Momofuku Ssam Bar
207 Second Ave (13th St)
City: New York, NY
Phone: (212) 254-3500
mon – fri /
11:30 am – 3:30 pm
sat – sun /
11:30 am – 3:30 pm
sun – thu / 5 pm – midnight
fri + sat / 5 pm – 1 am
Site: Visit the restaurant site
Area: East Village
It's not the newest kid on the block, doesn't take reservations other than for groups ordering "specials" and some elements like the spare, black wood benches, have become a little worn. What it doesn't have doesn't matter because Momofuko Ssam Bar serves food that transcends ordinary flavors.
Ssam is Korean for "wrapped" and if you want the bo ssam that serves 6-10, you can reserve ahead. This brings a whole slow cooked pork shoulder, a dozen oysters, and two bowls each of white rice, Bibb lettuce, ssäm sauce (Korean bbq sauce), kimchi and ginger scallion sauce with which you will make wraps. Smaller groups can also reserve for the whole rotisserie duck ssam.
For those who walk in, the place is uber-casual with young diners and staff in jeans and t's. The place is always packed from the moment it opens for dinner at 5 PM. Prices are not unreasonably high for the quality of the food and, although drinks drive the tab up, they're worth it. My margarita with silver tequila, agave and lime, the rim dipped into absinthe, beat every other version I've tasted and, served on the rocks, contains a single, huge square ice cube made by hand on a rubber tray.
The ssams are the point here although everything is worth sampling My companion and I shared an order of steamed buns, the pork belly meltingly tender with hoisin, cucumber and scallions that somehow incorporates a smoky taste and also split the buffalo pork buns with crispy pork belly, hot sauce and blue cheese which the server encourages dousing with sriracha sauce for even more kick. Sardines on toast bring the fish on crisp toast fingers dotted with hearts of palm. Like the sardines, the smoked liver mousse is beautiful to behold with currants, maitake, a mushroom, and "red mustard" made of red current meringue mixed with bread crumbs for the perfect crunch. Other dishes on the "spring" part of the menu include the grilled asparagus which the diners near us raved about, tempura soft shell crab with green tomato and roast baby beets with duck prosciutto.
The menu is small-ish meaning the kitchen pays attention to the quality and presentation of each dish. The raw bar offers oysters, peekytoe crab and diver scallops, each with particular flare; the fish section presents xo roasted mackerel with mussels, carrot and cabbage and a whole boneless porgy ssam rendered with ginger-scallion and bean sprouts. Though overall sea-centric, carnivores can opt for grilled flat iron steak, garlic roasted quail with watermelon radish and pork sausage and rice cakes among other dishes. There are a few desserts available including some special "large format" items that need to be ordered ahead. Instead, go around the corner to the Momofuko Milk Bar for soft serve ice cream in cereal milk or cranberry limeade; cookies and slices of heaven like the justly famous crack pie.
The whole Momofuko empire began with Chef and Founder David Chang. The Ssam Bar opened in 2006 and has been repeatedly named one of the World's 50 Best Restaurants. Chang's quarterly news journal, Lucky Peach (the symbol adorns the otherwise plain glass door and sides of the Ssam Bar) is also a whopping success.
Review By: Mari Gold