Somehow CateyLou and I have managed to live in New York for several years without eating at a David Chang restaurant. Sure we’ve been to Milkbar on numerous occasions to try their exotic soft-serve flavors (I applaud the ingenuity but does anyone really want celery flavored ice cream?) but our recent trip to Momofuku Ssäm Bar was our first legitimate David Chang experience. And it did not disappoint.
Ssäm Bar is walk-in only so we arrived early and were lucky enough to grab a seat at the bar. Most of the dishes on the menu are made to share so we ordered a few dishes from each part of their menu. We had heard only incredible things about their pork buns so we started with an order of the classic pork buns (pork belly and traditional Asian flavors) and the BBQ bun (also pork, but more of a play on an American pulled pork sandwich). I really enjoyed the classic bun – which is a David Chang staple – but we both agreed that the BBQ bun was just as good. In fairness, the steamed buns are so fluffy and delicious that you can’t go wrong with any filling.
However, as great as the buns are, they might not be the best sandwich on the menu. The duck sandwich, which is topped with lettuce, hot sauce, and peppadews and served on a toasted baguette, was truly a standout. It’s pretty impressive that a place known for their bao buns can also make a baguette better than most sandwich shops in the city.
I also had the striped bass crudo with kumquat, cilantro, and green peppercorn. The dish was light and flavorful with a bit of heat from the peppercorns. The dish looked so delicious that CateyLou – who does not eat raw fish – even decided to try a bite. Even though I wasn’t able to bring her around on the fish, she loved the preparation, especially the kumquats.
Another highlight was the fuji apple kimchi. The dish as a whole is well balanced as the spice of the kimchi is offset by the coolness of the maple yogurt. However, the real star is the incredible fried bacon that is placed on top as a garnish.
I also tried the crispy pig ears. The pig ears were served inside four lettuce wraps and topped with pickled onions. Although the pig ears themselves were crunchy and delicious, this was probably my least favorite dish. Much like this man, I’m not really a lettuce wrap guy.
For our main dish we had the spicy sausage and rice cakes. This is another Ssäm Bar staple – and for good reason. Everything about this dish just works. We particularly liked the rice cakes. Slightly bigger than a piece of gnocchi, the rice cakes are crunchy on the outside but soft on the inside. The dish is extremely spicy though, so it’s not for everyone.
All in all, we really enjoyed our trip to Ssäm Bar. In fact it was so good that we recently returned just to make sure the food was as delicious as we remembered it. And it was. Though the food is top notch, the atmosphere is pretty relaxed. Seating is first-come first- served and most of the seating is communal – either bar seating or longer tables.
Momofuku Ssäm Bar
207 2nd Ave New York, NY 10003