September 30, 2012

Momofuku Noodle Bar, Toronto

Toronto is full of really cool things, especially when it comes to the local food scene. I love wandering around the city for hours and perusing the neat food markets (St. Lawrence Market is one of my favourites), shops, events and restaurants. There are so many neat organizations and groups doing great things for local food, such as George Brown College--where I took a culinary course recently--and many more. Check out this list of food events this week for a taste of city life.

Despite what Chef David Chang (owner of Momofuku) recently said in the Globe and Mail about the Toronto culinary scene, I would say the city is doing pretty well for itself. You know that old joke that Torontonians think Toronto is the centre of the universe? In terms of the national food scene, it's up there for sure. On a global level, I would have to agree with Chang. But isn't room for improvement always a good thing? Don't we want to grow, explore and prosper?

Where else can you find an abundance of beautiful baked goods and pastries?

Top: Peanut butter and jelly cupcake from Prairie Girl Bakery
Middle: Macarons from Bobbette and Belle, Leslieville
Bottom: Baked goods from The Sweet Escape Patisserie, Distillery District

Eat from the restaurant of a Top Chef Master...

Top: Sashimi of charred tuna and spicy tartare from Susur Lee's restaurant, Lee in Toronto.
Bottom: "Top Chef green curry chicken" with sweet pea polenta, butter almondine, spiced tomato jam, dried pineapple and chili mint.

And sample of New York's finest, like the recently opened Momofuku restaurant at the Shangri-La Hotel in Toronto, Ontario. The noodle bar is one of four, and the casual version, of David Chang operations opened at the hotel, including nikai, daisho and shoto. Now if only he would considering putting one of his famous "milk bars" there too.

We got there at around 3:00 p.m in the afternoon, and right before it closed for the afternoon because I luckily got a seat at the bar facing the kitchen. Most of the seating is communal, long-table style, so it's fairly casual and cozy. I loved watching the kitchen staff prepare the food and I could see the delicate and careful preparation of the fresh ingredients Chang is known for: the poached eggs were carefully placed in mini ceramic bowls to warm, the steam buns were painted with a stroke of hoisin sauce and the fresh noodles were delicately dropped inside the steamer.

They were moving quickly to keep up with the high turnover, but you could tell they had wonderful respect for the quality of each ramen bowl and customer experience.

When I was in Singapore, there was a steam bun vendor right near our hostel that sold fluffy and fresh buns for only $1 each in savoury and sweet flavours. Having a steam bun became part of my daily snack routine for the few days I was there (that's probably a lot of buns). Usually for me, the soft, somewhat sweet bun is the highlight of the steam bun experience, but at Momofuku it is obviously all about the pork.

Behold the pork buns ($10 for 2) with hoisin sauce, scallions and cucumber. It had the right amount of gooey fat and melt-in-your-mouth pork belly. There were only a few ingredients between the buns, but the simplicity was enough.

Momofuku Pork Steamed Buns

I also got the famous Momofuku Ramen with pork belly, pork shoulder and a poached egg. I sat in silence for probably about 5 minutes with my head in the bowl slurping away and enjoying all the little treats. The broth was not too salty and I didn't feel like going into a sodium-incudeced coma afterwards, although I ate--or slurped--every last drop, so I did consume quite a bit of pork in one meal (two types in the ramen as well as the pork buns). The ramen is also topped with nori, fish cakes, green onions and cabbage.

Although it was probably the most expensive ramen I have ever had ($15) it is a hell-of-alot-cheaper than going down to New York City to try David Chang's restaurant. Getting a seat at Momofuku is a whole other issue though.

Momofuku Ramen

In other Toronto news, this Tuesday October 2 kicks off the Evergreen Brick Works GE Cafe Chef Series: Celebrating Southern Ontario Terrior. The program aims to connect people to Ontario's food culture and chefs with workshops and discussions each week until December 11, 2012.

This week's class is "Celebrating the Harvest" with Top Chef Canada 2 Winner Carl Heinrich (who also appeared at Savour Stratford last weekend). He'll be highlighting ingredients from Perth and Waterloo counties in Ontario and discussing how they have influenced his cooking.

Check out the site to register or follow them on Twitter @EvergreenCanada and #EBW

What do you think of the Toronto culinary scene? Do you think the city needs to do better or is it doing well for itself?

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