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Momofuku Ssäm Bar (2006–2007)


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I must concur with Mr. Kinsey. There are plenty of restaurants where you need to have intel in order to get the best meal. Indeed, it's hard to think of a restaurant where that isn't the case, which may be why I bothered to write a whole book on the subject of how to get the most out of restaurants by going beyond the "walk in off the street and take a wild uneducated guess" approach.

How does that impact on the greatness or lack thereof of a restaurant? I'm of two minds about that, and I'm not sure I've consistently applied a rational scheme to the problem. For now, I think I'll just take it as a fact of life.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Well, why shoudn't the patrons know?  They know when they go to a place like Per Se that they're gonna drop some major cash.  They know when they go to a Grand Sichuan that they're getting some kind of Chinese food.  They know when the go to Joe's Shanghai that they're waiting on line to get soup dumplings, so why shouldn't they know when they go to Ssam bar at lunch, they're pretty much getting a ssam?

And... If say they don't know, why can't they just go, figure out that they aren't getting brussel sprouts at 1pm and just say, "Oh - okay, I'll make a point to come back some day after 5" ? In the mean time, they can just get a nice little rice bowl, or walk a few blocks to Noodle Bar if they are looking for a little bit more polish. Like, what's the big deal?

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What I said was that Ssam Bar is going to attract more & more patrons who don't know—and can't be presumed to know—that the lunch menu is so fundamentally different that it amounts to a separate restaurant.

Well, why shoudn't the patrons know? They know when they go to a place like Per Se that they're gonna drop some major cash. They know when they go to a Grand Sichuan that they're getting some kind of Chinese food. They know when the go to Joe's Shanghai that they're waiting on line to get soup dumplings, so why shouldn't they know when they go to Ssam bar at lunch, they're pretty much getting a ssam?

There's always the old "reasonable man" test. If someone goes into Per Se for a quick burger and fries, that's not reasonable. If someone goes into Joe's Shanghai, and doesn't know it's a Chinese restaurant, that's not reasonnable.

But it's not normal for a restaurant's lunch menu to be so different from its dinner menu, that it amounts to two different restaurants. One could quite reasonably walk into Ssam Bar, with the very sane assumption that some version of the dinner menu—perhaps slimmed down, but still recognizable—is available at lunch.

It is always helpful to be an educated consumer. But restaurant dining shouldn't be a research project. It can be highly rewarding if you happen to have the time and inclination for it (as most of us here do), but it isn't essential at any fine restaurant, and never should be. If you say "X is great...but you have to know when to go, and what to order," it's equivalent to saying "X, for the most part, is mediocre."

Edited by oakapple (log)
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I'm headed out to NYC next week for vacation and this restaurant is on my list of places to go.  What would be the best day(s) & time to go, so to avoid major lineups?  And they don't take reservations, right?  I've got a flexible schedule and am willing to plan an evening around dinner there.  I'd prefer to go for dinner rather than lunch though.  Thanks, folks!

Beebs - The best time to go to avoid a lineup is probably when it first opens (for the dinner menu) at 5pm, which it does on a daily basis. Have fun! :)

or after 10. frankly, though, as part of a group of 2 or less, I've never had to wait longer than 20-25 minutes.

Thanks, guys! I can't wait! :smile:

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What I said was that Ssam Bar is going to attract more & more patrons who don't know—and can't be presumed to know—that the lunch menu is so fundamentally different that it amounts to a separate restaurant.

Well, why shoudn't the patrons know? They know when they go to a place like Per Se that they're gonna drop some major cash. They know when they go to a Grand Sichuan that they're getting some kind of Chinese food. They know when the go to Joe's Shanghai that they're waiting on line to get soup dumplings, so why shouldn't they know when they go to Ssam bar at lunch, they're pretty much getting a ssam?

There's always the old "reasonable man" test. If someone goes into Per Se for a quick burger and fries, that's not reasonable. If someone goes into Joe's Shanghai, and doesn't know it's a Chinese restaurant, that's not reasonnable.

But it's not normal for a restaurant's lunch menu to be so different from its dinner menu, that it amounts to two different restaurants. One could quite reasonably walk into Ssam Bar, with the very sane assumption that some version of the dinner menu—perhaps slimmed down, but still recognizable—is available at lunch.

It is always helpful to be an educated consumer. But restaurant dining shouldn't be a research project. It can be highly rewarding if you happen to have the time and inclination for it (as most of us here do), but it isn't essential at any fine restaurant, and never should be. If you say "X is great...but you have to know when to go, and what to order," it's equivalent to saying "X, for the most part, is mediocre."

I'll put it this way, 90% of the food served at Momofuku Ssam Bar is great. but then I don't have a position on Mt. Sinai that allows me to decree "Chang is an overrated chef because I had one lunch item and it sucked" and then have it posted on Eater followed by three pages of discussion on egullet.

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But restaurant dining shouldn't be a research project. It can be highly rewarding if you happen to have the time and inclination for it (as most of us here do), but it isn't essential at any fine restaurant, and never should be. If you say "X is great...but you have to know when to go, and what to order," it's equivalent to saying "X, for the most part, is mediocre."

But in essence, if they're going to a David Chang restaurant, some sort of research has already been done. Just do a little more.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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But restaurant dining shouldn't be a research project.

But in essence, if they're going to a David Chang restaurant, some sort of research has already been done. Just do a little more.

This perpetuates the unfortunate myth that David Chang's restaurants are somehow a paradigm unto themselves. Obviously, a pre-planned meal at any restaurant implies some level of forethought. That includes very casual levels of planning, such as "Hey, I hear that Momofuku guy won some kind of award. Let's check it out." If you're calling that "research" ... ... okay.

The peculiar way David Chang is running his restaurant is counter-intuitive. Offhand, I can't actually think of another one like it; it's certainly not the norm. If it's a "New Paradigm," that paradigm isn't so well known that you can just presume everyone knows about it. Chang is going to have more people like Mimi Sheraton coming in at lunch, and leaving perplexed. He's a big boy, and can decide for himself whether that's what he wants.

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Speaking for myself, as someone who has the utmost respect for Mimi Sheraton, the reason I find her comments disappointing is that I always hope someone in her position, with her stature, will join the team that's championing interesting, forward-thinking restaurants -- just as I'd be saddened to see her slam Alinea, doubly so if based on a weird sample.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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having been to dinner there a number of times, I can tell you that "normal people" aren't ordering burritos at dinner.  (except for buns and lettuce bowls, they're the only option at lunch.) 

Really? I see people ordering the tortilla Ssams all of the time at dinner. Usually it's in conjunction with the steamed buns and 1-2 other dishes, but they're quite popular, even at dinner.

I guess I should lean over and ask if they'd been to Ssam Bar before, and if not, if they assumed the Ssam was the star dish to get?

Edited by kathryn (log)
"I'll put anything in my mouth twice." -- Ulterior Epicure
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There's always the old "reasonable man" test. If someone goes into Per Se for a quick burger and fries, that's not reasonable. If someone goes into Joe's Shanghai, and doesn't know it's a Chinese restaurant, that's not reasonable.

It's not the job of every restaurant in the world to conform to average expectations and knowledge. There are places that do conform to general averages or certain demographic averages (Gramercy Tavern and Union Square Cafe for moderately well-off residents of and visitors to New York City, aka the people who vote in the Zagat survey) but beyond that it's a mixed bag.

Those who insist on having their expectations met should limit themselves to certain kinds of restaurants. It doesn't matter how much you know, if you're not flexible and adaptable you're going to be unhappy outside of your comfort zone. People with that sort of disposition should stick with, for example, Michelin three-star places, or standard-issue brasseries, or run-of-the-mill steakhouses, or McDonald's, or whatever restaurants cater to their needs. Those restaurants have well-established vernaculars -- well-established dos and don'ts: don't order the salmon at a steakhouse, or, if you do order salmon at a steakhouse don't be so presumptuous as to condemn the steakhouse if the salmon sucks.

For those who are willing to step outside of their comfort zones, however, there are a lot of rewards. That means accepting restaurants on their terms in order to get the best out of them. It means realizing that the "don't order salmon in a steakhouse" rule is not the only rule -- that there may be rules you don't know and have to learn, like the "don't go to Momofuku Ssam Bar for lunch if you want to experience the best of the restaurant" rule. Think of Momo-Ssam as an unfamiliar "ethnic" restaurant with its own set of rules. If you went to a place in Koreatown and they had bizarre rules and rituals like "no pork at lunch, even though all our best dishes are pork dishes," you'd say okay, this is how they do it, I'll come for dinner -- at least that's what you'd say if you had good restaurant sense. You wouldn't start complaining that "this place is soooooo overrated!" Maybe if there was no way for you to find out the rule -- nobody speaks English, there are no easily obtainable sources, they try to hide the ball from you -- then you'd be forgiven for your hasty generalization. But there's no great mystery to finding out the Momo-Ssam rule. The menu is in English, the media saturation is over the top, the knowledge is so easy to find you have to try to avoid it.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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having been to dinner there a number of times, I can tell you that "normal people" aren't ordering burritos at dinner.  (except for buns and lettuce bowls, they're the only option at lunch.) 

Really? I see people ordering the tortilla Ssams all of the time at dinner. Usually it's in conjunction with the steamed buns and 1-2 other dishes, but they're quite popular, even at dinner.

I guess I should lean over and ask if they'd been to Ssam Bar before, and if not, if they assumed the Ssam was the star dish to get?

I see a few people ordering them...but along with other dishes.

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My experience mirrors Sheraton's comments, exactly. My first visit there was for lunch; what a mediocre meal! Shockingly mediocre. Yes, it may be a korean Chipotle, but if the chef of Chipotle had won the Beard Rising Star Chef of the Year award, I'd complain about their food, too.

I've been twice for dinner; yes, completely different. But why would one want to prepare and serve, at best, mediocre food at lunch that is so different from dinner. I don't understand it.

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But restaurant dining shouldn't be a research project. It can be highly rewarding if you happen to have the time and inclination for it (as most of us here do), but it isn't essential at any fine restaurant, and never should be. If you say "X is great...but you have to know when to go, and what to order," it's equivalent to saying "X, for the most part, is mediocre."

But in essence, if they're going to a David Chang restaurant, some sort of research has already been done. Just do a little more.

Eh, not really. I had a friend ask me tonight if I'd been to Momofuku Ssam, and I know for a fact he had no idea who David Chang was (or, if he - the friend - has read about Chang, he didn't retain anything about him).

You live in New York, you pay a reasonable amount of attention, you hear about restaurants. If you don't care about chefs per se, you may not know that Chang's the "next big thing." You may just have heard that the Bo Ssam is massive. Or something along those lines.

"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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But restaurant dining shouldn't be a research project. It can be highly rewarding if you happen to have the time and inclination for it (as most of us here do), but it isn't essential at any fine restaurant, and never should be. If you say "X is great...but you have to know when to go, and what to order," it's equivalent to saying "X, for the most part, is mediocre."

But in essence, if they're going to a David Chang restaurant, some sort of research has already been done. Just do a little more.

Eh, not really. I had a friend ask me tonight if I'd been to Momofuku Ssam, and I know for a fact he had no idea who David Chang was (or, if he - the friend - has read about Chang, he didn't retain anything about him).

You live in New York, you pay a reasonable amount of attention, you hear about restaurants. If you don't care about chefs per se, you may not know that Chang's the "next big thing." You may just have heard that the Bo Ssam is massive. Or something along those lines.

Ummm, your friend "asked you." How did he not know who DC was if he asked you if you'd been to Ssam bar? That's research! And you may have said something along the lines of, to get the full experience, don't go at lunch.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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It's not the job of every restaurant in the world to conform to average expectations and knowledge. ... For those who are willing to step outside of their comfort zones, however, there are a lot of rewards. That means accepting restaurants on their terms in order to get the best out of them.

... and ...

My experience mirrors Sheraton's comments, exactly.  My first visit there was for lunch; what a mediocre meal!  Shockingly mediocre. Yes, it may be a korean Chipotle, but if the chef of Chipotle had won the Beard Rising Star Chef of the Year award, I'd complain about their food, too.

I've been twice for dinner; yes, completely different. But why would one want to prepare and serve, at best, mediocre food at lunch that is so different from dinner. I don't understand it.

These comments are mirror-images of each other. FG suggests that it's our job to adjust to the restaurant. DutchMuse wonders why the restaurant doesn't adjust to its customers.

FG celebrates the cult of the chef. David Chang is a genius, so whatever he does must be accepted on its own terms. Shame on those who haven't done their homework. DutchMuse sees the restaurant as a commercial venture, and wonders why the guy in charge is putting out a mediocre product half the time.

The "accept him on his own terms" idea can be taken to ridiculous lengths. Chang isn't Michelangelo, and Momofuku Ssam Bar isn't the Sistine Chapel. The lunch menu isn't a religion; it's a business. It's also a work-in-progress, and next week it could be something different than it is today. If it makes sense to change the lunch menu, and if Chang isn't stupid, he'll change it. If it makes no sense, or if he is stupid, he won't.

Edited by oakapple (log)
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It's not the job of every restaurant in the world to conform to average expectations and knowledge. ... For those who are willing to step outside of their comfort zones, however, there are a lot of rewards. That means accepting restaurants on their terms in order to get the best out of them.

FG celebrates the cult of the chef. David Chang is a genius, so whatever he does must be accepted on its own terms.

My point is simply that if you can adapt to restaurants you'll eat better. I'm not sure how that got twisted and personalized into chef worship.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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the thing is, it's not like the place is busy at lunch....at all. and frankly, I don't think it'd be much busier if he served the dinner menu.

(Momofuku Noodle does lunch business because a. people can order a big bowl of ramen for $12; b. people order the ssam for lunch at Momofuku Noodle)

no one's eating lunch for $50-80 a head in the EV. not gonna happen. so what you're really asking him to do is not be open for lunch at all just so Mimi Sheraton doesn't get confused. I think I know what Chang's response would be to that......

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My point is simply that if you can adapt to restaurants you'll eat better. I'm not sure how that got twisted and personalized into chef worship.

I think we all agree about the first sentence. But it does not mean that a restaurant's business model is off-limits to rational criticism. Chang's adoring fans seem to cut him a lot of slack that would not ordinarily be granted to others.

I visited Ssam Bar at dinner, and liked it. I have no axe to grind against the restaurant, or against David Chang. But what he's doing at lunch is dumb. Or at least, it appears to be. Now, if someone wants to argue that this is really smart, let's have that discussion.

Instead, we have posts that say, "You don't get David Chang. You have to accept David Chang on his own terms." Or words to that effect. As if he is obeying some kind of natural law by serving mediocre food at lunch. Or as if he grew up in a foreign culture where, by custom, lunch was always served this way. Or as if he is a Great Artist, and Great Art must not be questioned.

None of this is so. Momofuku Ssam Bar is a totally invented concept, and it came about mostly by accident. Fifteen minutes from now, that concept could be something else entirely, depending on David Chang's mood when he wakes up.

Edited by oakapple (log)
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You can criticize, resent or try to rewrite the restaurant's business plan all you want. You can rail against chef-worship, real or imagined, until you're blue in the face. Or, if you'd rather have a great meal, just go for dinner.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I visited Ssam Bar at dinner, and liked it. I have no axe to grind against the restaurant, or against David Chang. But what he's doing at lunch is dumb. Or at least, it appears to be. Now, if someone wants to argue that this is really smart, let's have that discussion.

Yea, I'll make that argument. There's no way he can make enough money on the dinner menu at lunch in that neighborhood to turn a profit. So, as Nathan points out, you're more or less asking that Momofuku Ssäm Bar only open for dinner.

--

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I'll make an argument that it's plausible that the lunch menu as it stands is the only thing he could offer...other than not doing lunch at all. (I made this argument above.)

there are no business lunches in the EV. people aren't spending more than $8-15 a person. not on First and Second Ave. not gonna happen.

Momofuku Noodles sells a lot of ssam and a lot of ramen at lunch. that ssam is popular so Chang decided maybe he could start a ssam chain. miscalculation -- it's not THAT popular.

I suppose you could argue that he could expand the lunch menu for the occasional diner who might actually be willing to spend cash at lunch. (I think on the weekends this would be viable). but I'm not sure that they would make any money off of it.

the thing is: the EV isn't the Financial District or midtown...it's not filled with office workers or business lunches. it's not the WV, SoHo or NoLIta...filled with wealthy jobless European kids or design offices or people working from home. the EV is filled with restaurants offering $8 lunches.

edit: which is exactly why the number of people who will be miffed like Sheraton is de minimis. I'm guessing that Sheraton doesn't have a 9-8 job (or 8-9 like some of us). so she can trek anywhere she wants to check out a lunch. that's not so for most people. the vast majority of people who are attracted to the place because of the buzz are going to go there for dinner.

Edited by Nathan (log)
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You can criticize, resent or try to rewrite the restaurant's business plan all you want. You can rail against chef-worship, real or imagined, until you're blue in the face. Or, if you'd rather have a great meal, just go for dinner.

No reason you can't do all of the above, really. :wink:

"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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But restaurant dining shouldn't be a research project. It can be highly rewarding if you happen to have the time and inclination for it (as most of us here do), but it isn't essential at any fine restaurant, and never should be. If you say "X is great...but you have to know when to go, and what to order," it's equivalent to saying "X, for the most part, is mediocre."

But in essence, if they're going to a David Chang restaurant, some sort of research has already been done. Just do a little more.

Eh, not really. I had a friend ask me tonight if I'd been to Momofuku Ssam, and I know for a fact he had no idea who David Chang was (or, if he - the friend - has read about Chang, he didn't retain anything about him).

You live in New York, you pay a reasonable amount of attention, you hear about restaurants. If you don't care about chefs per se, you may not know that Chang's the "next big thing." You may just have heard that the Bo Ssam is massive. Or something along those lines.

Ummm, your friend "asked you." How did he not know who DC was if he asked you if you'd been to Ssam bar? That's research! And you may have said something along the lines of, to get the full experience, don't go at lunch.

Because, in my experience, not everyone thinks about restaurants in terms of chefs, not everyone follows the JB awards, etc. Someone told him they had a good meal there, he knows I like restaurants, he was making conversation. My point being, he wasn't asking because it was a David Chang restaurant - it had nothing to do with the chef as a person or phenomenon or whatever, just to do with the food. He would not have been able to name the chef, and would have asked me the same question about Goodburger or the Italian joint on my corner had he heard something about those.

Yes, it's research - my point wasn't about doing research, it was about how most (or at least many, many) people think about restaurants.

"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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You can criticize, resent or try to rewrite the restaurant's business plan all you want. You can rail against chef-worship, real or imagined, until you're blue in the face. Or, if you'd rather have a great meal, just go for dinner.

No reason you can't do all of the above, really. :wink:

Well sure, if you're into stress, acid reflux and perpetual inner turmoil!

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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