It's time I got on board with the Momofuku empire. I've been a big fan of Noodle Bar for the past few years, but I am embarrassed to say I haven't been able to keep up with David Chang's east village dynasty. And now, as he is on the brink of bursting out of his familiar hood to open Momofuku Ma Peche at the Chambers hotel in midtown, I figure I better pick up the slack before it is too late. While I am still waiting for that lucky person to treat me to a night at Ko, I finally decided to head over to Ssam Bar.
Before I go any further, I want to clear up a common misconception that I and most others hold about the Momofukus. I had assumed that all of the restaurants must be Asian inspired - mostly due to my desire to continuously order the ramen from Noodle Bar. However, Ssam Bar quickly taught me that the Momofukus are all inspired by American cuisine. Of course this is an extremely broad term, but the point is that the menu is influenced by nearly all ethnicities. This even rings true at Noodle Bar as fried chicken is one of the featured dishes- I just need to learn to shift my one-tracked mindset there (and the name doesn't help either)!
The menu at Ssam Bar is broken up into raw bar options, small dishes, country ham, local/seasonal plates, and main courses covering the categories of meat, fish, and offal. This is one of the most adventuresome menus I have come across and as someone constantly looking for the strangest, yet most flavorful dishes, I was given a run for my money. The fact that there is even an offal section may turn many people off - and for those of you not familiar with the term, it basically is what it sounds like. I'll leave it at that since my hope is that you all can appreciate the role culinary expertise plays in innovative cooking. David Chang demonstrates that he can master any edible item from the most basic to the most complex.
We started the meal with an excellent assortment of seasonal pickles which included mushrooms, carrots, bok choy, corn, cauliflower, and kimchi. This is basically the extent of greenery on the menu and so we got our fix early on. If you are still craving a truly Asian inspired dish, I recommend the steamed pork buns prepared with pork belly, hoisin, cucumbers and scallions. The meat is perfectly seasoned and tender. The soft boiled egg with summer beans, bacon, and pumpernickel was as close to a salad as they offer - and this was actually one of my favorite dishes. But, the winning dish came from none other than the offal section. The crispy pig's head was so full of flavor and perfectly paired with cashew and pineapple kimchi slaw. I appreciated the presentation of the dish - resembling nothing more than simple fried cakes. The spicy pork sausage and rice cakes served with Chinese broccoli and crispy shallots is both hearty and full of fire. While the meats are definitely a feature of Ssam Bar, you should not miss out on the fish. We sampled a delicious grilled simple preparation of hamachi, one of their specials that evening.
I had every intention of making serious headway in the Momofuku world that night since Milk Bar is directly next door to Ssam Bar. However, with a menu where I was debating between ordering pig's head, country ham, and a bbq rib sandwich, I decided to order more and resign to the savory dishes. And, after peering in the window at Milk Bar, I realized I could soon make a whole meal even out of their sweets menu. Based on the crowds lined up inside and outside, I have no doubt that David Chang's big move uptown can only be a good thing. And he has given me every reason to continue to keep up with him and his adventures.
Momofuku Ssam Bar
207 Second Avenue (@ 13th st.)
New York, NY 10003
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):