Sunday, April 22, 2012

Milk Bar Blues : Momofuku Trouble

I don't generally write here about food so much, that's for elsewhere. I should be writing about being stuck on the train out of London this week for two hours after a lightning strike (ie thunderbolt from the sky type lightning, not industrial action) because I actually wrote a letter of complaint about some of the stuff that happened (not a letter to God about the lightning, just stupid rail staff)

But let's get to food. After I left New York City I missed it for a long while. It's why I go back all the time, and spend time with friends who are either clinging on to Manhattan or have moved to Brooklyn. There's a lot to like about New York once you know it and have lived there for a while. Even in Brooklyn (ha!)

The last trip was fantastic fun and of all the places I wanted to check out Momofuko's new(ish)  restaurants and noodle bars were high on the list. There are several different types but before we headed to the east Village I quite by accident I found myself right beside one of the Milk Bars, the one that's opened in midtown and therefore I changed our plans and persuaded my partner that we were going to have lunch in Manhattan from a takeaway booth squeezed into a hotel lobby. She looked at me as if I was nuts, but I patiently explained that if she was even dimly aware of the general noise Momofuko's places have been making she'd get it. By coincidence The Observer newspaper in the UK has run a big piece today about it all, eulogising, raving and giving recipes for cereal milk and so on.

We went twice, the second time was kind of boring. Here's what happened the first time.

It was my idea so I agreed to stand in line, read the menu, and buy the lunch. There seemed to be some kind of delay in the system, people in line were grumbling but the staff behind the counter seemed to be having such a good time I didn't really care. Dumb office types want fed NOW! my inner beast was sneering. Eventually I got to the tiny counter and ordered. It was a small operation and seemed to be pretty chaotic, nobody really seemed to get the hang of very much so when I ordered two Upside Down Pineapple Cake Shakes they got made separately. I have no idea why.
It was a bit like going to Starbucks the first time all those years ago and the staff expecting you to know what you wanted when life before that had been divided in to "black" "white" and "with sugar".  Anyway, presumeably I was the only person who didn't know what was on offer. The graphics are neat, but they don't actually tell you very much except the names. Ditto the blackboard.

So I ordered the Crack Pie (It's addictive, geddit?, and the name has now spawned imitators all over the city) and some savoury food: different cookies, a bagel bomb, and a Volcano. I was asked if I wanted the Volcano toasted - "Uh, yeah, I guess so" I said, not knowing if I was toasting something that should be toasted or not, but on the assumption that I was being asked guessed that this was the way to go. And I had just read a little card which explained that Milk Bar breads are best served warm.
After a lot of waiting, where people on one side of the counter were just generally bumping into each other, and on the other side the grumbling factor was being raised, I scurried off with our lunch. Seconds later we were comparing notes on the Shake. "mmm. good!" It sure tasted like pineapple upside down cake.
The cookies were, um, cookies, they were kind of dry and not very interesting and didn't really taste of very much. I couldn't remember which one I'd ordered. Could have been cornflake-marshmallow, I don't know. We couldn't tell.
My partner started on her bagel bomb. She gave me a taste. It was not very nice. Since no-one had told us why this wasn't just a bagel (an 'everything bagel', my favourite) we had to guess what was in it. It was difficult. Apparently it was scallions and bacon flavoured cream cheese. Except we couldn't really tell. It was a mess and it was cold. It was a bad bagel too - bone dry.

I started on my volcano, about which I had no idea whatsoever. It wasn't very nice either. In fact it was disgusting. Hot on the top (where it had been toasted) it was cold inside and freezing cold (ie chiller cabinet temperature) at the bottom. It seemed to consist of cold potato. It was inedible.

We stared at the crack pie which was kind of broken and misshapen because the girl had thrown it into the bag. It tasted OK, but we didn't finish it.

Apart from the Shakes, which we liked, this was baad food. So I took the volcano back.

The little counter was clear. The staff were still chatting and laughing. I stood.
And stood.
Then one of them turned to me. I explained as politely as I could that I was bring the volcano back because it was no good.
"No problem" she said brightly, took it from me and threw it into the trash can, then turned back to her friend to continue chatting.
I stood, slightly aghast.
"Is that it?" I asked.
"Yup. No problem" she said.
"It's inedible" I explained, thinking something was being lost here. "It's no good".
"It's OK" she shot back, then looked at me as if to say, "so?"

Suddenly I was angsty and backed off. Most New Yorkers I know would have flipped. I just thought it was the worst service for the worst food ever. And since I was in town to write about restaurants and meet big hitters I wasn't going to let a stupid takeaway counter annoy me.
I walked away and stood in the hotel lobby to find out if my 2pm had turned up.
As I was standing the girl appeared and stood in front of me.
"Do you want another one?" she asked.
"Er, is this some kind of joke?" I asked her, "Did you think that was funny"
"Er, yeah" she said.
"It wasn't. I brought that thing back because it was inedible. It was no good. Baad"
"Do you want another one?" she asked again.
"Look, it was freezing cold and seemed to have nothing in it except a large piece of potato"
"Uh, gross" she agreed.
At which point we were interrupted and I had to go.

Bad food. Bad service. This ain't Tripadviser, but make that disgusting food and worst service ever.

And because I'm a professional of sorts I went back a day or two later. Different service. OK milk and cookies.