A Meh Visit to Momofuku Ssam

I subscribe to a number of food blogs that cover New York and David Chang seems to get rave reviews for his Momofuku set of restaurants. My cousins took us to the Momofuku Ssam restaurant where his dishes, are frankly, vegetarian unfriendly. Except for the pickled vegetables (see below), everything else has some sort of meat or seafood in it. Oh, and no, I don’t count seafood-eating vegetarians as vegetarian. The correct term is pescatarian and seafood are animals too.

We got there a little early, so we did a bit of a walk around the block. Here’s the outside of Momofuku Ssam (conveniently with their address picture perfect too!) We waited in their milk bar next door (where we later had desserts) whilst we waited for a table.

You can only really book if you go for this special Bo-Ssam (pork butt) that you need at least 6 people (my cousin tells me from experience you need much more). Unfortunately we were Bo-Ssam’ed out by two other parties dining so just turned up. Even with a group of six, you can’t make a reservation. In true Chinese style, we shared everything we had though. We started with the pickled vegetables and then their “famous” pork buns. Here is their traditional one made with pork belly, more pickles and some hoisin sauce. Whilst good, it seemed all a little bit too squishy and could have done with some more texture.

Fortunately they had another bun on special, this time made with a crispy pork belly, different pickles and avocado. I think what the other pork bun lacked, this one definitely made up for.

We then tried the short rib sandwich. I liked the sound of it. It arrived on a crispy bun, different to the white fluffy steamed rolls although this time, my cousin Kathleen tried to split it up between the six of us with only a bread knife. What are we? On a plane?

My other cousin, Penny hadn’t had a chance to try sweetbreads. She missed it at Gramercy Tavern where it was found on the tavern side menu, and nowhere to be seen on the restaurant side. Fried crisp, this one tasted just like fried chicken. I’m not quite sure what the white mayonnaise-like spread on the bottom was but all it seemed to add was creaminess, not necessarily that much flavour.

We asked if they had any Bo-Ssam left (as on the menu it still said to ask). Our waitress checked with the open plan kitchen not more than fifteen metres from us and came back with a disappointing no. Instead, she recommended the rib eye which would be plenty to share amount us all. As you can see, it was immaculately cooked – juicy and pink on the inside. They served it accompanied with some “juice” – i.e. drippings. Whilst very tasty, I was a little disappointed it didn’t seem to have any other signature flavours or spices that made it something else, other than a very well cooked rib eye.

They did serve it with this anti-Atkins diet potato filled ravioli. The starch with starch combo seemed a little bit weird and once again, very well executed. The portion size definitely doesn’t go with the size of the rib eye though.

With all of that out of the way, we then moved into the milk bar portion where they had cookies, pies, whole cakes (pictured below), soft serve, milkshakes and “adult” milkshakes (i.e. concoctions with alcohol). I really wanted a slice of cake but they only sold them whole, or rolled up into what they called truffles – imagine cake crumb mashed into a ball and you get the idea. Probably quite tasty but not for me even though a bargain at 3 for US$3. I went for their “Old Fashioned Donut” soft serve after having a taste. Light flavours of cinnamon and slight hints of jelly without being excessively overpowering. Delicious.

I enjoyed the food and the evening. Service was pretty reasonable and considering the lack of space, they did pretty well. I like the fact you can see into their open kitchen as you walk between the restaurant to the milk bar and I don’t think we ever felt rushed. I did tweet later that it didn’t quite live up to all the expectations of the “David Chang” empire but I hear his noodle place is the much better place to go. I don’t think it really has a place up in the San Pellegrino Top 50 restaurants in the world list.

Name: Momofuku Ssam
Found at: 207 2nd Ave. (Corner of 13th + 2nd), NY, NY 10003
Website: http://www.momofuku.com/ssam-bar/

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