Momofuku in Las Vegas lives up to its famed reputation.
Momofuku is perhaps one of the most famous restaurant names in the country. Its New York City flagship, Noodle Bar, and its chef and founder David Chang have gained fame and numerous honors since its founding in 2004, perhaps most impressive being that of the title “most important restaurant in America” by Bon Appétit magazine. Sister restaurant Momofuku, inside the posh Cosmopolitan hotel in Las Vegas, carries on the tradition of inventive Asian-American fare that has gained the restaurant its overwhelming popularity.
Occupying a space in front of the Cosmopolitan’s stunning Chandelier Bar, the entrance to Momofuku is deceiving. Looking in, you might think that it is a small restaurant with just a few seats, but as you are lead through to the back it opens up to reveal an eclectic yet modern dining room. Brightly colored works of modern art adorn the walls, while clean lines and crisp black and silver booths are accented by wood panels. I’d wanted to eat here for a long time, but as with any popular restaurant I was worried if the food (and the price) would be worth the hype.
Spoiler alert: it is.
We were seated in the dining room at a small table for two in the middle of the large space. Practically before we were seated, a waiter came by to fill our glasses with water. Having gotten off a lengthy flight earlier in the day, this was much appreciated – and continued throughout the night. You could barely drain your glass before someone appeared with a pitcher to refill it. From their cocktail menu, I ordered a Toki Highball – essentially, a whisky spritz. The Japanese whisky mixed with lemon and soda water is refreshing, and a great option for a whisky lover who wants something lighter than perhaps a Manhattan before their meal.
The food menu spans the gamut from small plates to noodle bowls to large format, family-style dining. We decided to order a few small plates and a couple of entrees to get a taste of as many dishes as we could. We started with three small plates: the house pickles, pork belly buns, and Brussels sprouts and cauliflower. All of the dishes arrived surprisingly quickly. The assorted preserved vegetables that made up the house pickles were cauliflower, snow peas, and cucumber. Each was brined in a different style, creating three unique flavors of varying levels of sour and sweet. My favorite was the cauliflower, more of a sour taste, while my husband preferred the sweeter (perhaps balsamic?) snow peas.
The pork belly buns were unlike any I have ever eaten before. Two perfectly light and airy buns were laden with the largest piece of succulent pork belly I have ever been served in this dish. The meat fell apart with each bite, and was made all the more decadent by the hoisin and scallion sauce, offering a sweet accompaniment without ever leaking out of the bun. These are the pork belly buns of your dreams.
But the surprise star for both of us out of the three plates was what are now referred to in our house as the “life-changing” Brussels sprouts. The menu does them no justice with its description of “vinaigrette, herbs.” A bowl of crisp-tender sprouts, bright green and slightly charred, is accented by cauliflower, thinly sliced spicy red chili, and a tangy vinaigrette that makes your mouth water. Each bite was a flavorful explosion unlike anything I’ve tasted before, and we found ourselves beginning to guess what could be making up the sauce. For a vegetable that is an afterthought for many, this has become something we now talk about when people ask how our trip to Vegas was – and we’ve begun attempting to replicate them at home with the help of Momofuku’s public recipes.
For our entrees, we ordered the spicy miso ramen and the crispy lamb ribs. Like the small plates, both dishes delivered rich and distinct flavors. The ramen is served with ground pork, black garlic, and a poached egg. The level of spice is mild, and was suitable for my “avoids-spicy-foods” husband. Hearty enough for a main dish, the umami flavors in this classic noodle bowl abound. Tangy broth, sharp scallions, seasoned pork, and tender rice noodles make for a soul warming experience. It’s obvious at first taste why Momofuku has become so well-renowned for its noodle bowls.
Don’t discount the other dishes, however. The beautifully plated crispy lamb ribs were also outstanding. Moist lamb ribs are coated in a heavenly sweet-sticky sauce that is caramelized to a crisp coating. Dollops of chili yogurt accentuate the sweetness of the sauce and bring a cool-and-hot mix of flavors to the dish. Momofuku’s signature tingly salt, which promises a “jolt of flavor” according to their website, is used to kick this dish up another notch on the flavor scale. As I polished off this dish I said to my husband “I’m not hungry anymore but these ribs are too good not to finish.”
Our experience at Momofuku Las Vegas was nothing short of five stars. The service was attentive and friendly, and while our food was prepared quickly, we never felt rushed. As an added bonus, our waiter provided us with a complimentary glass of the house sake about mid-way through our meal, and when we told him how much we enjoyed it he topped us off again. We left feeling that we had more than received the promised value for the money, both in food and in service, and it is one of the places we have frequently discussed since – “oh, remember how good those pork buns were?” Momofuku is a must-hit in Las Vegas.