Momofuku Ssam Bar (NYC) – Go Raw

Michelin updated its ratings last week for New York and, surprisingly, Momofuku Ko got two stars. That’s an impressive feat (congratulations David Chang) considering the restaurant is merely a year old and it is far less formal than most, if not all, two-starred restaurants. I have not eaten at Ko but I’m a true believer in Momofuku Noodle Bar and Momofuku Ssam; if they were located in San Francisco, I would eat at one or the other weekly. For my past New York trip, a friend and I ate decided that Ssam was the way to go and we had nearly every dish on the menu 1. It was a feast served at a ridiculously low price point 2 – this restaurant is about excellent value.

The Momofuku’s are known for pork, with its infamous vegetarian-unfriendly menus, but I find the (raw) seafood dishes perform best. They are the most creative, in terms of conception, and they definitely provide the most delight. I suspect, but I don’t know, that the seafood dishes served at Noodle Bar and Ssam provided ample inspiration for what would later become Ko. I would suggest ordering a few different seafood dishes, the (delicious) ham plate, and a meat dish for the end. The food, particularly the seafood, is good enough for one Michelin star.

Time is at a premium right now so this review will take the format I adopted in the old days. I forgot the camera, which was a shame considering the great lighting at our bar seat. The Girl Who Ate Everything had a similar meal with stunning photographs of many of the dishes below – check it out (not loving raw seafood does not make her the enemy btw.)

Glidden Point oysters w/ kimchi consomme – I really like the kimchi consomme they serve on the oysters at both Ssam and Noodle Bar – simple, different, and effective.

Diver sea scallops w/ pickled cherries & lemon – pristine scallop where the lemon complemented the scallop’s sweetness and the pickled cherries & lemon provided a balance of tartness. I had a variation of this last year at Ssam and I think the scallop/cherry pairing works very well together.

Sliced Long Island fluke w/ yuzu kosho, peaches – the peach sauce was excellent – soft without being too forward and it paired really well w/ the fish.

Cracked Empress Jonah crab claws w/ yuzu mayo – simple but oh so effective – the yuzu mayo was wonderfully tart.

Santa Barbara uni w/ tapioca, whipped tofu, & scallions – this seems to be a universal favorite in foodie land but it’s a bit too busy for me. The flavors work but you’re pulled in too many directions. I would like to see it pared down to something more refined.

Steamed pork buns – Momofuku should just serve these to everyone since it’s their most famous “dish.” If this is your first trip to Momofuku, order them.

Maine shrimp & watermelon salad w/ lime basil, mint, and Vietnamese fish sauce – my favorite dish of the night, a 2-Michelin star worthy dish, incredible balance of flavors. The watermelon and Vietnamese fish sauce were daring partners and the salty/sweet combination, livened by the lime and mint, might have been the best thing I ate on this trip (that included a visit to Masa.)

Eckerton Hill Farm’s tomato salad – fried tofu, opal basil – there were a variety of quartered tomatoes but their flavor was not as robust as I would have liked. From what I understand, as of August, the tomato growing season was not the greatest in the area.

Tasting of country hams – a platter of 4 different hams, from different regions and aged differently. While American ham will never be Spanish, the platter allows you to compare and contrast different pigs, regions, and approaches to making ham – educational.

Roasted stone bass w/ jersey corn, chanterelles, pancetta, & lima beans – a nice piece of fish w/ some tasty veggies, fairly straight-forward.

Crispy lamb belly & roasted loin – the loin was an excellent piece of lamb from the renowned Four Story Hill Farms, deep in flavor that’s near impossible to find in America. The belly was fried – way too heavy at this point in the meal for me.

Tristar strawberry shortcake – corn, Kendall Farm’s creme fraiche – the strawberries in this dessert were stunning – nearly as flavorful as a wild strawberry.

Blondie pie – This was far too sweet and rich, after eating so many dishes.

The waits can be long but a Momofuku restaurant is always included on my NYC itinerary. Its casualness and price point make it a great spot for lunch and/or a place to enjoy good food with not-foodie friends 3.

- chuck

1 – Yes, David Chang knew we were coming – writing a niche high-end food blog does have its perks.

2 – Yes, we paid full price. Unfortunately, writing a niche high-end food blog could have more perks.

3 – But the heavy metal can be loud, not that I mind.

  • paul

    While i am in no doubt that the food tastes great i cannot see how Momofuku ko deserves 2 Michelin stars i mean Thierry Marx has 2 Michelin stars and is David Chang’s food at that level i think not. Also how Le Bernardin keeps it’s 3 stars is beyond me because if that particular restaurant was in Paris it would be a 2 star joint, same goes for Gordon Ramsay at the London that is not a 2 star place but a 1 star because his food is still stuck in the early 1990′s i just do not get the New York Michelin guide, P.S the only thing i do agree with though is Masa because that is a genuine 3 star restaurant IMO

  • chuckeats

    paul – i can’t say about Ko since i haven’t been but i thought my Thierry Marx (Cordeillan Bages) meal was borderline vile:
    http://www.chuckeats.com/2007/03/16/cordeillan-bages-pauillac-france-cordeillan-capitulation/

    Le Bernardin – i probably agree and Masa – i definitely agree.

  • paul

    Mabey you got him on a bad day because i have eaten there twice in the past and enjoyed it alot, for instance i have eaten at Piere Gagniare twice also and apart from the desserts which is my favorite part of the meal i had two below par 3 star meals if there such thing, yet the best 3 star meal i have eaten to date has been at L’Astrance and i have read on several food blogs that the restuarant can be a bit hit and miss but each to there own i guess

  • jon

    whats even crazier is that maine shrip are out of season, so those had to be frozen. they do freeze well.

  • chuckeats

    jon – it was the sauce (fish/watermelon) that really took me but thanks for the info.

  • http://web.me.com/solve1/StrezzaFoods Sølve Huse

    Great!
    I visited Momofuku noodle bar last spring. While visiting NYC we went to WD-50, Jean George, Tailor, Jewel Bako and momofuku noodle bar. Although quite different, lunch at momofuku had to be one of the most memorable food moments from that trip.
    Inspired by you and other foodbloggers I’ve started a blog myself.

    http://web.me.com/solve1/StrezzaFoods

    Hoping to report from Norwegian restaurants as soon as possible….

  • lujon

    I’m sorry but Momofuku is only impressive to people who’ve never been exposed to Korean food before.

    If you’ve ever even tried authentic korean food in general, you’d realize that Momofuku is basically just a jumble-up of poorly executed modernized korean dishes.

    To the more trained palate, Momofuku is basically a fusion korean restaurant. Really overrated.

  • chuckeats

    Lujon, there are good nights and bad nights. The ingredients at Momofuku are far better than what you find at most, if not all (?), Korean restaurants and the execution is generally better IMO. In your opinion, what are great Korean restaurants in the US?

  • Bisping

    I think the point Lujon was trying to make, is that for people to even label Momofuku as a “Korean” restaurant is a demonstration to their lack of exposure to that country’s cuisine.

    Really only a couple dishes from that restaurant are of Korean origin, one being the rice cakes with spicey pork (Dok Puk Ki) and the other being Ssam.

    Korean food is alot more vast and regionally/temporaly diverse than American diners give it credit for. And for most people who do dine and enjoy a place like Momofuku, they tend to marvel at what they consider to be vastly original dishes. Yet alot of David Chang’s influences are embedded deeply in Korean cuisine (as he admits to in his cookbook prologue).

    For many of these diners, going to Ssam Bar is their first exposure to things like Bibimpahp or Ssam, due to their previous assertions that Korean food consisted of nothing more than table-top barbeque.

  • chuckeats

    Thanks for your comments Bisping. Ironically (?), the only person labeling the food “Korean” was Lujon. I’ve always considered Momo a hybrid of styles, which Chang has alluded to often. People tend to rag that “it’s fusion” but won’t give credit for execution, something lacking at most ethnic places (one reason Next can sell out in 2 minutes w/ a Thai menu.) There’s lot of territory to explore here.

  • chuckeats

    and to add one note – once you introduce execution into the ethnic mix, many are quick to label it fusion, sell-out, non-authentic, etc. they are interesting points to explore.

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