Beef Seven Ways
- Tongue -
Dressed as a salad, the tongue was well-hidden amongst a mountain of spinach and peanuts. The plum vinaigrette was boldly pungent and sweet. However, even a good dressing is only good so long as served in moderation, and I assume that moderation is not one of David Chang’s virtues (as much as they can be gleaned from his creations). The anticipated butteriness of the tongue was inundated as a result, leaving only the soft texture and a fleeting possibility of the delicious fat to savour.

- Wagyu* -
Strangely, the menu refused to disclose the body part of this particular Japanese cow; and a cow of Japanese origin was all we knew. The wagyu was presented as a thoughtful equipoise of flavors and textures in two neat rows of carpaccio – very lightly seared and dressed with ginger, scallion, cilantro and radish. The fat of wagyu was competently counterbalanced by the spiciness of the condiments; while the tenderness of the meat was contrasted against the crunchy radish (a little more of the radish would have been ideal).
*Wagyu means Japanese beef.

- Cote de Boeuf / Sausages -
The first time I had cote de boeuf was in Paris. Imagine, May in Paris, when the air is warm and fragrant; and the romance is in the air and the lovers stride arm in arm…or alternatively, after deboning and devouring a massive cote de boeuf, whose more apt visual description would have been a round of wood cutting board (the kind that is just a cross-section of a tree trunk) and still managing to polish off a large crème brulee and a millefeuille at Le Café de la Paix…then perhaps not so romantic. In any case, my advice is that cote de boeuf is not something you should tackle recklessly.

While we waited for the cote de boeuf, a plethora of bowls with salad leaves and plates of condiments – peanuts, chilis, pickles, basil, fish sauce and hoisin sauce – arrived. Then the cote de boeuf and sausages were carried over in a gleaming copper pan like a tribute to a king. Wrapped up tightly, like a baby on an outing in January, with all the condiments and dunk into the fish sauce, all one could do was to ride on the explosion of meat juice, hot chili, salty fish sauce and pungent pickles while attempting to retain a modicum of decency against the juice and sauce running down the chin. While I did not taste any of the marinade – butter, thyme and garlic, it was as hearty as a cote de boeuf should be. Nonetheless, if the chef sincerely wanted the patrons to enjoy the fact that it had arrived from 4 Story Hill Farm in Pennsylvania, then a simpler preparation would have been more suitable.
The sausages had lemongrass, Thai basil and shallots in them and tasted as such, which I found to be slightly incongruous and redundant against all the condiments, as the sausages were supposed to be eaten the same way as the cote de boeuf. I would have preferred grilled sweet sausages in place of the herbal version served here, the kind that is reddish and air-dried from hanging on the walls.

- Oxtail -
The stewed gelatinous cartilage was chewy and yet tender; and the meat between the bones was bursting with flavors – salty and sweet and full of bovine goodness. The oxtail was carefully executed and exhibited most the culinary skills of the chef during the entire course of the beef fest; notwithstanding, it was overshadowed, literally and physically, by the imposing mound of flesh behind on the same plate – the shank.
Oxtails in front; See how small the tongs are!
- Shank -
Remember the Flintstones? How they would tear off a chunk of meat with their teeth from a hunk of a meat? With the bone in the middle? Human beings are a funny lot, with all their individual depravities, lunacy and obsessions. I found out sometime ago that there was a market for the “mammoth meat” – at least, in Japan – to fulfill niche for certain secret desire to bite into exactly that hunk of “mammoth” meat, complete with the bone. Maybe it is the hunter instinct in us; maybe it is the accumulation of economic and social frustration; or maybe it is just a pure random act of foolishness, that may be termed “creativity”under a set of particularly fortuitous and propitious circumstances. If there was anyone with a mammoth-meat syndrome at our table, it was not evident. On the contrary, we collectively (and metaphorically) took a step back in awe in the face of such abundant animal-ness.

I do not think anyone was positively aware that the shank was transported from Pineland Farm, ME, or it was rubbed with crab paste, onion and chili. Each of us took a small share, as if undergoing a rite of passage, but no more. The mammoth beef shank was roasted admirably tender, especially considering its massive size (no wonder they charge a cancellation fee; there is surely a lot of time invested in roasting one shank). However, the flavor was not there, bovine or otherwise. I suppose this shank is best enjoyed visually for its prehistoric significance and culturally as a bonding exercise. The table next to ours, having missed out on either benefits, sat in a quiet misery and gazed forlornly at their mammoth beef.

- Consommé -
When the small demitasse cups arrived, the table sighed in a collective relief: we were at the end, finally, of our journey into the depth of bovine possibilities. A few leaves of cilantro lied at the bottom of the cup, to which subfusc and suspiciously dense (for consommé) liquid was poured. A light consommé under the French tradition, it was not; and if you were expecting the broth in pho bo, you would have been disappointed. It was thick, salty and with a burned aftertaste (and color). Mildly repulsive and repulsed, I quietly placed my demitasse back to its saucer.

- Époisses -
This orange, washed, rind cheese is truly a delicacy, with or without the enthusiastic endorsement from the formidable Brillat-Savarin. Slowly baked to a stinky goo, it was a miniature cheese fondue, rightly served with slices of baguette. However, as it is the case with most restaurants, ordering cheese almost never wins on a cost-benefit analysis. I could have simply head over to Zabar’s and bake it in my oven, then I could have added some dried fruits and nuts on top.

Beef Seven Ways, I have no idea how it is actually done in Vietnam, but it was not actually a feast of snout to tail, but was more of a show-case of different cooking techniques in preparing various parts of the beef. However, in any case, it was a merry feast (and also a feat) that should not be missed.

Momofuku Má Pêche

Address:  15 West 56th St., NY, NY 10019
Contact:  http://www.momofuku.com/office/footer-links/contact-forms/

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