207 Second Ave (13th St), Manhattan (map)
212-254-3500 (no reservations)
"Momofuku Saam is a bit ‘so hot right now’ but it really lives up to the hype. Like a Cumulus Inc for Korean/Japanese/Southern fusion. Sounds crazy but it works."
- Melbourne Gastronome reader Blair in email giving me NYC recommendations
Having already shared my Manhattan highlights, Brooklyn highlights and amazing lunch at Le Bernardin with you, dear Reader, my last post on my recent trip to New York is all about Momofuku Ssäm Bar.
Momofuku Ssäm Bar, a no-reservations casual restaurant in chef David Chang's umbrella of Momofuku eateries, is located in the East Village. As Blair said, it's a crazy combination of Korean/Japanese/Southern fusion. It was also my favourite restaurant in New York!
Best-friend-K and I rocked up at about 8pm on a Friday night but didn't have to wait too long before we were seated at the long communal bar. The atmosphere was bustling but friendly, and as we downed a cocktail each (followed by an excellent bottle of Grüner Veltliner) we chatted to a couple of New Yorker guys sitting next to us who were only too eager to give us lots more restaurant recommendations.
The first dish that we ordered was relatively plain and simple: cured hamachi with edamame, a delicate horseradish purée and pea leaves ($16). Giving it extra flavour (and crunch!) was the sprinklings of genmaicha, a Japanese green tea combined with puffed brown rice.
Second was the American wagyu (Imperial Beef, NE) with cucumbers and ponzu ($18). The cucumbers had been infused with the ponzu, in the molecular gastronomy style, using a vacuum bag to suck out all the air and to allow the flavours of the soy citrus sauce to penetrate the cellular structure of the cucumber. I know a lot of people hold molecular gastronomy techniques in high disdain but trust me, the cucumber tasted like something from another world. A perfect match for the beautifully-marbled wagyu.
Then we had the buttermilk salad (buttermilk from Hawthorne Farm, NY), served with microgreens, pine nuts and an apple dashi ($12). The buttermilk had an almost pannacotta-like consistency, and the dashi broth hit just the right note of richness and tangy sweetness. This was b-f-K's favourite dish.
The last of the savoury dishes was one of Blair's recommendations, the spicy pork sausage and rice cakes with Chinese broccoli and crispy shallots ($18). Loved it: the Sichuan chillies gave the ragù one hell of a kick, and the rice cakes (made off-site, then chopped up and fried separately) had a fantastic spongy/crunchy texture I fell in love with.
But the dish that really had me clutching at my pearls was the beet and lime ganache, served with goat's milk frozen yoghurt and pistachio crumble ($10). What a dish! Aside from being visually arresting (the white fro-yo, the dramatic scrape of pink ganache and the green nuggets of sugared pistachio), the combination of sweet/salty/citrus/tangy flavours was intensely memorable. Favourite dish of the night!
An ancient Egyptian Gastronome tucking into a feast, as spotted by b-f-K and me a few days later at the Met. :)
I enjoyed our meal at Momofuku Ssäm Bar so much that I suggested to b-f-K that we go back there again for our last dinner in New York. Yeah I know, I know, with all that NYC has to offer it's a crime to go back to the same place twice. But in my defence almost everyone we spoke to in New York insisted we head back there, in order to sample the famous pork belly steamed buns. Plus on our second visit we had the added bonus of a bona fide New York celebrity sighting: seated at the table behind b-f-K was the Sausage King of Chicago himself, Mr Matthew Broderick!
The second time around, we started with a few Salt Pond oysters, served with kimchi consommé ($3 each). I want kimchi consommé with all my oysters from now on, dammit.
B-f-K is not much of a pork fan but even she had to admit that the soft soft steamed buns with gloriously fatty pork belly, hoisin, cucumbers and scallions ($9 for two, with a squirt of Sriracha encouraged) were sensational. My favourite dish from our second visit.
The salad we chose the second time around consisted of sweet juicy tender snap peas (from Satur Farm, NY) with mint, egg and XO sauce ($15). The egg had been hard-boiled and then grated - it looked great.
Our last dish was Chicken Fried Chicken (thinly pounded breast and leg, pressed together and double-fried) served with pickled ramps, porcini mushrooms, a little wilted Swiss chard and a vivid scrape of egg yolk ($24). I don't normally eat chicken that's fried (let alone double-fried!), but the batter was light and the Bell and Evans chicken was wonderfully juicy. Loved the flavour of the ramps too - it was the first time I'd tried them.
I resisted the urge to order the beetroot ganache dish again for dessert: instead we slipped into the adjoining Momofuku Milk Bar, a space which doubles as a bakery and as a waiting room for tables in Momofuku Ssäm Bar.
Pork belly-obsessed New Yorkers can order the steamed buns to go from the bakery counter, along with an intriguing range of pastries, pies and desserts created by Milk Bar's pastry chef, Christina Tosi.
I was tempted to order a slice of Crack Pie (as in, "addictive as"), largely on the strength of the name alone. But even I had to reconsider when the girl behind the counter said that the toasted oat crust pie with the gooey-butter filling was "good, but really sweet". After two weeks of American desserts, I knew that if an American told me something was really sweet it was probably TOO SWEET!
So instead, salty/sweet junkie that I am, I ordered a slice of the Candybar Pie, which contained caramel, peanut butter nougat, peanut brittle and toasted pretzels, with a chocolate crust. I only got through half of it (SO SWEET), but it was damn good pie.
I was sufficiently intrigued by the sound of a burnt honey and mustard croissant to suggest that b-f-K order it, but she only had eyes for the fro-yo. She chose a most unorthodox-but-awesome combination of flavours: blackberry and rosemary. A great match.
In short, Momofuku Ssäm Bar pushed just about all of my foodie buttons. How I wish I could go back to New York to sample David Chang's other restaurants!