Restaurant Review: The Shriveled Teat of David Chang's "Momofuku Milk Bar"

June 26, 2012 3:41 PM EDT | By Anthony Smith
You'd look this smug, too, if you got away with figurative murder. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

For all the myriad ways there are to discern whether or not a neighborhood is about to "blow up" (read: add white people in the following order-- gay, hip-gay, hip, trustafarian, yuppies, new parents), there is only one sure-fire way to diagnose if a neighborhood has already made it: whether or not it has already attracted the cool and calculated moves of superstar restauranteur and highfalutin-munchie-maker David Chang. His family of Momofoku-brand restaurants (the name means "lucky peach" in Japanese and "hit-or-miss" in American) has long held prime real estate in the New York City restaurant scene at the coveted intersection of "Trendy" and "Asian." In the face of so much worthy competition, whether it deserves to have its lease renewed is another question entirely.

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And one I get the lucky peach of answering, at least in small portion (though larger than most of the stuff his kitchens offer), on account of each of his microbrands-- sorry, David: restaurants-- has little to do with the others, in offerings and quality. For instance, the underwhelming ramens of the Momofoku Noodle Bar couldn't dream of giving you an inkling of what to expect from the truly divine bo ssam pork shoulder meal at Momofuku Ssam Bar, an immobilizing feast which fills 10 hungry people to the brim with leftovers to spare for $200 (do the math; thank me later). 

But no member of his family promises to be more outrageously fun than Chang's litter box, Momofuku Milk Bar, which his team has dolled up to look like your run-of-the-mill hipster-magnet. A pink, neon sign advertises pink, neon food. It once attracted Martha Stewart wearing a coat. It's located in Downtown Brooklyn, the East Village, and, now, Central Williamsburg (welcome to gentrified New York City, bro!).

Unfortunately, as far as members of the Momofuku family go, it's more of a visit to a senile grandfather than the cool uncle you were hoping for.

But that doesn't mean that it's a complete train-wreck, only that this iteration of his brand is more madness than genius. As Americans, we count on dessert to be a wonderful, decadent, and optional cap to an already extraordinary meal. We do not order dessert if the getting were bad. As a general rule, we do not want to go out of our way for dessert. We made exceptions for the cupcake for some reason, but that's because, in the immortal and approximated words of Gertrude Stein, a cupcake is a cupcake is a cupcake. I do not think we want to do too much thinking about it. I think that a stronger case than Chang vs. Tastebuds needs to be made for us to consider our after-sweetness with the same head-and-heart for adventure we would the rest of our meal.

So why, then, are we offered high culinary art and genius in the lowest form possible: the disrespectfully named Crack Pies-- tiny slices of overpriced, bastardized pie consisting solely of butter, brown sugar, and white sugar melted together and then frozen-- that literally anyone in hir kitchen can approximate perfectly? It's not delicious, it's beyond overly sweet-- even words like cloying fall short of its Big Rock Candy Mountain heights. It's the Bloomingdale's Perfume Section of dessert options; emblematic of Milk Bar's status as, in the elegant words of a friend, "a diabetic's golgotha."

Unfortunately, buzz goes farther than taste in this city. And though I do think that everyone should try Milk Bar's nomenclaturally-oriented Cereal Milk (milk with cornflakes in it, but then David Chang took the cornflakes out of it and gave you the milk) at least once, it's just to get it out of your system, and just because there are going to be idiots that talk to you about how good it is. To be fair, the Compost Cookie is nice-tasting and cookie-like in its execution, but shows us little more than that Chang knows how to make a cookie and is aware of cornflakes and marshmallows. There's nothing to see here, and very little to eat. As far as lucky peaches go, Milk Bar is the pits.

And oh yeah, the pork bun in the Williamsburg Milk Bar location is really just dreadful. Much of my acid is a reflux reaction to that offering, which exemplifies the bait-and-switch hype-marketing of the Momofuku brand. In short, you shell out too much money for it because you've heard the hype about delicious pork buns at Momofuku, and here you are, having just bitten into one only to find that it's the product of a vastly different kitchen using a vastly inferior approach to vastly inferior ingredients. Without any hyperbole, it is loaded with what tastes like cat food. Perhaps it's only fitting, as it is now with a heavy heart that I retract my claws.

Grade: C-/D+

Momofuku Milk Bar

Location: Wherever there used to be a sketchy alleyway


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