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Momofuku Ssäm Bar (2006–2007)


Bond Girl
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I've said it before and I'll say it again. I like those burritos. I don't think they're a bad idea and I hope he keeps making them.

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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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!

I'm feeling quite calm today. And any visit I pay to MSB would almost certainly be at dinner—though, curiously, this thread has now made me curious about lunch.
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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.

Sorry to disappoint you, Steve. I have never championed chefs for their goals..only their achievments. A meal is not an oil painting. If I thought Alinea deserved slamming (I never went) I would have slammed it. I did not fail Momofuku Ssam. It failed me. More and more you seem to place the onus for a successful meal on the customer and are sounding like an apologist for restaurants and their chefs. if Chang can't produce something he is proud of for $7 at lunch, he should not do it at all.

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lots of people like the lunch ssam (I'm not one of them)..but they were quite popular at Momofuku Noodle.

but what matters here is that it's not a "signature dish" and to taste what's wonderful about Chang's cooking you have to go there for dinner.

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lots of people like the lunch ssam (I'm not one of them)..but they were quite popular at Momofuku Noodle.

but what matters here is that it's not a "signature dish" and to taste what's wonderful about Chang's cooking you have to go there for dinner.

Then he should not open for lunch. I'd love to know what he thinks of the Ssam at Ssam.

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Just thinking aloud... he has a business to run. The East Village is not exactly teeming with expense-account business lunch types. Maybe it's a money-loser to run the dinner menu at lunch as well. If people will come in and buy the Chipotle-style ssam wraps and it makes money, then so be it. Maybe it's gauche for a chef of his caliber to do so, but it doesn't bother me either way. A lettuce-based ssam is available at night. That's probably been mentioned somewhere in this thread.

Edit: Bah, Nathan already said this in post #347. "What he said."

Edited by larrylee (log)
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the thing is: Ssam Bar opened as a Korean Chipotle. Chang's avowed claim was to start a fast food chain. the ambitious dining part came later...after the fast food bit tanked (especially at dinner).

the weird thing about this restaurant (and what might be throwing people off) is that Chang has taken the reverse course....he's started out very low-end and steadily moved up. if anything, he set his ambitions way too low at first.

dinner started because of economic necessity, the ssam weren't paying the bills. if they're still selling at lunch, they'll continue, if not, probably he'll just close for lunch. (like I said up the thread, that dinner menu won't work for lunch in the EV.)

further, the lunch ssam originated as a very popular lunch dish at Momofuku Noodle (they're only offered at lunch there)...I happen not to like them...but obviously a lot of people do.

Chang only offers real ssam (lettuce wraps) at dinner.

Edited by Nathan (log)
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Chang only offers real ssam (lettuce wraps) at dinner.

I thought I saw the "nouveau" ssam being made at dinner, but regardless... what you said is spot on.

what I meant is that the more authentic ssam isn't offered at lunch.

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the thing is: Ssam Bar opened as a Korean Chipotle.  Chang's avowed claim was to start a fast food chain.  the ambitious dining part came later...after the fast food bit tanked (especially at dinner).

What it started out to be no longer matters. I do agree that the EV isn't a business-lunching destination. That does not mean that 100% of the dinner menu must be abandoned at lunch. Many restaurants have different offerings at lunch. It's not an all-or-nothing proposition.

If he's not actually serving "real Ssam" at lunch, then frankly he's earned whatever criticism he gets when people come into a restaurant called "Ssam Bar," even at lunch, and are disappointed.

Edited by oakapple (log)
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More and more you seem to place the onus for a successful meal on the customer and are sounding like an apologist for restaurants and their chefs. 

How did this become my fault? I didn't create the burden. The universe did. I'm reporting on a present, like-it-or-not reality and offering a solution: learn the ins and outs of each restaurant and take advantage of them in order to get the best possible meals. I suppose being disgruntled is the other option, but until such time as restaurants become binary, all-or-nothing, reductionist, Manichean propositions my approach yields better meals. If telling consumers how to accomplish something that benefits them is being an apologist for the industry, so be it, I apologize!

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 last time I was there for lunch, admittedly awhile ago, they had several kinds of Ssam in addition to the classic: lettuce, nori, flour pancake, rice bowl, maybe one other kind, and you could choose among Berkshire pork, tofu, chicken and maybe beef.

I think there are a few overlapping issues here: 1- Is the lunch good? I think it is. I've had a few of the lunch items and have enjoyed them quite a bit. I thought the ingredients were exceptional across the board, and the flavor combinations worked for me. I think it's a terrific lunch spot at its price point, though I gravitate towards Noodle Bar for lunch because it offers more of the flair of the Ssam Bar dinner menu. 2- Does the lunch compare favorably to dinner? Not really. 3- Is that horrible? I don't really think so, but that value judgment doesn't seem important anyway. As long as we know dinner is what it is and lunch is what it is, we have the basic information we need to accomplish the goal of getting a good meal.

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 entirely agree with FG that knowledge is always better than ignorance. But I also think that if it makes a huge difference what you order, or when you go, that's an indication of mediocrity—or worse. Of course, mediocrity is common in the restaurant industry (and everywhere else), so this is a recurring problem.

But I don't think the answer is to blame the diner. ("You didn't do your research." "You just don't get this restaurant." "That's not what David Chang is about.") The answer is to blame the restaurant. Obviously, it is also helpful to distinguish the restaurant's virtues and sweet spots, so that those who haven't gone yet won't be caught unaware.

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I don't blame the consumer, oakapple. I blame you and your confederate, Mimi Sheraton.

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 entirely agree with FG that knowledge is always better than ignorance. But I also think that if it makes a huge difference what you order, or when you go, that's an indication of mediocrity—or worse. Of course, mediocrity is common in the restaurant industry (and everywhere else), so this is a recurring problem.

There's some question in my mind as to whether the <$10 items offered at MSB could be described as "mediocre." Are they categories worse than what other places are offering at that price point? I don't believe so. No one has come out and said, "the lunch ssam is worse that a burrito at Chipotle" or "it's not as good as an eight buck workday lunch special at a Chinese restaurant." Indeed, I don't see suggestions that it's worse than what could be had for lunch at that price at places which are generally considered excellent (Grand Sichuan, various Indian places, etc.). The lunch ssam at MSB can only be considered "mediocre" compared to what they're doing at dinner. The fact that one can have a "mediocre by dinner standards" lunch experience, when the concept and operation of the restaurant is entirely different, is not in my mind a fault of the restaurant. It strikes me that both the lunch and dinner service are "above mediocre" for what they are.

--

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as I said up this (now very long) thread, lunch at Ssam Bar is definitely better than Chipotle or most competitors at its price point. but are you getting a two star restaurant experience at lunch? well, no. you're getting Chang's interpretation of fast food.

on the other hand...show me the two star restaurant that charges $7 for lunch.

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If Sokolov can give a star to McDonald's, MSB's lunch is surely worth two. (Of course I'm kidding.)

On 3/2/73, NYT restaurant critic Raymond Sokolov reviewed McDonald's, giving it 1 star for food and 3 triangles for "atmosphere, service, and decor." Of the latter he wrote

. . . service at the counter is amazingly quick and efficient and good-natured. . . cleanliness is almost ostentatious.  The food is certainly overpackaged, but the packaging is never allowed to turn into litter.

Of the food, he writes,

. . . there is even some food of recommendable quality.  The french fries are crisp and well-cut.  The dried fruit pies are also crisp and piping hot.  The shakes are thick. . .  The hamburger meat, as countless articles have said, is not bad meat. . . [the Big Mac] doesn't taste bad.
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as I said up this (now very long) thread, lunch at Ssam Bar is definitely better than Chipotle or most competitors at its price point.  but are you getting a two star restaurant experience at lunch?  well, no. you're getting Chang's interpretation of fast food.

on the other hand...show me the two star restaurant that charges $7 for lunch.

The restaurant didn't apply those stars to itself. Why is it beholden to them?

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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on the other hand...show me the two star restaurant that charges $7 for lunch.

The restaurant didn't apply those stars to itself. Why is it beholden to them?

Restaurants have a peculiar love-hate relationship with their stars. I have to assume that Frank Bruni's two-star review of Momofuku Ssam Bar was good for business. But the upshot is that new customers are going to visit the restaurant expecting a "two-star experience" — whatever you think that means.

Obviously, David Chang isn't beholden to anyone else's expectations, but he's running a business, which he is trying to expand. Anyone who does that can't ignore customer perceptions. Like it or not, those perceptions are affected by the number of stars the Times awards.

Edited by oakapple (log)
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I'd be interested to see a survey of 100 Momofuku customers on that point. I wonder how many could correctly identify the number of stars the restaurant received from the New York Times critic.

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'd be interested to see a survey of 100 Momofuku customers on that point. I wonder how many could correctly identify the number of stars the restaurant received from the New York Times critic.

Do you think that restaurant customers in general are unaware that the Times published a rave review? Or do you think that Ssam Bar is an unusual phenomenon, to which the norm doesn't apply?

Personally, I suspect that the Times review and the Beard Award have both brought in new customers. How could they not? These new customers might remember nothing in detail about the review or the stars, but they'll be aware that the Times loved it.

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I'd be interested to see a survey of 100 Momofuku customers on that point. I wonder how many could correctly identify the number of stars the restaurant received from the New York Times critic.

Do you think that restaurant customers in general are unaware that the Times published a rave review? Or do you think that Ssam Bar is an unusual phenomenon, to which the norm doesn't apply?

Personally, I suspect that the Times review and the Beard Award have both brought in new customers. How could they not? These new customers might remember nothing in detail about the review or the stars, but they'll be aware that the Times loved it.

Of course they brought in new customers just as all the raves here have brought in new customers. Restaurants don't operate successfully in a vacuum. They depend on word spreading through various means. Those means include these forums, the NYT, Beard awards, word of mouth and other modes. Certainly some of the Momofuku regulars may not be familiar with the Times review or the Beard awards, but undoubtedly others are and some of the more recent ones were probably brought there due to the Times and the Beard award. How many stay regulars or even repeat customers is another question.

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

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the Times review -- sure, some.

most -- not. it's a downtown crowd. some of them read the Times reviews...just not most...but most of them would already have heard of the restaurant...where the Times would really make a difference is if they haven't been yet and they react with "crap...we really need to check this out"...

the Beard award....nah...not at all. very very very few people in the Ssam demographic are familiar with the Beard awards.

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