In Search of Greatness: Momofuku Ssam Bar

We came to Momofuku Ssam Bar because of the awards, accolades and heaps of praise I had heard. As we were seated, I realized I was going to like this place just looking at the menu “We do not serve vegetarian items.” This is a good sign, I thought. Follow that up with an entire section entitled “Offal” and I was pleased as a pig in punch, or whatever the saying is.

Immediately realizing I was not going to be able to order everything (unfortunate, because about 75% of the dishes offered looked amazing), I decided to allow Brett some input to narrow it down. We started with Maine Sea Urchin from the “Raw Bar” section, which came with tapioca, whipped tofu, scallions, shrimp crackers and a seaweed topping. This was terrific urchin, the one piece we got for $16. But it was hidden under the many flavors (get a little of everything in each bite, advised our waiter). I enjoyed it, but it was overwhelming and overdressed. This would appear to be a theme, as we ventured further.

From the “Small Dishes” we chose Steamed Buns with pork belly, hoisin, cucumber and scallions (really, must the scallions be listed everywhere? They were not memorable, more of a garnish). These were as delicious as my taste buds could have wanted. Served like an pita wrap (vaguely reminiscent of the new “sammies” offered at Quizno’s), the bun was perfectly steamed, the pork belly made fattily melty, it was terrific. This dish helped me understand they hype surrounding the restaurant.

We skipped the Country Hams section and went straight to “Local” where we tried Tello’s Chawan Mushi with snails and garlic. This too, was incredible. Brett had never tried Chawan Mushi before, nor snails, and he later declared this his favorite dish of the trip. The garlic flavor was just strong enough to make its presence known, but never overwhelmed the savory custard flavor of the Chawan Mushi. The snails were perfectly tasty, I’m not sure if it is hard to cook snails, but these ones were amazing.

Last but not least, we picked from the “Offal” section of the menu. I was so looking forward to the Pig’s Head Torchon, I could barely contain myself. It arrived, to beautifully cripy cakes of porky deliciousness. They were perfect. Pork flavor swelled in my mouth as my tongue felt out soft fatty pockets of meat. The cakes were served with a spicy mustard sauce which counteracted the rich mouthfeel with a sharp jolt of cooling heat (that will only make sense if you know the chinese hot mustard taste, I’m sure). Also on the plate was a pile of collard greens and red adzuki beans. These two matched perfectly well with not only each other, but with both the mustard and the torchons. If chef Chang had left this dish here, I would sing its praises from the hillsides. Unfortunately, he had chosen to continue on, adding a sprinkling of pineapple on top. First off, who garnishes with pineapple in January? Second of all, this flavor clashed with the pork. It clashed with the greens and beans, and I thought it clashed with the mustard. Brett disagreed, but I thought it made for a horrific taste in my mouth. Why does this man not have someone telling him when to stop?

Overall, while I enjoyed the food, I did not think that this was a totally unmissable stop in New York, as I had been led to believe, though I would recommend it to a friend as inventive and delicious food.

Momofuku Ssam Bar on Superpages.com

Comments

  1. Now this is confusing, I am heading to NYC next week and was planning on stopping here…