Thursday, March 27, 2008

Vegetarians need not apply.

About a year and a half ago, young chef David Chang opened Momofuku Ssäm Bar on 2nd Avenue and 13th Street, and a cult was born. Those who worship at the altar of pork are eligible, but it takes more than that to become a full-fledged member. You must also be willing to engage in year-long debates over "new paradigms" in restaurant cooking and service, and must be, to a certain extent, willing to fawn a bit over the manly persona Chang has cultivated in the media. I certainly bow down to all things pig, but I haven't really gotten on board with the last two items.

That's not to say that Momofuku Ssäm isn't fantastic - because it is. The food is awesome, the casual, bustling atmosphere is energizing, and the service, while occasionally brusque, is knowledgeable and speedy.

The cooking is hard to pin down into any one cuisine or genre - if pressed, I'd call it Korean-Vietnamese-American fusion. It's a restaurant that serves banh mi alongside Virginia ham, that dresses Brussels sprouts in fish sauce vinaigrette and tops them with chili-dusted Rice Krispies. It is vehemently not vegetarian friendly, and says so right there on the menu. It is very much its own.

On my last visit, I shared a table with Nick, Louisa, my brother Jeremy and my sister-in-law Miriam. We waited a bit for a table (no reservations, unless you've pre-ordered the Bo Ssäm), mostly because Jer was tied up at another drinks thing. Momofuku has a bar, but it's for eating, so we were shown to the back of the restaurant, near the pass, where bar-height tables have been placed to accommodate folks just like us. A bottle of Alsatian cremant later, we took our seats and ordered pretty much the whole menu.

Everything is family-style, down to the chopsticks and napkins, so we all dug in as the food was brought, platter by laden platter, to the table. Everyone had different favorites; Louisa loved the three-terrine banh mi, a super-rich take on the traditional Vietnamese sandwich (which is itself a multi-cultural combination of French technique and Asian ingredients). Jer and Nick were enamored of the pork buns, pillowy mounds of steamed dough sliced open and filled with cucumber pickles and melting pork belly.

My personal favorites were the seasonal pickles, the (two orders of) Brussels sprouts (salt and crunchy and nutty, oh my), and the grilled pork belly. Served with a mustardy sauce, white rice, slivered razor clams and lettuce in which to wrap up all the goodness, it presented my favorite characteristics - hot and cold, soft and crunchy, meaty and tangy. How could I not love it?

Needless to say, we were pretty well and stuffed by the time dinner was over. By the time we were paying the check, a group of blond frat boy types had joined us at the table - we were puzzled to see them there, but, really, that's what building a brand is all about - reaching beyond the acolytes to welcome those from outside of the foodie fold.

In all honesty, it was a really refreshing sight to see.


Louisa Edwards said...

Ooooh...three terrine banh mi....Mmmmmmm....

Meg Blocker said...

Indeed. Grilled pork belly...mmmmm....

Pille said...

Megan, this sounds quite exciting. I'll be in New York for the first time ever in 12 days (staying for 5 days, incl. the weekend), and am looking for various places to visit (food-related, obviously!). I'm travelling on my own, so any suggestions where a girl could happily dine alone (or with friendly natives:) are welcome :)

Meg Blocker said...

Pille, how exciting! I definitely think you should check out Momofuku - you can sit at the bar, which is my favorite way to dine alone.

Other single-dining places to check out:

- Bar Etats-Unis (81st St. and 2nd Ave.), which is really close to the Metropolitan Museum (and the Whitney) and is open from 12-midnight every day but Sunday (when they open at 5)
- Lupa (Thompson between Houston and Bleecker) - excellent Italian food, and, again, a really fun bar to sit at
- Babbo(Waverly between 6th and Macdougal) - Mario Batali's best, and again - REALLY fun bar

Hmmm, can you find a trend here? ;-)

When's the trip?

Pille said...

Megan, already back home:) I was in New York last weekend - in the middle of the 90+ heatwave. NOT the best time to explore that city, for sure..
I had fun though - there was a New York foodbloggers' potluck party in Brooklyn on the 5th, and then I checked out quite a few places suggested by the readers of my blog (shroom burger at Shake Shack; David Lebovitz suggested the pretzel croissant at the City Bakery - did that twice; a pastrami on rye at the Katz Deli etc..)
Will keep your suggestions in mind for the next trip!

Blog Widget by LinkWithin