Ssam- literally translated means anything that is wrapped or encircled.
Momfuku – literally translated means lucky peach.
They must be referring to how this unassuming little restaurant encircles your heart and wraps your taste buds around such delight, and how lucky you are to have found this place!
Momofuku Ssam is one of 4 restaurants under the David Chang Momofuku umbrella. There is Ssam, Noodle Bar, Ko and Bakery -Milk Bar.
The Spoon has been itching to try this place. When it was time for a new review, this is the first place that was suggested – again. I relented. I mean, really, what is a Fork supposed to do!?
Very unassuming front. Without the peach logo on the door you would never know it was there. When you walk into this rather dark establishment you notice that there is a bar withbackless stools, high tables with backless stools, and small picnic tables with (yes, you guessed it) backless stools. Okay, the menu didn’t jump at me before we got here and now uncomfortable seating.
We were able to sit at the far end of the bar where we could sit across from each other as opposed to side by side. So a little better. Under the bar directly in front of you is a hook, great place to put a handbag or light jacket.
The all important question – Do you have iced tea? No, we don’t. Okay, not a little better. No soda either. Actually, their selection of non-alcoholic drinks is sad! We asked for tap water. And I must say, in their favor, the glass never got to the halfway point without an instant fill-up.
And I am looking at the menu, and looking at the menu, and I am just not seeing all the possibilities that Spoon is seeing. There are times when you just have to put your trust in someone else’s hands and this was going to be one of them. Order what you will, says the Fork. I was hoping not to gag on those words!! Then again, the menu is pork, pork, pork, oh yes, and pork – how bad could it be!?
By the way, the menu changes daily. Many of the items stay regularly – like the pork buns – but the menu changes with the seasons and what can be found locally. And while this restaurant has a definite Asian influence, it is not strictly Asian – no sushi or egg rolls here!
After they seat you at the bar, they slide over a pile of paper napkins, a jar of chopsticks, and a little squeeze bottle of hot sauce.
We ordered steamed buns and a bbq rib sandwich to start, and spicy pork sausage with crispy rice cake and fried chicken for mains.
The first thing brought over was the rib sandwich with red onion slaw. It is a party in your mouth! The bbqsauce is slightly sweet with just a sneak of heat at the end. The pork so tender and falling apart. And enough cannot be said about the slaw on top. The sandwich is definitely moreish! A few little splashes of the hot sauce and you are good to go. You think, can they top this – and the answer is OH, YES THEY CAN!!
And we’re waiting and gazing longingly and with huge interest at any and every dish passing us. The dishes are plated so beautifully you aren’t sure whether you want to eat them or just look at them for a while.
The next dish that was brought to our table was the pork buns. This is a pork belly with hoisin sauce, cucumbers and scallions ensconced in strange little Wonder Bread lookinglittle pillows. Okay, I know what you’re thinking, they don’t look like much or all that exciting. That is exactly what I thought when they were placed in front of me. The pork belly is so flavorful and just the right amount of CRUNCH. The hoisin sauce coupled with the scallions andcucumbers just make this the perfect sandwich. You so want to take little bites so that you don’t get to the last bite. We thought about ordering more, but thought we’d wait until we finished everything we ordered, if there was room we’d ask for another order. The nice thing about these is that they can be ordered next door at Bakery to go. When we adventured in there after dinner I took a few home to the ravenous child and they were devoured in seconds.
So my initial thoughts and dislike of this place has been changed andI found myself longing for the next dishes to arrive.
Next came the Spicy Pork Sausage & Crispy Rice Cakes. The waiter warned us to remove the chilis from the bowl before we began eating, and a good thing we did! The operative word here is SPICY. Blast your tongue out of your mouth hot. But can’t stop eating it good! It is served almost like a stew in a bowl heaping full. Al0ng with the sausage there is Chinese broccoli, crispy bits of shallots and these small, cylindrical, crispy rice cakes. Now don’t even get the thought in your head that these are those dry, rice hockey pucks that dieters fool themselves into believing are good. This is a whole different ball game! After a while the searing heat gives way to just this wonderful umami on the tongue. We had a bit left, we weren’t shy, we wrapped it up to take home!
Now I am on the edge of my seat!! More! More!! Please, sir, I want some MORE!! Although we are getting quite full, we are disappointed in knowing there is only one dish left – Bell & Evan’s Chicken Fried Chicken with ramps, morels and egg. I still haven’t learned my lesson. I have tasted surprise after surprise and I was still doubting what could be brought to the table. Placed before us was this lovely looking dish with two boneless pieces of chicken fried chicken, underneath were the morels, which were sauteed, and atop were pickled ramps. I had never had ramps before and I have now been on a mission to find them. They whole thing sat in a pool of poached egg yolk. This was the perfect dish to end this culinary adventure on. The desserts at Ssam did nothing for us and we had another adventure in mind.
By the way, throughout the entirety of this meal we kept being attacked by the loveliest fragrance of chocolate. Right next to Ssam is Bakey-Milk Bar. You can enter it from the restaurant or right out on 13th Street. Here you can buy the Pork Buns to Go. But they also have GREAT bakery items. If you go try the Candy Bar Pie and the Crack Pie (aptly named). We didn’t try the cakes, it was late and there wasn’t much of a selection – next time!
We’re thinking of getting a group together to go for the Bo Ssam – a whole pork butt, oysters, kimchi, rice, lettuce and assorted goodies andsauces. We saw a group being served this and it looks and smells amazing! Downside? It’s $200!!
The only downside of this restaurant were the bathrooms! If you can at all avoid it, please do. They are so tiny that you have to maneuver around the toilet to close the door and when you do you set off the hand drier! Also, while I believe that men and women can easily share most things, a public toilet isn’t one of them! There are two and the night we were there both had SERIOUS issues.\
AND NOW THERE’S A COOKBOOK! Momofuku
Momofuku Ssam is located at 207 2nd Avenue, corner of East 13th Street. They do not take reservations. To order the bo ssam you need to call in advance ~ 212.254.3500