This trip to NYC has been filled with surprises both gastronomical and otherwise. I caught up with an old college friend who I hadn't seen in over a decade, took C to McSorley's where we got unexpectedly soused mid-afternoon to celebrate my thirty-something birthday and paid a visit to a friend in Williamsburg where we went on an eating and drinking tour of her neighborhood (that's its own post, to come soon).
We basically came to the city this time without a single reservation anywhere. We planned to eat fairly inexpensively, and without any pre-planning. Sometimes that meant a slice at Ray's pizza whenever we felt hungry, other times that meant grabbing a last-minute reservation at Destino.
On Saturday night, we showed up at Momofuku around 10pm. I'd heard plenty about this place from friends and fellow-bloggers alike, so I figured that even that late, we'd have a solid wait. You can only imagine the shock when we were seated immediately (I attribute it to Colin's tragically hip fedora, but that's another post).
The menu here is super-eclectic (I'd link to it, except the damn site is built in 100% Flash, which means no individual pages), and we didn't have any trouble finding things we wanted to try. In fact, the bigger problem was narrowing down our choices to a manageable number.
They were out of two items from the Raw Bar we'd hoped to try (Maine Sear Urchin and Empress Jonah Crab Claws), so we started with Cured Hamachi ($16), a delightful presentation of six slices buttery fish with a wasabi cream, a few edamame and a handful of pea shoots.
We also ordered the Steamed Buns ($9) to share -- we'd heard these were the house specialty and OH MY, I understand why! Pork belly, hoisin, chewy/fluffy bun... wow. I just have nothing else to say about these.
We moved from there to the Four Story Hill Farm Chicken Ballotine ($15), a boneless disk of chicken, stuffed with chicken, mushrooms and walnuts, topped with raisins and a sweet preserve. This was not my favorite dish, as it was a bit heavier than I expected, but tasty nonetheless.
Now, Ssam Bar has an odd section on the menu called "Country Hams", which is exactly what you think -- four different American country-style hams, sliced paper thin and served with bread and a bit of delicious sweet-hot mustard. I'm not sure how this fits in with the otherwise Korean-centric menu, and I was a little disappointed that a "sampling" wasn't available. Regardless, we ordered the Benton's Smoky Mountain, Tennessee ($10). Very salty, delicate smoke, slightly gamey, we really enjoyed this ham.
We ordered one large dish to share -- Spicy Pork Sausage & Rice Cakes ($18) -- which was phenomenal. Bite-sized nuggets of caramelized rice, sausage, crispy shallots and Chinese broccoli were swimming in a rich, lip-numbingly spicy broth. My Auslese riesling and Colin's unfiltered sake were both sweet enough to foil the heat of the stew.
I was stuffed, but C had to order the Amish Cheddar Shortcake ($9). The shortcake itself was amazing, unique. Paired with roasted Empire Apples and Ham Cream (yes, you read right), though, it became an updated, modern version of apple pie with cheddar cheese. That's never been my thing, but this dessert was an amalgamation of flavors that just got my tongue excited.
We loved the service, and we loved the openness of the restaurant. And maybe more than anything, we loved the fact that the following sentence was printed on the menu: "We do not serve vegetarian friendly items". While I'm sure that sentence pisses off a lot of patrons, we kind of love the fact that chef Chang is unapologetic about his menu and his choices.
Momofuku Ssam Bar
207 2nd Avenue, New York