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Momofuku Ssäm Bar (2006–2007)


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[Also: I'm 26. David Chang is 29. We like the same music (Pavement, Pixies, other indie rock wonders) and food (his, obviously).

Are those people anything like Julie Andrews?

Exactly. in fact, Chang is so much like Julie Andrews that when they film Ssam Bar, the Musical, there will be a massive scandal because Colin Farrell will be chosen to play the starring role instead of Chang himself.

edit: also like Ms. Andrews in Viktor/Viktoria...there is some gender and sibling-related confusion with the White Stripes.

Edited by Nathan (log)
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While I certainly enjoyed Ssam Bar, I was not transported to orgasmic levels of ecstasy, as some of the "buzz" would lead you to expect. That was 2½ months ago, and I know the menu changes rapidly, so my experience might not be relevant today.

My visit also pre-dated the Bruni review, and while there was already a lot of attention on this place, it wasn't quite at the stratospheric level it has now reached. When expectations are so insanely high, first-time visitors are probably ripe for disappointment.

Its not Per Se...its simply not going to live up to three hour drive each way expectations.... It is however, in my view, some of the best food in the city right now.

Taste can't be proved or disproved, but I find this difficult to believe. Since my visit to Ssam Bar, I've been to The Modern, Country, Daniel, and Eleven Madison Park. If money were no object, I'd choose any one of them above Ssam Bar. In. A. Heartbeat.

Obviously, money is a factor for most of us. It's nice to know that you can waltz into Ssam Bar any night of the week, wearing whatever you want to wear, and have a very good meal at a fraction of the cost that other places charge for comparable quality.

While The Modern, Country, Daniel, and EMP were my four best meals of the year so far, I certainly had others that were very good, came close to or met Ssam Bar's general level of excellence, and took place in much more enjoyable surroundings.

I wouldn't say Ssam Bar is an emperor with no clothes. It thoroughly deserves all the praise it has received. But some of the praise seems to me over-the-top.

This post says very clearly what I tried to convey. Clearly this restaurant resonates very strongly with some and less so with others. I and the others with me fit into the latter category. I found the food to be good, though not extraordinary. While I feel that surroundings amongst other factors play into how one receives food, I have enjoyed wonderful food in less than ideal surroundings and been disappointed with food in otherwise perfect conditions. I have also championed restaurants that others have been less enthusiastic about. Such is life and that is one of the things that makes it interesting. I am glad that I tried MSB, but it will not be a place that I will make a point of getting back to for its own sake with the limited time I get to dine in NYC. That being said. under the right circumstances I wouldn't rule out a return either. I didn't dislike the place, I just didn't like it as much as many who have posted on this topic.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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3) Doc also brings up an interesting point about the relative value of individual dishes. I find that that going in with a party of four lets you sample a really large number of dishes and pay only $40 per person. The value proposition is best when spread out over a number of dishes.

I don't see what that has to do with the way something taste. I simply stating that it was OK and there are better version at lesser venues. Nevermind the cost.

"I could get a good look at a cow if I stick my head up the butchers ass. No wait. I could get a.........aghhh Nevermind" This discussion is now mute.

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3) Doc also brings up an interesting point about the relative value of individual dishes. I find that that going in with a party of four lets you sample a really large number of dishes and pay only $40 per person. The value proposition is best when spread out over a number of dishes.

I don't see what that has to do with the way something taste. I simply stating that it was OK and there are better version at lesser venues. Nevermind the cost.

"I could get a good look at a cow if I stick my head up the butchers ass. No wait. I could get a.........aghhh Nevermind" This discussion is now mute.

with all respect...we weren't just responding to you. and you did bring up price (the $3.25 Bahn Mi at Bahn Mi #1 which was $3.00..until recently). fwiw, I used to live on Elizabeth and Spring and have eaten from Bahn Mi #1 at least 50 times. imo, the Bahn Mi is better at Ssam Bar...now is it 4 times better? maybe not. I would agree that it's not something I would probably bother to order at Ssam Bar again. but the brussel sprouts, the mackerel, the uni, the bo ssam...ok, I'm going again this weekend!

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Rather than trying to convince Doc, Sucio, and others that this place is as great as some of us think it is, I'm just going to sit back quietly, and be at least a little bit thankful that not everyone thinks this place is the shit.

Hell, I'm going again this weekend, too. It's been a few weeks.

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  • 4 weeks later...

More pics. Things have been busy, photo posting lags. Three terrine banh mi, grilled asparagus, chawan mushi, apple salad.

Interesting note: they stopped serving the Maldon sea salt with the bread and butter. When asked, they said that people weren't using it at all. Our server gladly supplied us with a little bowl upon request.

Damned diners...

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Ned:

I really enjoyed the sweetbreads here. I'm not sure I can add any more than what's already in the pic's caption. The presentation varies. On another night the strips were chopped up a bit. Either way, it always ends up looking a bit like grilled chicken, which I find amusing... but most importantly, I really like the texture and flavor. I like it, I think, more than the "popcorn sweetbreads" at the original Momofuku.

I like the char, the salt, the spiciness... in stark contrast to the stuff I tried recently at Landmarc.

I'll probably be there again this week and what with all this talk of sweetbreads, I'll most likely order them again. I'd be curious to hear your opinion should you try them.

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  • 2 weeks later...

some of the new spring dishes are dazzling.

highly recommend the fried artichokes with sardines with a walnut sauce. this dish simply works. especially if you ask for some lemon or lime to go with (the acidity completes it).

the sweetbreads are superb (and I'm not a sweetbread guy).

crawfish in a "Sichuan broth" were pretty good but probably not worth the effort.

the new rice cake dish (with very juicy clams, bacon and ramps) is awesome.

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some of the new spring dishes are dazzling.

highly recommend the fried artichokes with sardines with a walnut sauce.  this dish simply works.  especially if you ask for some lemon or lime to go with (the acidity completes it).

the sweetbreads are superb (and I'm not a sweetbread guy). 

crawfish in a "Sichuan broth" were pretty good but probably not worth the effort.

the new rice cake dish (with very juicy clams, bacon and ramps) is awesome.

How have the sweetbreads changed?

I love crawfish and thought the dish was quite good if you dripped the meat back into the broth after taking it out.

Wasn't all that impressed with the rice cake dish. The cakes themselves could have been cut shorter, as they were rather awkward to eat, and I found that the Benton's bacon really dominated the dish.

"I'll put anything in my mouth twice." -- Ulterior Epicure
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I haven't had the sweetbreads there before.

Aw, I see! They are quite good, and I find them a good "intro to sweetbreads" for folks who are a bit squeamish. Something about the grill marks helps soothe the soul, as does the salt + lime combo.

Mr. Chang was in the NY Times today, too. Rising Star Knows What, Not Who, Is Cooking:

“I don’t believe in that whole superstar celebrity chef thing,” he says. “I’ve worked in too many kitchens where the egos got in the way of the food. I appreciate the honor; it’s amazing, but it’s also surreal and absurd. Sometimes I feel like I’m on ‘The Truman Show.’ I always considered myself one of the worst cooks in any kitchen I ever worked at.”

...

[Momofuku Ssam Bar] had its debut last year as a fast-food figment of Mr. Chang’s imagination but has since bowed to market demand, offering a format he snidely — he is quite the self-deprecator — refers to as “bad fusion.”

“My last good idea was my worst idea; every time my ego comes into it, it hinders the restaurant,” he says. “Turns out the people in this neighborhood want real food, not fast food. We just want to make great food at an affordable price. And we don’t copy. I’ve got the Emersonian take on that: Imitation is suicide.”

"I'll put anything in my mouth twice." -- Ulterior Epicure
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Ned:

I really enjoyed the sweetbreads here. I'm not sure I can add any more than what's already in the pic's caption. The presentation varies. On another night the strips were chopped up a bit. Either way, it always ends up looking a bit like grilled chicken, which I find amusing... but most importantly, I really like the texture and flavor. I like it, I think, more than the "popcorn sweetbreads" at the original Momofuku.

I like the char, the salt, the spiciness... in stark contrast to the stuff I tried recently at Landmarc.

I'll probably be there again this week and what with all this talk of sweetbreads, I'll most likely order them again. I'd be curious to hear your opinion should you try them.

Better late than never.

I found them weak. They looked awful on the plate and the--I'm going to call it--thai seasoning package felt like an add-on rather than as integrel to the dish. They were cooked ok but not great. In general, compared to many of the other items on the menu which are very considered, the sweetbreads seemed to me a bit underthunk.

You shouldn't eat grouse and woodcock, venison, a quail and dove pate, abalone and oysters, caviar, calf sweetbreads, kidneys, liver, and ducks all during the same week with several cases of wine. That's a health tip.

Jim Harrison from "Off to the Side"

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Notes on the latest incarnation of the menu:

- Seconding the fried artichokes dish (it's a replacement for the brussel sprouts)

- The Mayan Prawns with egg vinaigrette are quite tasty -- thick, succulent prawn meat, that's reminiscent of lobster, with an oily vingaigrette that I found addictive.

- The oysters seem to fluctuate a fit -- I found that the kimchee consomme goes better with the Maine oysters as they're briny-er

- The lamb belly with preserved lemon is excellent, and making me wonder about my devotion to pork belly

- Spare ribs are on the menu! But they were out when I went last.

- They also seem to be doing a hamachi kama (yellowtail collar) often but they're always out when I'm there.

- I still miss the apple salad, though. Alas. The waitstaff say that there was a lot of grumbling from customers when it disappeared for the season.

"I'll put anything in my mouth twice." -- Ulterior Epicure
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kathryn,

You know you're very lucky to live so close to MSB! I'm envious.

I asked this on your flickr, and you responded (thanks), but I thought I'd offer this question again for the benefit of the thread here on eG: have you noticed a terrible increase in the crowds subsequent Chang's Beard award?

- The lamb belly with preserved lemon is excellent, and making me wonder about my devotion to pork belly
Are the flavors in anyway North-African-inspired?
- I still miss the apple salad, though. Alas. The waitstaff say that there was a lot of grumbling from customers when it disappeared for the season.
Perhaps they'll re-appear when they're in season? I better make plans for a fall visit! :smile: Edited by ulterior epicure (log)

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

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I've been there before and after the award.

no difference. its always crowded.

frankly, a JB award isn't gonna make a difference for a restaurant...the set of people who follow the JB awards largely overlaps the set of people who already knew all about it and went there.

I would imagine the single event that made the most difference was the Times review.

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Mimi Sheraton has filed a complaint with Eater about her experience at Momofuku Ssam...

Not yet able to get to either of his restaurants at night when the real action is supposed to take place, I dropped in at Ssam for lunch a few weeks ago. The staff assured me that at night it is an entirely different place, menu and all, but some of his touted specialties were on the lunch menu. Most especially, there was "The Original Momofuku Ssam" with Berkshire pork, pickled shiitake, red kimchi puree, etc." So I ordered it.

It was a messy, stewy wrap of steam table foods, much overcooked and characterless...

The wrong time, you say? But how wrong should anytime be when a place is open for business? ... If Mr. Chang cannot turn out better food for lunch due to certain limitations, why is he open at all at that time?

Not having eaten at Momofuku Ssam for lunch (and only once at dinner time), I really can't say anything in support or denial of her claim, though I do trust Ms. Sheraton when it comes to these things. And I can't help but agree with her about that last point - if you can't deliver a quality lunch, then don't serve it.

Click here to read the full text of her note to Eater.

"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

Queenie Takes Manhattan

eG Foodblogs: 2006 - 2007

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yeah, I read that. she's wrong, but it was an understandable mistake.

she's obviously unfamiliar with the history of Momofuku Ssam.

I don't find lunch very interesting...but some people like it. the ssam served at lunch (not traditional Korean ssam wrapped in lettuce, unlike some at dinner) is pretty boring. they also serve it at lunch at Momofuku Noodle (and have for years). the dinner which we all get excited about was originally not offered at all and then was offered only after 10:15 PM (I believe this was the plan all along). when commercial reality set in, Chang brought the dinner menu down to 6 PM.

but, Momofuku Ssam bar was originally intended to be the progenitor of a faux-burrito chain. seriously. but dinner has nothing to do with that now.

as for the ssam served at lunch...some people like it...they like at it Noodle Bar. but it's not the same people in the kitchen (by and large) and it really has nothing to do with the dinner menu. he's just offering wraps for lunch for people who want them.

(I think what really misled Ms. Sheraton is the "Ssam" in the name of the restaurant)

in sum, the basic retort to Ms. Sheraton is that there are two different restaurants at Ssam Bar, at lunch it is a fast food joint (in fact it was initially directly modeled on Qdoba/Chipotle -- right down to the ordering method), at dinner it is a serious restaurant. she went to the wrong one. yeah, maybe lunch should be better...but it's roughly (very roughly) analogous to confusing Bouchon Bakery with Per Se (yes, people have done so). heck, there seems to be a general consensus that Bar Masa isn't very good...but no one seems to take Masa to task for it. same thing.

edit: part of the problem here is Chang's labeling. many people have complained about the ramen at Momofuku Noodle Bar not being authentic or especially great (it's pretty good though). of course, noodles aren't where the action on that menu is. I think Chang likes a little misdirection.

Edited by Nathan (log)
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edit: part of the problem here is Chang's labeling.  many people have complained about the ramen at Momofuku Noodle Bar not being authentic or especially great (it's pretty good though).  of course, noodles aren't where the action on that menu is.  I think Chang likes a little misdirection.

Though I like to think of myself as someone with a well-developed sense of irony and blessed with a healthy appreciation for sarcasm and general tomfoolery, I can't see that as anything but lame (not on your part, Nathan, but on Chang's part) if it is indeed true. Misdirection? For what purpose? Ha, ha - fooled you! Now you're stuck with a poopy lunch that's nothing like what you thought it would be?!? :wink:

Edited to correct my spelling; though I'm a laugh, I apparently cannot type.

"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

Queenie Takes Manhattan

eG Foodblogs: 2006 - 2007

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I don't think it was originally misdirection qua misdirection.

he really did plan it as a fast food faux-burrito joint modeled on Qdoba/Chipotle. I think that side of the restaurant is perfectly attackable. It was a dumb idea.

but he didn't change the name when he changed the concept. it doesn't help that "ssam" is a rather broad nomenclature in Korean cuisine.

edit: to be fair to Ms. Sheraton, if you don't follow this stuff closely it's easy to make the mistake she did (as did Randall Lane). it also doesn't help that it's a "New Paradigm" restaurant. it's not like people are going around saying "Momofuku Ssam is amazing! but it's a fast food joint at lunch, we're not talking about that!" they're just saying the first part and assuming that people know the difference.

Edited by Nathan (log)
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I don't think it was originally misdirection qua misdirection.

Fair enough. And, BTW, this is my new favorite quote for the day.

ETA: Though I wouldn't put my money on Sheraton not following the history of the place. I'd be more likely to guess that she knows, and doesn't care, and still believes that a restaurant should put out a good meal whenever it's open, regardless of how different the lunch menu is from the dinner one. She most likely gets the idea of "a new paradigm," but doesn't think it's any excuse for a crappy lunch.

"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

Queenie Takes Manhattan

eG Foodblogs: 2006 - 2007

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yeah, I read that.  she's wrong, but it was an understandable mistake.

she's obviously unfamiliar with the history of Momofuku Ssam.

You know, it's possible — just possible — that Mimi Sheraton is more up-to-date than you give her credit for. She's not exactly new at this.

It's also possible — just possible — that the bloom is wearing off of David Chang's rose, and not every reaction to his work is going to be 100% rapturous. Ed Levine's post yesterday, though not about the food, is indicative of this trend.

In her note to Eater, Sheraton indicated she was aware that Ssam Bar (like many restaurants) could be different at lunch. But her argument (and how can you disagree with it?) is that if a restaurant is open to paying customers, it is open to criticism if it's serving anything less than its "best."

I'll bet Mimi Sheraton isn't the only person showing up at lunch expecting a purported two-star James Beard rising-star experience. Is every guest supposed to acquire a "history of the restaurant" before they visit?

It also doesn't help that it's a "New Paradigm" restaurant.

A concept whose very existence is, to date, accepted by only handful of people (and even that may be stretching it). Edited by oakapple (log)
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