East Village, Restaurants

Dinner at Momofuku Ssäm Bar – NYC

July 2, 2010 | 8 Comments
@ momofuku ssam @ momofuku ssam
@ momofuku ssam @ momofuku ssam

When I have guests from out-of-town, I always recommend Momofuku Ssäm Bar. Why? Simply put, because the restaurant is freakin’ awesome. Or to be more specific, Momofuku Ssäm makes insanely good well-crafted food that could be served in a four-star restaurant in a casual atmosphere. Unfortunately, friends are not always convinced, especially if they’re Korean. Their mentality is that while they’re in New York, they don’t want Korean food. However, Momofuku Ssäm isn’t a Korean restaurant. It’s New American with Asian influences, Korean being one of the more prominent influences. And even if they’re not Korean, they don’t want to go to Ssäm because they haven’t heard of the restaurant. They rather go to Lombardi’s or Magnolia Bakery (Lombardi’s I like, Magnolia I do not). Well, seems this year things are changing. Ever since Momofuku’s cookbook came out last year, all of sudden the Momofuku restaurants have become New York destinations.

@ momofuku ssam

Last month, when Alvin came to visit and said he wanted to go to Ssäm, I was stoked. I love taking people to places I love. It’s a win-win situation, for them and my belly.

I began dinner with the Seven Spice Sour, togarashi infused sake, fresh lime juice, and yuzu. I loved it. It wasn’t spicy, but it was clean, crisp, tangy, and not too sweet. I ordered another as soon as I finished it. Alvin ordered the Celery & Nori, which he said he liked, but wished the nori flavor was stronger.

@ momofuku ssam

Shigoku Oysters ($18 for half a dozen) with kimchi purée followed shortly after. Oysters and kimchi is a classic Korean pairing — my favorite type of kimchi is gool kimchi (굴김치, kimchi with oysters) — so this worked nicely. The small plump oysters were fresh and light tasting, and the kimchi purée was mild enough so it didn’t overpower the oysters.

@ momofuku ssam

We also ordered Seasonal Pickles ($11) for the side. Selections change daily, but on our visit there was cabbage kimchi, carrots, celery, rhubarb, daikon, and cucumbers. All the pickles were good; the whole carrots were my favorite, and the kimchi my least favorite. It was way too salty. I’m Korean after all, so I’m a bit more picky with kimchi.

@ momofuku ssam

When the Hawthorne Valley Buttermilk ($12) — buttermilk with Fuji apple dashi, market herbs, and pine nuts — was brought to the table, it was a bit of a surprise. I was expecting a salad with a buttermilk dressing, so this gorgeous plate garnished with edible flowers was even better. The scoops of buttermilk had a soft delicate mouth feel, similar to flan but even lighter, and the Fushi apple dashi added a subtle sweetness.

@ momofuku ssam

The Steamed Buns ($9) which I’ve written about before, were good as usual, although I recall the pork being more tender in the past. Still as always, they were a crowd-pleaser.

@ momofuku ssam

The Spicy Honeycomb Tripe ($14), tripe with ginger-scallion, celery, pickled tomatoes, and garnished with black sesame seeds, was a dish of textures; squiggly, squishy, and slightly chewy with a little crunch from the black sesame seeds and celery. The heat wasn’t too strong, but it was definitely more than a tickle if you kept eating it. It wasn’t my favorite dish of the night, but a pleasant addition.

@ momofuku ssam

My favorite was the Chili Soft Shell Crab ($21) with asparagus and lemon confit. The crab was crunchy on the outside, fat and juicy on the inside, and the lemon confit was perfectly tart and creamy with a touch of sweetness. I’m not sure where the “chili” part came to play since there was no detectable heat, but it was more than delicious without it.

@ momofuku ssam

Alvin’s favorite dish was the Fried Baby Artichokes ($14), with pistachio purée, sunchoke slices, and bottarga (cured fish roe). Fried artichokes are always good, but combined with creamy pistachio purée, crisp sunchoke slices, and salty bottarga that sticks to all the twisted frizzled artichoke bits, it’s incredibly delicious. Our bowl was empty in seconds.

Dinner concluded with cookies, pies, and cereal milk galore next door at Momofuku Milk Bar. We left full and thoroughly pleased with dinner. After that night, the next week involved more fooding at fancier and more expensive restaurants, but Alvin said his favorite meal by far was at Ssäm. For locals, is it better now that tourists know about Ssäm? Lines may get a tad longer, but I have a feeling Ssäm won’t garner the mass appeal of Lombardi’s or Magnolia. People seem to like cupcakes more than tripe, and that’s fine by me.

Momofuku Ssäm Bar
207 2nd Ave (corner of 13th St & 2nd Ave; map)
New York, NY 10003

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8 Comments

  • Julian at 10:27 pm on July 6, 2010

    Hi Bionicgrrrl, I wanted to make a reservation for Momofuku ssam bar, but they only admit reservations for parties of 6 or more for the amazing pig shoulder. Can you walking in to Momofuku and eat other dishes without a reservation? are reservation compulsory? What other restaurants do you suggest hopefully on a budget, already Katz and Lombardi on my list.

  • bionicgrrrl at 10:36 pm on July 6, 2010

    @Julian – You need a reservation for the ssam, but for other items, no reservation necessary. Pizza is always budget-friendly. Motorino, Pulino’s, and Veloce are good sit-down pizza places. Also check out Russ & Daughters for bagels with cream cheese and salmon (belly lox and gravlax are my two favorites.)

  • Eileen at 12:15 am on July 7, 2010

    Omg, Magnolia is sooo overrated!!! Their cupcakes aren’t even that good. There’s tons of other awesome cupcakeries in the city. It frustrates me so much when people come visit and demand to go to Magnolia just because it was on TV before T.T;

    On the other hand, Momofuku Ssam seems amazing!! I’ve actually never eaten there as the menu seems quite pricey, but I have eaten at the Noodle Bar and found it somewhat overrated or at least overpriced… Have you been to Chang’s new restaurant Ma Peche? I’ve wanted to try that too, but I’m curious about which one is better…?

  • Julian at 9:52 am on July 7, 2010

    Thx @bionicgrrrl, I am not an expert in Korean food, what do you do you suggest at Ssam Bar or Noodle Bar. I love Thai and Vietnamese any suggestions?

  • bionicgrrrl at 6:22 pm on July 7, 2010

    @Eileen – Oh I agree, not a fan of the Noodle Bar but love Ssäm. Ssäm is where it’s at! Haven’t tried Má Pêche yet, but definitely need to very soon.

    @Julian – Go to Ssäm and order the soft shell crab and fried artichokes I wrote about above. Buns are also a must, and if you’re a fan, definitely give Baohaus a try also.

  • Emily at 11:05 pm on July 7, 2010

    Momofuku Milk Bar has changed a lot since it first opened like a year and half ago… the cookies shrank and shrank and became flatter and flatter, and now they don’t even do any of the baking on premise. And then they stopped cutting slices of cake to sell.

    I was one of the people who went the week it opened, and at that time the cookies (my favorites there) were crisp, rich but not overly oily/buttery, and seriously one-of-a-kind. Contrast that to a visit a few weeks ago, where the cookies were about half the original size, prepackaged in plastic and pretty much broke apart due to so much butter that it just left oily streaks on the plastic. Guess it was inevitable after the place got so popular, but still disappointing.

  • bionicgrrrl at 12:28 am on July 8, 2010

    @Emily – Can’t say everything has gone downhill, but I have to say the Crack Pie wasn’t as good the last time I went to Milk Bar. Preslicing dries out the pie a bit, and I think they also keep the pies at a colder temperature now. The pie was less gooey. Still great, but not as mind-blowing as before.

  • someguy at 4:19 pm on July 9, 2010

    Shigoku Oysters sounds great, better than just the plain ol’.

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