Momofuku Ssam Bar Saves the Day (and the Trip)

Finally time to report back on my one good meal during my family trip to the New York City area: lunch at Momofuku Ssam Bar. After most of my family left town, and now with a little more culinary control, I suggested to my brother that we sneak into the city for late lunch at Ssam Bar. We had tried to go two month’s ago, but it was closed for a week, so we instead had enjoyed a fine meal at the Noodle Bar.

The interiors of the two restaurants are strikingly similar. As are the workers. (My brother tells me that the t-shirted, laid-back attitude is hip in New York now. I’m not used to servers tossing food in front of me and mumbling – albeit in a proud, friendly – the contents of the dishes while moving away from the table such that by the time I hear the word “enjoy” they’re basically back at the bar or on to the next table. Anyway.) And the steamed pork buns, oh-so-tempting to try again. But I wanted something different.

Four dishes did us well. (Expect to pay about $10 each for the small plates, country hams, and local/seasonal items; the larger plates and raw bar items are a bit more, and the bo ssam jumps up to $200!) I’d heard a lot about the fried Brussels sprouts, so they were a must-try. Interesting, and with all kinds of action: mint, scallions, Rice Krispies-like rice puffs, and a fish sauce vinaigrette, but a little disappointing. The sprouts were chopped smaller than I like, so they didn’t deliver enough of their taste and got lost amidt all the other ingredients.

Better were the Meacham County ham platter (smoky, and with red-eye gravy made with mayonnaise, coffee and Sriracha that gave the meat a big boost) and the Sichuan beef tendon with green mango and peanuts. But best of all were the spicy rice cakes. “Spicy” sells me on most anything, but when I see “rice cakes,” I think of those bland, cardboard-like disks that seemed to be all the rage with vegetarians and dieters not long ago. But knowing Chef David Chang, I had to assume this would be something special – especially since they were served with pork sausage, Chinese broccoli and crispy shallots. Special they were. These were small puffy disks with a crispy exterior and tender to the tooth – a tasty treat with the other combined flavors. Great stuff. I’m two-for-two with my Momofuku experiences. The difficult-to-land Momofuku Ko experience is the one that I can still only dream about.

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