It’s hard to get away from work for a nice lunch. I’m not talking about Chinatown lunches where you can be in and out within fifteen minutes if you’re a fast eater like me. I’m talking about a real sit down restaurant with waiter service. But if you can, I highly recommend Momofuku Ssäm Bar for their duck lunch.
“WHAT?!,” you ask me, “Why go to Ssäm for duck when you can get duck in Chinatown for $5?!” Well, relax! You still can, but the rotisserie duck over rice at Momofuku is also worth trying. I love the duck in Chinatown (I have a post coming on my favorite place), but the duck at Momofuku is completely different. It’s less greasy, but just as moist; and the best part, it’s super tender, not chewy at all. Also, if you’re the type who avoids duck because you find it gamy, the duck at Ssäm is more mild. For duck lovers, don’t worry, this is not a minus. The duck over rice set ($20) comes with rice, a chive pancake, bibb lettuce, ssam sauce (gochujang-based), fried shallots, and a choice of seasonal pickles, spicy fingerling potatoes, or broccoli salad. I chose the set, because I wanted both the pancake and the lettuce, but next time I might order à la carte as I wasn’t a fan of the pancake. It was cold and floury.
For the side option, I ordered the seasonal pickles which consisted of shallots and some very pretty watermelon radishes. At dinner, the seasonal pickles will usually have kimchi, which I like when it’s not too fermented, but for lunch, I appreciated that they had non-stinky vegetables. This is ideal if you have to go back to work and/or talk to non-Korean people all day. The pickles were really acidic and crunchy. Not spicy, but that was okay. The ssam sauce container was full and waiting to assist nearby.
Thinking the sides were small, I also ordered the broccoli salad and the spicy fingerling potatoes. Both were not, and were huge for the price, $5 each. Great value, and also quite tasty. According to the menu, the broccoli salad comes with smoked bluefish vinaigrette. The vinaigrette, however, was actually creamy like a light mayonnaise, a fishy mayonnaise. The standout element of the dish though wasn’t the vinaigrette, and I think it was an egregious mistake for not including it on the menu. (To think, I almost missed out!) See the crunchy bits on top of the salad? Those brown bits are crunchy rendered duck skin! Freakin’ fantastic! I could have eaten those bits by the handful.
The spicy fingerling potatoes didn’t have any of the amazing duck skin, but it was just as good, if not better. The potatoes were properly crisp at the edges, and the salty chili black bean sauce it was tossed in had sichuan peppercorns in it so it was not only hot, but also pleasantly cooling.
Duck is great in Chinatown, but it also can be great elsewhere. If you have more than fifteen minutes to spare, Ssäm is one of those places.