Friday, November 23, 2012

Momofuku Ssam @ East Village, NYC

With a booking at a three Michelin star restaurant the day after, we realised that there was no stomach and wallet space for David Chang's fine dining establishment; Momofuku Ko, a 125 dollar per person dinner before drinks and tips (not to mention, reservations can only be made one week in advance and also requires an utmost precision in timing the mouse click). You would think surely a person like me, could have soldiered past a 125 dollar meal and time a reservation? I guess I could have but at the back of my mind, I knew there was after all a sibling in Momofuku Seiobo, just an hour flight away up in Sydney. 

But to be in NYC and not visit any of its establishments seem a little lacklustre for a foodie, granted he's one of the trendier, upcoming and famous chefs of today. Luckily, he has built quite a stable of restaurants over the last couple of years and during the flight into NYC, I read up over Wi-Fi (how cool is that?) on the profile of his places and decided to go back to his roots, Momofuku Ssam Bar; the second place he opened up, ranked #38 in the World's 50 Best Restaurants, the place where Anthony Bourdain reviewed in No Reservations back in 2009 and a stumble across his latest Momofuku Milkbar (more on that later).   


There's a theme in most of his restaurants, a few substantial items that are available with pre-ordering (imagine whole duck, pork butt or two fried chicken), a few larger items for sharing and a number of tapas sized and priced dishes. Cuisine wise, some call it fusion, while others call it an asian inspired posh version of dude food (whatever that means). If anything, its like Korea meets America on a small plate. 



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We started off with some fresh oysters paired with a kombu mignonette, a vinegar dressing. As fresh and tasty as good oysters would be.

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Next was an interesting take on sea urchin in an edible wrapper, with heirloom tomatoes, cantaloupe and shiso. At first glance, it looked like there were too many things on the plate to distract the sweetness of the creamy delicacy but put everything together, we still got the freshness of the seafood complimented by whatever was on the plate. A good start. 

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David Chang is well known for his love with pork and him being a Korean means putting both together in an apple kimchi and bacon side if you would. Not as pungent and tarty as traditional kim chi would be for the purists but you can see why people can get so worked up over his style of cuisine.

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In Italy, you eat prosciutto, In USA, you eat ham. Served alongside some bread and a savoury coffee paste that tasted more like toast. We all agreed that the ham was way too salty for our liking (personal preference). 

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What we were all waiting for, the infamous Momofuku steam buns - pork belly, cucumbers, scallions and hoisin sauce. I can see why this was so famous back in the day with the locals but since young, we have been dipping man taos in braised pork sauce and eating it with pork ribs / belly, so this was nothing special. Matter of fact, we couldn't detect the hoi sin sauce and the chilli sauce didn't exactly make it better.  

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I vaguely remember this as an off cut piece of pork but was impressed how it turned out to be so elegant; slow cooked and deep fried, genius. 

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A staple Korean product, duboki or rice cakes. Deep fried here and tossed along with some spicy sausages and sprinkled with plenty of fried shallots. This dish was moreish despite the fact that it was rather fiery too. 

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Somewhat disappointed at the server's suggestion of the whole fish; porgy (sea bream) with fish stock and topped with a myriad of vegetables. The fish stock tasted more like a watered down soya sauce dressing that we get when you order steam fish in a chinese restaurant. While the toppings was refreshing, light and a hint of citrus, it didn't do enough to lift the dish beyond average. 

So dinner didn't exactly end on a high note. Did I think it was worth the #38 spot in the world 50? No. Would I queue hours? No. 

However given that we barely had to wait 5 minutes for our table, had a good time, left the place, paying around 40 dollars a person and the right to boast that I have dined in one of David Chang's restaurant, I would still come again in a heartbeat (but be a little tactical with the dishes). 

Address and contact details:

Momofuku Ssäm Bar on Urbanspoon

Verdict: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars. I guess the closest thing we have got in Melbourne in terms of style (and that I have been to) is Huxtable or to a certain extent a Korean version of Chin Chin. If I have to compare, Momofuku Ssam on some levels were heaps better (thinking the sea urchin and the off cut pork) while I definitely had a better cod dish in Huxtable (compared to the steam porgy). To each its own. 

2 comments:

Winston said...

Hah! Good to hear your honest thoughts about this place. I don't mind trying places that are really good for a higher price. But sometimes, I just wish ppl had given me a warning about it first in case it ain't good, esp so I don't end up waiting in line for something meh. Menu options still look pretty interesting to me =)

"Joe" who is constantly craving said...

winston: yeah theres too many places out there that has been hyped up to cult status and then falls flat when you actually visit. of course this place was just worth visiting considering the name attached to the place!