Momofuku Ssam Bar (New York City)

>>  Sunday, April 13, 2014

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We finally start our New York Thanksgiving series. I guess it took me longer than I thought to get through all those Japan posts at the beginning of 2014! This is the first post in the series detailing meals from my trip to New York in November 2013.

I am a huge fan of anything from David Chang's empire.

I will never forget my phenomenal tasting menu at Momofuku Ko or the delicious lunch I had at Momofuku Ma Peche when it first (temporarily) opened. I always stop by Momofuku Milk Bar to pick up my favorite sweets, usually the corn cookies but sometimes I'll get cereal milk too. Heck, I've even tried cooking a few recipes from his cookbook, such as his 48-hour short ribs and his pork belly buns.
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And yet, surprisingly, I actually had never been to most of his other restaurants.

That is, not until this New York trip where I managed to try two of them: Momofuku Ssam Bar and Momofuku Ma Peche (not the temporary one, but the full-fledged one).
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I think I was scared away for a long time because of the nightmarish lines I'd heard about. You can't reserve a seat at Momofuku Ssam Bar unless if you are a large party enjoying one of their famous Bo Ssams. Since it's usually just Bryan and me, we knew that would be impossible.

During this trip, we finally decided to bite the bullet and try coming. To optimize our chances of having no line, we showed up right around 5:00 PM.

Score! There were many seats open.

Within half an hour, the place became completely packed. We were thrilled that we showed up just in time to grab some bar seats.

I was so excited.
_DSC4987 We started with a beautiful plate of Striped Bass with Lychee and Salt. I loved the textural addition of tiny little rice "crispies" on top. The fish was fresh and the entire dish was well seasoned and beautifully balanced.
_DSC4988 The next dish had the classic combination of uni (sea urchin) and ikura (salmon roe), but was unique in that it was served over a bed of warm tofu and topped with wasabi peas for crunch & heat. The warm + cold and soft + crunchy combination was  unexpectedly pleasant. Not surprisingly, the flavors worked together well.
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I had no idea if I would like this next dish, the Apple Kimchi Salad. Fresh apple slices are tossed in kimchi and served with house cured jowl bacon and arugula over a thick labne (a type of strained, Greek yogurt) mixed with maple syrup.
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I really liked it. The dish had the perfect balance between sweet (apple), salty (bacon) and tart (kimchi). There was even a nice textural contrast from the thick creamy labne to the crunchy apples and bacon.
_DSC4999Because it was right after Thanksgiving, They had a special on the menu, a Turkey Bun made with confit duck, smoked mayo, and sauerkraut. I found this one to be pretty average - the only thing we ordered that I thought was a miss. I felt like the sauerkraut lacked the tart punch that was needed to offset the really rich turkey and mayo. Bryan thought it was good, and I agreed that it was fine, but overall it was the weakest dish of the lot.
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In contrast, the signature Momofuku Pork Belly Bun was good. The pork belly was soft and tender, different from the version I had at Uni Sashimi Bar just a few weeks earlier, which is crispy. The bun is excellent, super soft and just a tad sweet. I thought the pickles added just the right amount of tart crunch and balance.
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My favorite, favorite dish of the night was the Spicy Pork Sausage Rice Cakes. These were incredible and definitely unforgettable. Crispy pan-seared rice cakes came tossed in a zippy and flavorful chili sauce, similar to Korean gojuchan but not as sweet. It had a good amount of spice that gave a decent kick but didn't burn your tongue into flames. The crunchy, fried garlic "strings" (or are those "chips") on top really just brought the entire dish together.

The rice cakes definitely had that perfect addictive combination of flavors and textures. I just could not stop eating the heavenly combo of chewy and crispy rice cakes, spicy and slightly sweet sauce, and those crunchy fried garlic chips.

It was all phenomenal and it's the one dish I would most certainly order again if I returned.
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Dessert is a shot in the dark for me. Sometimes I love it; other times I think it's too rich or too sweet. This particular dessert was just the perfect balance of sweet + salty (I think David Chang is just really good at that). A savory black pepper shortbread came with a savory ice cream (was it miso honey?) and pieces of fruit. It was fantastic. I loved how the entire dish was more savory in nature - it almost reminded me of a warm biscuit with butter, honey, and fruit.

I seldom wish for more dessert, but this was one of those rare instances where I was scraping the bowl with my spoon to capture every last bit of that beautiful, creamy, savory sauce.
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I loved my meal at Momofuku Ssam Bar and I can't wait to go back. I still hate lines, so I guess I'll just have to go back at 5PM again, or some other odd time in the middle of the afternoon.

I've heard a lot of these dishes are actually available in his cookbook. Man, maybe I can try making those rice cakes sometime. It sure would be easier than heading to New York on a whim!

Momofuku Ssam Bar
207 2nd Ave
New York, NY 10003
Momofuku Ssäm Bar on Urbanspoon

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