Note: I began writing this post in mid-January, when I had just returned from a delightful trip to New York City. A recent experience in Denver compelled me to continue writing it.
The first four photos are from Momofuku. The final three photos are from Bones.
While in New York City in Janary, I ate at Momofuku Noodle Bar, whose success has led to several “milk bars,” a few other medium-end outposts with slightly different concepts, and a super-high-end version with much acclaim. David Chang, the chef and owner, is a drunken friend of LCD Soundsystem’s singer and a founder of Lucky Peach, a magazine devoted to praising Chang’s food, giving famous and hidden chefs a high-brow place to share wisdom, and allowing for ambitious and off-beat long-form food journalism. He’s a bro I’d love to bro with, and one I distinctively admire.
I have delayed writing this post for so long because I have a strange fear of sharing restaurant disappointments with those who are kind hosts in faraway places. But Ben and Nate can take it; they know it’s nothing personal (even if I still cringe when someone gives me a bad report), and I’m visiting for a fourth time in July, so they know I still love ‘em. After eating at Bones, in Denver, I simply must enter my related judgments.
Bones is a soulless, inauthentic rip-off of Momofuku Noodle Bar. Bones also serves better food than Momofuku. Thus, my need to “debrief,” in Teach For America terms.
Bones is operated by a successful, copycat, largely vanilla Denver restauranteur who has been loyal to almost all the culinary touch-points Danny Meyer offered up years ago. Bones is everything I despise about restaurants nowadays: its menu, ugly and typeset like a fourth-grader’s book report; its sense of purpose, undefined and impalpable; its physical layout, preposterously uncomfortable and designed with only profit in mind; its prices, outsize in its ZIP code; its chefs and staff, lightly trained and heavily affected; its patrons, undiscerning lurches who are loud and uneducated about their uneducation.
Except there was one thing that I loved, which was the food.
Damn it. It was definitely better than Momofuku’s food when I visited, which I found flavorless (pork buns), childish (egg), timid (pickles), and sludgy (ramen). At Bones, the porn buns, while outlandishly inappropriately prepared and served, popped with crispy flavor on their delivery pillows. The heat of the lightly-seasoned shishito peppers simmered and shimmered pleasantly on the tongue. The egg noodles, accompanied by crispy chicken, sliced peppers, and cilantro, were no more Japanese than a California roll, but provided warmth and lightness rarely found in such a bowl. It was really satisfying food, but a wholly unsatisfying experience.
File this into the when-I-own-restaurants-I-will-remember-this-place category, where it’ll be joined by scores of places all over the world for dozens of reasons.
And for Ben and Nate, my reliable New York hosts and guides, I offer a final assessment that might please. I would return to Momofuku in a heartbeat, while to Bones I will never venture again.