Thursday, December 31, 2009

Bring on the pork (and the pickles, and the sprouts)!

As I mentioned yesterday, we had quite a crowd here in New York for the holiday last week. Family, friends - you name it, they came. For dinner on the Wednesday before Christmas Eve, I'd made us a reservation for Momofuku Ssäm Bar's famous Bo Ssäm dinner. The Bo Ssäm is the only way to make a reservation ahead of time (much like the fried chicken dinner at Momofuku Noodle Bar), and is quite the event: a Berkshire pork shoulder, smothered in sugar and spices and slow-roasted, a dozen raw oysters, rice, kimchi, condiments, and lettuce in which to wrap it all up.

But we'd have be remiss if we didn't sample some of the other menu items, wouldn't we? (The answer is, yes, we would.) In order to prevent such a situation, we provisioned ourselves with some tasty items from the regular menu. First, and most deliciously, the fried brussels sprouts. Deep fried and dressed in a fish sauce vinaigrette, the sprouts are then topped with chili-dusted crisped rice. Crispy, salty, spicy heaven. We ordered two bowlfuls, and I ate mine with Sriracha.

Next up, another old favorite, and a particular obsession of my little brother, Jeremy. The steamed pork buns. I love these buns (though I'm now slightly more in love with the mushroom buns at Noodle Bar), but not without - you guessed it - a healthy glug of my beloved Sriracha. The spiciness brings the crisp, lightly-pickled cucumbers and fatty pork belly into stark, perfect relief. Without it, the buns are a bit flat for my taste.

Bread and butter is an obvious must, and Momofuku's version, predictably, takes things way over the top. Warm, crackly baguette compliments rich, creamy butter (topped with musky black pepper) and whipped lardo (cured, rendered pig fat, people) (topped with red pepper). The butter is perfect as-is, but the lardo is brought to life by a sprinkle of salt.

After two orders of seasonal pickles (so popular they didn't even make it to my camera) and several gorgeous cocktails poured by the incomparable Don Lee (The Reverend Palmer, made with tea-infused bourbon, lemon syrup and bitters, is my new obsession), it was time for the main event.

One by one, the waiters set the components of the Bo Ssäm down on the table. First up, the dozen oysters, which were destined to be tucked inside our little lettuce wraps. Next came the lettuce itself, along with the four different condiments: kimchi, pureed kimchi, barbecue sauce and ginger scallion sauce (which also made an appearance at our fried chicken dinner).

Then, alongside two bowls of steamed white rice (nice and sticky) came the big piece of meat. There's no other way to describe it, really - it's a giant, gorgeous, hunk of pork. Crispy and sweet and fatty, it's tender all the way through and covered with a delicious, chewy skin. It is, in a word, fantastic in its pure, indulgent porkiness.

My favorite combination was lettuce, rice, a bit of kimchi, some barbecue sauce, and a squeeze of Sriracha. Can't forget the Sriracha.

After stuffing ourselves silly (between the ten of us, we finished about 7/8 of the shoulder), we turned down the offer of dessert, but accepted a round of eggnog. Light and fluffy (for eggnog, of course) and just slightly boozy, it was a great way to end what was, no doubt, the most over-the-top meal of the week. Sigh. Bo Ssäm, how I do love thee.

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