As one of the iconic places in New York City, the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle has not had a lot of turnover in terms of restaurants, housing such legendary institutions as Per Se and Masa (neither of which I have been to, although I will check out Per Se with my wife Jun for our anniversary soon). When Momofuku NoodleBar, the restaurant that really started everything for David Chang’s now vast Momofuku empire, opened a second location as a follow-up to its long-standing original location in East Village, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I had been to the original Momofuku Noodle Bar a couple of times before and frankly the ramen there was not up to the same standard as Totto or other top ramen shops, although the iconic pork bun was always delicious anytime I tried. On a recent Friday when I had a Broadway date with Jun, I was looking for a place to grab some quick bites for pre-theatre dinner and figured I would give one more shot to the Noodle Bar, especially after hearing there were some interesting dishes not seen before. It was again a mixed experience, especially in the ramen department, although there was one clear winner that Jun and I immensely enjoyed.
The menu at Noodle Bar Columbus Circle had intriguing dishes that I had not encountered at other David Chang restaurants before. In lieu of the pork bun, Jun and I gave a try to the spicy pork dip with pork belly inside a rather large bun with pork jus on the side. Out of health concerns, Jun implored me not to dip the bun on the jus, and I’m not sure if adding the dip would’ve dramatically changed the dish which was solid but not mind-blowingly good like the first time I tried the pork bun. The one ramen dish we shared together, the smoked pork ramen, was quite disappointing. Jun observed that the broth lacked no depth of flavor she would see at other ramen joints even with the addition of spicy kick. The noodle was pleasantly done al dente style but for ramen traditionalists like us, it was hard to tell how much effort the kitchen put behind the dish. It didn’t help that the cucumber salad with sesame and chili oil which we were hoping to complement the ramen well came out more sweet than spicy.
On the other hand, we both absolutely loved the whole dover sole with fermented chili sauce and lemon. The fish was quite expertly cooked and the seasoning was moderated just the way we liked so we could always adjust flavor with the chili sauce. While Jun and I have had some outstanding dover sole dishes before at fine restaurants, the one we had at the Noodle Bar could stand on its own, especially being an absolute steal at $43. If we end up coming back to the NoodleBar, I have no doubt that we will order this dish again. For dessert, we shared chickpea hozon soft serve with puffed rice whose flavor was quite interesting.
Just like the original location, Noodle Bar Columbus Circle doesn’t take reservations although the turnover of tables is fairly quick so you won’t have to wait long hours. There is full bar with a concise selection of beers, wines and cocktail to complement the food. The casual vibe of the restaurant makes it ideal for quick meals before you head elsewhere like the Central Park. Perhaps Jun and I ordered the wrong ramen dish (there were others that looked interesting and might have proven us wrong about the Noodle Bar’s general capability with ramen dishes); in any event, the fantastic dover sole saved the Noodle Bar from being a place that Jun and I were quite sure we would not visit again.
KenScale: 7.75/10 (Jun’s Score: 7.75/10)
- Creativity: 8.5/10
- Execution: 7.5/10
- Ingredients: 7.5/10
- Flavor: 8.0/10
- Texture: 8.0/10
- Value: 7.5/10
Address: 10 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10019