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Got Milk…Bar?

October 7, 2010

The whitest boy alive – island by MeninoJoãozinho

No significance with the music this time. Just play, salivate, and enjoy.

At the beginning of September I moved into a new apartment down in the East Village with two buddies from college. Well, it just so happens, by no intended consequence whatsoever, that Momofuku Milk Bar (and Ssam Bar, though I have yet to eat there) is right, RIGHT around the corner. It’s not even a three minute walk; if you go fast enough, it may not even be a two minute walk. I don’t even have to cross a street to get there. It’s on the same block as my apartment building.

Before moving into the neighborhood I was already well-versed in all things Milk Bar. Marjorie and I had been quite a few times before, and when I was writing for a website in the area last Spring I used to frequently pop in for a pork bun dinner. Since moving into my new apartment almost three weeks ago I’ve been to Milk Bar five times. This, dear friends, is both a good and bad thing; good in that Milk Bar is un-imaginably delicious, and bad, mostly based on the fact that eating lots of cookies, cereal milk, cake truffles, and bagel bombs is no way to manage some semblance of “health.” However, when it comes to Momofuku, and Milk Bar in particular, or anything associated with David Chang and Christina Tosi for that matter, I just don’t give a shit. All their creations are the embodiment of evil genius and so delicious that to eat just one bite of something is, in my view, truly impossible.

So Milk Bar…what’s good there? I’m so glad you asked, because I’m definitely not any sort of “newb” when it comes to navigating their long list of sweet options. I may get some shit from people for this fat kid post, but I can’t help it; I love sweets, and I love Milk Bar.

Okay, so in the spirit of Marie Antoinette, great stateswoman and embodiment of “salt of the earth” that she was, let’s begin with CAKE.

CHOCOLATE MALT CAKE
This is my least favorite of all the Milk Bar offerings I’ve tried, so I figured we would dispense with the unpleasantness right away. I’ve never liked malt, but wanted to give Tosi’s use of it a try…I’m still not converted. I don’t know what it is about malt, but it’s just not for me. Overall, the cake was exceedingly moist, and the charred marshmallow topping, well, no one’s going to argue with that. If you’re a fan of Whoppers (my least favorite candy) or see yourself playing in a sandbox full of malt powder in your sick, twisted dreams, this cake is for you.

Chocolate Malt Cake (bonappetit.com)

CHOCOLATE CHIP CAKE
Along with individual slices of cake, the Chocolate Chip Cake is no longer available, however, it lives on in my heart and mind as one of the better cake experiences I have ever had. I was lucky enough to get a taste before Milk Bar stopped selling cake slices (slices were replaced with mini “cake truffles” a few months ago), and it was fantastic. You would probably never guess this on your own, but passion fruit and chocolate is an amazing combination. This one was a real winner, and I lament it’s passing every time I stop in. Please, Ms. Tosi and/or Mr. Chang, bring back the chocolate chip cake!

Chocolate Chip Cake (yummyinthetummyblog @ flickr.com)

BANANA CAKE
Bananas in desserts…I absolutely love it. I’m not sure why, but it always seems to be that chefs get very creative with ye olde ‘naner. Ever since Richard Blais made a “banana scallop” on Top Chef a few seasons ago I’ve been sucked in by the “banana option” on any desert menu. The Milk Bar banana cake is an exercise in the classic pairing of bananas, nuts, and chocolate. Banana cream, hazelnut crunch, and gianduja fudge are the players, all nestled between layers of moist, nutty banana cake. Milk, in some form, is an absolute necessity with this and to undertake this task without a dairy-based accompaniment is not recommended.

Banana Cake, food porn style (amycao.tumblr.com)

Richard Blais' banana scallop with bacon ice cream. (recipes-stage.bravotv.com)

APPLE PIE CAKE TRUFFLE
This is the newest addition to the Milk Bar cake arsenal, and I just had one yesterday. Like I said, they don’t do slices of cake anymore, but they do make them into these truffles, which are quite a bit like donut holes. The apple pie cake is a cheesecake filling mixed with apple compote and pie crumbs. The truffle version is a ball of the cake wrapped into a thin layer of pie dough. This is a real winner and not to be missed. It’s unfortunate the apple season doesn’t last the whole year, because this thing is really, really fantastic (I also love apple pie, so I’m possibly a little bias.)

Apple Pie Cake Truffles (blogs.villagevoice.com)

Onward to the world of PIE.

CRACK PIE
Tyrone Biggums would be pissed if he spent his money on this, because there ain’t no crack in this pie. Crack pie is another Momofave, and with good reason. The crust is toasted oats with, as Milk Bar describes, “gooey butter filling.” See what I mean by evil genius? Who wouldn’t want to eat something filled with “gooey butter?” Apparently, this pie is also not that hard to make. The recipe has been featured in Bon Appetit and a number of newspapers in the Tri-State area. Crack pie = must-try.

Ain't nothin' wack 'bout this crack. (foodforfel.com)

CANDY BAR PIE
Another big winner amongst the many to be found on 13th Street. Candy bar pie starts with a chocolate crust, and then is topped off with layers of caramel and peanut butter nougat. Pretzels are placed on top of all that, and then the whole thing is covered in more chocolate. I mean, there’s really no complaint to level here either. It’s just good…really good.

Candy Bar Pie (thewanderingeater.com)

CINNAMON BUN PIE
This is why Milk Bar is such a great place. They take something like a cinnamon roll, which doesn’t need to be made any sweeter or more unhealthy, and then turn it into a pie…and it works. The “crust” on this one is cinnamon bun dough topped with a cheesecake filling, brown butter, and oats. Throw this baby in the micro for ten seconds once you get home, saddle up with an ice-cold glass of milk, and let the carnage begin.

Cinnamon Bun Pie (newyork.seriouseats.com)

Other pies offered by Milk Bar include Grasshopper Pie (graham cracker crust, mint cheesecake and brownie filling), as well as the Franken Pie, which is two slices of every pie they sell made into a whole pie. Mary Shelley would be proud.

COOKIES, to me, are sort of the bedrock of American baking. The first thing I ever learned to make were Nestlé Toll House cookies, so maybe that’s why I love the ones from Milk Bar so much. These are, in my view and without any sort of challenger, the best, BEST, cookies in all of New York City.

COMPOST COOKIE
I’m actually not even sure if I’m allowed to use that term because it’s trademarked by Momofuku (as is the pie named after a popular 1980s street drug) so if someone reads this and wants me to take it down, please let me know and I will do so. I’m not trying to piss anyone off…but back to composting…this cookie, like so many of the other Milk Bar baked goods, is kind of hard to wrap your head around on the first few tries, but nonetheless, it’s quite possibly THE single greatest thing they sell. This cookie is chock full of pretzels, potato chips, coffee grounds, oats, butterscotch, and chocolate chips…if you’re immediate response is “that sounds gross,” or “that’s too much stuff,” than you a.) have obviously never had one, and b.) have obviously never had one. In the words of Forrest Gump, “That’s all I have to say about that.”

The Compost (newyork.seriouseats.com)

BLUEBERRY AND CREAM COOKIE
I’ve only had this cookie once, but I’m a pretty big fan. I really, really enjoy a good blueberry muffin with a glass of milk, and this cookie replicates that experience. The cookie tastes just like a muffin (which is sort of weirdly awesome) and the “milk crumbs” go seamlessly well with everything else. All in all, a really good cookie, but not as earth-shattering as some of the other Milk Bar desserts.

Blueberry and Cream Cookie (cookiemadness.net)

CORNFLAKE – MARSHMALLOW – CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE
I think of this cookie as being cousin to the compost variety but more in-line with a traditional chocolate chip. The marshmallow melts away into the cookie adding a lot of moisture, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get one with bits of perfectly caramelized marshmallow along the cookie’s edge. The cornflakes are also caramelized in this one, and the chocolate rounds everything out with just a touch of bitterness. I also just thought of an idea…instead of using graham crackers the next time you make s’mores, use these cookies. You’re welcome, Momofukers.

Cornflake - Marshmallow - Chocolate Chip Cookie (dessertbuzz.com)

PEANUT BUTTER COOKIE
This one was added in the last few months, and it, like the compost, is a masterpiece and probably the single greatest peanut butter cookie I have ever eaten. There’s really not a whole lot to it. Peanut butter and peanut brittle are combined with cookie dough and the rest is sort of history. The crunchy, salty-sweet bits of peanut brittle are what separate this peanut butter cookie from all others. If you’re in the mood for some version of a PB&J, stop in to Milk Bar and reward yourself with this cookie and one of their Strawberry Milks. I may or may not have made this discovery yesterday afternoon…

Peanut Butter Cookie (highlowfooddrink.com)

Ok…so we’re almost done now. I just mentioned their Strawberry Milk, so let’s discuss Milk Bar’s namesake beverage; their three different varieties of flavored MILK.

STRAWBERRY MILK
Say what you will about flavored milk, and strawberry in particular, but this is one of my favorite beverages in the history of bovine-related drinks. Tristar strawberries are pureed and combined with the delicious organic milk Momofuku gets from Milk Thistle Farm in Ghent, NY, and the result is delicious. You can really taste the strawberry and the milk together and separately (I know that somehow this makes sense), so it’s a match made in heaven for my mouth.

COFFEE MILK
I tried this for the first time a few weeks ago with a bagel bomb (to be discussed shortly), and despite being someone who is not a big fan of coffee and never really drinks it, I’m a huge fan of this beverage. It’s essentially a very milk-ified version of coffee with cream and sugar (the only way coffee should be consumed in Tony Bourdain’s view), and for that I was appreciative. If nothing else, coffee milk goes really well with a bagel bomb.

CEREAL MILK
Again, another perfect example of Tosi’s evil genius at play, and along with the compost cook, (at this point I’ve become fearful of repeating the entire word), possibly the most famous item Milk Bar sells. Now, I dunno about you, but when I was little, after a bowl of cereal in the morning, I always, without fail, always drank the leftover milk. It became incredibly sweet from the cereal, possibly turned to chocolate (Count Chocula, Coco Crispies, etc), or went multi-colored to look and taste like liquid cotton candy (Froot Loops [love that spelling lesson from the good folks at Kellogg’s]). Milk Bar uses corn flakes and adds sugar to the milk, so the flavor is slightly different than that fresh-out-of-the-box-processed-corn-and-sugar taste many current twenty-something’s grew to know and love as children of the 1980s. Anyway, it’s cereal milk…it’s self-explanatory, and you know you love it.

BUNS, BREADS, BAGEL BOMBS, SOFT SERVE, AND MORE
In addition to all the wonderful treats I listed above (there are more kinds of cookies, cakes, and pies than I mentioned) Milk Bar also sells pork buns, breads, croissants, soft serve, and the wonderful creation that is the bagel bomb. I’ve never had one of their breads (varieties include banana green curry and apple cheddar cornbread) or croissants (kimchi and blue cheese; turkey, swiss and mustard; rye and pastrami; black pepper, ham, and cheddar; black sesame, Tristar jam, and cream cheese) but I will at some point. Their soft serves are always changing (current flavors include cereal milk, pumpkin cheesecake, dulce de leche, and black sesame; past flavors are, to name a few, raspberry lemonade, red velvet cake, potato chip, ants on a log, “purple drink,” and pickled cherry), but I did manage to have a milkshake made with cereal milk and red velvet cake once. It was good, but the red velvet totally overwhelmed the cereal milk. In closing, the beloved bagel bomb and famous pork buns.

BUNS AND BOMBS
The Momofuku pork bun is, to say the least, consistently perfect. They source their pig from some of the finest providers in the entire country and region, and the results are evidence of that. Roasted pork belly is combined with quick-pickled cucumbers (which I have made a few times courtesy of the Momofuku Cookbook Marjorie gave me) and hoisin then wedged into a Chinese bun. The results are incredibly enjoyable, and a squirt of Sriacha livens things up even more. They really are some variation of “perfect.” One ought to wash it down with a Porkslap Pale Ale from Butternuts Beer and Ale of upstate NY, but that’s just my opinion.

Pork Buns (snackish.com)

The bagel bomb is, well, there is a remarkable amount of truth in the name because it really is a belly bomb. Milk Bar takes a bagel without a whole in it (so I guess it really isn’t much of a bagel at all) and pumps it full of bacon-scallion cream cheese. I quite enjoyed this creation, but it was also very, very rich. For all their bacon needs, the Momofuku restaurant group always turns to Allan Benton of Madisonville, TN. Benton’s bacon is delicious, but it is also some of the richest, smokiest pork product I’ve ever had so it takes, at least I think, a little bit of getting used to. The bagel bomb though…the cream cheese was rich with bacon (and, I’m guessing, some of the rendered fat) with the scallion taking more of a back seat. The bagel itself was somewhat of a disappointment; it was a little bit dry, but in Momofuku’s defense, Marjorie and I were there in the early afternoon so we weren’t getting their freshest offerings. Overall, a must-try, and I would strongly recommend enjoying yours with a coffee milk.

Bagel Bomb, cross-sectioned. (moosefan68 @ flickr.com)

Alright – I think that’ll do it for now considering how long this post is. I can’t help it though; I’ve eaten a lot of stuff from Milk Bar, and nothing there is bad, so don’t blame me.

Look for two tasting menu reviews coming up soon…Eric Ripert’s exquisite (and near-PERFECTLY rated food by Zagat) Le Bernardin (this was the absolute best meal of my life) and former Le Cirque pastry chef Iacopo Falai’s LES spot, Falai.

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