July 14, 2010
Momofuku Ssam Bar
When I first planned NYC Trip #2, I originally penciled in “Momofuku Ko” on my schedule. Arguably the hardest reservation to get in all of New York (I heard David Chang won’t even let his parents bypass his infamous Momofuku reservation system), the only way to get a reservation is to stalk the website and count down the seconds until reservations for the following week’s seating opened. I felt confident I would be able to score one of the twelve available seats for that night…that is, until I totally forgot about making reservations. I remembered 12 hours too late. (Oops!)
…Okay then, onto Plan B.
Getting into Momofuku Ssam Bar is much easier than Momofuku Ko. Unless you reserve an order of their famous bo ssam pork shoulder ahead of time, Ssam Bar is a first-come, first-serve eatery. My suggestion is to get there early, before the lunch/dinner crowds hit – otherwise, you’ll be escorted to the Momofuku Milk Bar next door, where you’ll wait for your table in a somewhat uncomfortable position. (Milk Bar has no chairs and waits are typically about half an hour or longer.)
Plates at Ssam are decently sized but…well…my dining companions and I are eaters. Therefore, for the three of us, we ordered all of the following:
Santa Barbara Uni, Whipped Tofu, Tapioca, Shrimp Crackers
Call me dense but I didn’t get this dish. Maybe the contrast in texture was meant to be the focus, but I didn’t really understand how the flavors of the whipped tofu, the chewy tapioca/boba balls and the shrimp crackers were supposed to work with the rich, buttery uni. (The uni was fresh and delicious by itself though.)
Fuji Apple Kimchi, Jowl Bacon, Maple Labne, Arugula
The kimchi apples, on the other hand, I understood – it was easily one of the top 5 dishes I tasted during my second NYC trip. Crisp Fuji apples are coated in the peppery kimchi seasoning (minus the vinegar) and topped with meaty bacon and spicy arugula. The labne (a strained yogurt) mellows everything out. A complete bite of all four components? Amazing.
We ordered two types of country ham: the smokier Edward’s Wigwam ham and the non-smoked Finchville’s ham. All I have to say is, if you’re going to go for ham, get it smoked.
Steamed Buns, Pork Belly, Hoisin, Cucumbers, Scallions
When I used to hear about Momofuku pork buns I used to think, “What’s so good about Momofuku pork buns…? Pffft. Big deal.” Now I think, “OMG, I WANT A PORK BUN.” Just imagine a peking duck bun – the familiar hoisin and scallion flavors and the texture of the fluffy bun – but now swap the duck for soft and tender pork belly that just melts in your mouth. Doesn’t seem like a big deal but it is – these pork buns are DELICIOUS.
Corned Beef Terrine, Fried Egg Sauce, Tea Brined Egg Salad
I was uninspired by this dish, possibly because I ate it immediately after those mind-blowing Momofuku pork buns. Although it was tasty, at the end of the day, it just felt like chunks of corned beef compressed in a terrine mold.
Fried Baby Artichokes, Pistachio, Sunchokes, Bottarga
I’m not a fried artichokes kind of girl as I find they lose their tender artichoke qualities when they’re immersed in a vat of oil and end up with a texture reminiscent of dry leaves. Therefore, instead of commenting on the fried artichokes, I just want to bring your attention to the delicious sunchoke puree smeared on the side of the bowl in the picture above. (I would have much rather had a bowl of just that!)
Chili Soft Shell Crab, Green Plum, Asparagus, Lemon Confit
The tart lemon was a nice accompaniment against the asparagus and a nice contrast against the crispy soft shell crab. However, I don’t recall tasting any of the chili that is referred to in the dish description.
Spicy Pork Sausage, Rice Cakes, Chinese Broccoli, Crispy Shallots
The meaty, spicy dduk bok-ki was a great way to end the meal. The rice cakes were crispy on the outside but soft and chewy in the middle (just the way I like them!). The pork sausage had a real kick to it too. (I wouldn’t recommend ordering anything after this one.)
And now, for a side tangent:
For those who may not have seen The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, Ssam sits right around the middle of that list at #26. It’s the 5th US restaurant on the list, only topped by Alinea (in Chicago) and Daniel, Per Se and Le Bernardin (all in NYC). It’s six spots above The French Laundry (in Yountville, CA).
When first scanning the 2010 list, I was surprised to see Ssam ranked so highly. At the time, I hadn’t read much about the place so I attributed my reaction to ignorance and gave it the benefit of the doubt. However, after dining at both Ssam and at the last restaurant to make the cut (Eleven Madison Park at #50) in the same week, I left NYC still very confused. Momofuku Ssam Bar…#26…?
According to the Momofuku website, the name “Momofuku” means “lucky peach”. I believe it’s a fitting name – Without a doubt, like a ripe peach, Momofuku Ssam Bar is delicious and worth trying. However, I find the inclusion of the word “lucky” even more fitting – As tasty as it may be, with a #26 position on the World’s Best list, Momofuku Ssam Bar must be much, much luckier.
Momofuku Ssam Bar
207 2nd Ave
New York, NY 10003
Momofuku Milk Bar
We started off the night in Milk Bar (while waiting for our table); we ended our night there as well. I wanted something sweet but since I was slightly stuffed at this point, I only split a slice of David Chang’s infamous “Crack Pie”.
Crack Pie – Toasted Oat Crust, Gooey Butter Filling
I think it’s logical to assume that Crack Pie was probably named for its supposedly addictive qualities. I have no doubt that there are people out there who are addicted after bite one; I, however, am not one of them. Honestly, it just tasted like butter and sugar to me (which is basically all that’s in it anyway). I’m not sure what I expected from it but…well…if this is crack, I think I’ll pass next time.
What I won’t pass on, however, is Milk Bar’s cereal milk soft serve. As a girl who likes her cereal SUPER soggy before chowing down, I really enjoyed this – its taste was spot on, exactly like the sweet, sugary milk you typically find at the bottom of your bowl. I’m not sure I would purchase an actual bottle of their cereal milk (especially since I feel like I could easily re-create it by pouring myself a bowl of cereal at home) but the cereal milk soft serve is definitely worth the trip.
Momofuku Milk Bar– MOVED
(new location information)
251 E 13th St
New York, NY 10003