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New York 2011: Nougatine at Jean-Georges

11 Jan

Nougatine was a surprise favourite. Being away from home and walking 8+ hours a day through tourist-ridden Manhattan triggers the lizardy part of my brain to crave humble, hearty home cooking. So Nougatine, being the swanky affair that it was, was not initially very appealing to the cranky, weary traveller in me. Once the actual food made an appearance however, Nougatine quickly became one of the highlights of the trip for me. It’s a strange fusion of classic french cuisine and rustic french cooking that’s elegant and comforting at the same time.

Jean George is the genius behind every fried appetizer lover’s dream–fried calamari with basil salt, citrus-chilli dip. Amazing crunch that doesn’t at all sacrifice the tenderness of the calamari nestled inside. Then again, rubbery calamari is probably the last thing one would expect from Jean George, even if Nougatine is the smaller storefront attached to Jean George proper, the actual restaurant that is astronomically more expensive.

Slowly cooked beef tenderloin, miso butter and roasted Brussels sprouts.

Sautéed red snapper, spaghetti squash, sesame broth and chili oil

Spiced pear clafouti hazelnut crunch, roasted almond ice cream

Warm apple crumble tart granny smith sorbet, date puree

New York 2011 :: Momofuku Noodle Bar

5 Jan
171 1st avenue new york, ny 10003
Whenever Calvin and I plan a trip to New York, our itinerary always end up looking something like this: eat, arbitrary activity, get lost some, and repeat. The eating portion of the trip is doubtlessly always the most well planned and I believe on some level, the various activities that take place in between eating is really to just kill time while digesting.
Staggering off our flight at eight in the morning after two hours of crappy sleep, Momofuku Noodle bar was our first destination; eager we were to get some good, hearty food in our systems. The exterior was bare in that sleek minimalist way; its lack of signage is an oddly paradoxical indication of modest elegance yet intimidating notoriety all at once—“no, we don’t go for flashy publicity but we can afford to not let you know we’re here because we’re just that famous”. It’s just like Bobby Flay’s Mesa which last year, we had to resort to ‘dial-a-friend’ to find its whereabouts, which turned out to be across the street from where we were bewilderedly standing.
The lunch rush is supposedly incredible here, which is not surprising considering its hype multiplied by the smallness of the location—it is quite literally, a bar. Those who were not seated at the bar shared one of just three communal benches; a very cozy idea, if eating next to strangers is your thing. Despite the small storefront, the volume of people coming in and out is actually impressive, which is due to the staggering efficiency of their service. You sit down with a menu slip right away and ordering is super fast with its tiny menu. Some one is then sure to swoop in as soon as your face gives away any hint of needing service and as soon as you finish dessert, bam! there’s your bill. It’s definitely not a place for people who like to linger and take their time but for someone like me who finds waiting in between courses or after a meal for the bill excruciating, Momofuku’s efficient, yet friendly and approachable staff is so refreshing.
Spanish Mackerel Tataki with a white miso crème, celery root shavings, scallions, and honeyed chestnut. Got tired of the honeyed chestnut after awhile but good thing it was appetizer portioned. Mackerel was as fresh as can be and white miso crème is the tastiest thing you can possibly pair with raw fish that’s this pure and fresh and not ruin it.
This was definitely a richer and fattier cut of pork belly compared to a tradition Taiwanese pork belly bun but the hoisin sauce is enough to cut through the fattiness, as well as a the generous portion of fresh cucumber and scallions. I’m not sure whether Momofuku makes their buns in house or if they have an authentic supplier but it was as good as can be; fluffy, sweet and perfect thickness.
Now the noodles. Ramen is totally typical hereabouts in Markham so we weren’t expecting anything outrageously original. The two noodle entrees however, both managed to wow with just how supple and perfectly pulled they were—I realize, this is how ramen noodles are supposed to taste! Momofuku’s signature ramen is a party in a bowl; pork belly, pork shoulder and a impeccably cooked poached egg that feels like silk in your mouth to top it off. Nothing really novel or gimmicky about this noodle bowl, it’s just plain good. Imagine your classic ramen noodle, just cooked by an angel or something.

The ginger scallion noodles use cold pickled shiitakes that are buried beneath warm noodles; you get this amazing hit of cool, refreshing tangy sourness intermittently with every bite of pungent scallion and warm supple noodles. Temperature variation is one of my favourite little surprises in a dish so this noodle definitely did the trick.

I’m not a dessert type of girl but if ever a soft serve tugged on my heartstrings, it was this.  I have never seen a comparable dupe of Momofuku’s pumpkin ale and pretzel soft serve twist, but if I ever do, it could be rather dangerous love affair. Sweet and salty is one of my new favourite flavor profiles and it’s a lot like Momofuku Milk Bar’s Pistachio ice cream in that you have this amazing salty bite to match a rich and sweet but earthy taste of pumpkin ale ice cream. Grip on reality, hardly maintained.
photos by megan cui
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