Do you ever have one of those meals where everything is absolutely divine? And you find yourself smiling from ear to ear the whole time? And want to shout out praise after each bite? Well, that was my experience at Momofuku Ssäm Bar.
Ssäm Bar is one of many David Chang-owned Momofuku restaurants. You probably recognize some of the other ones like Momofuku Noodle Bar, Má Pêche, and Milk Bar. Translated, “momofuku” means “lucky peach,” which also happens to be the name of a quarterly food journal that’s part of the Momofuku powerhouse. Really, it’s a powerhouse. These restaurants are constantly winning awards from Time Out New York to James Beard. Momofuku Ssäm Bar specifically has been on San Pelligrino’s list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants every year from 2009 to 2013.
You can’t make reservations at the restaurant unless you’re planning on doing one of their “large format meals.” So if you want to eat the bo ssäm pork shoulder (serves 6-10 people), the whole-rotisserie duck (serves 3-6 people), or the dry aged ribeye (serves 3-6 people), then you should/need to make a reservation. Otherwise it’s walk-in only!
This past Saturday evening, my friend and I were planning on going to a different spot for dinner at around 8, but when we got there we found out it was a 2 hour wait. We put our name on the list and decided to walk around the East Village and see if there were any other options. Our original, planned dinner time was late already, so we didn’t necessarily want to start even later at 10 pm. We headed over to Ssäm Bar and put our name on the list there since that wait was only 1 hour. Not bad at all for a popular restaurant on Saturday night! We passed the time at the nearby Bar Veloce, snacking on some bruschetta to tide us over in the meantime. Then almost on the dot after an hour, we got a call saying they could seat us now.
The menu is a mix of smaller and larger dishes, divided between raw bar, small dishes, fall (which I assume changes with the season), fish, meat, and dessert. Everything is shareable and doing so is recommended. Our waiter suggested that we get 2 to 3 dishes per person. We knew we had to get the steamed buns, ham, and duck since those are some of their most popular offerings, and then we also picked the striped bass from the raw menu.
The striped bass, which was super juicy and fresh, was served with plum, ginger, and cilantro. The steamed buns had pork belly, hoisin, cucumber, and scallion in them. I’m pretty sure the buns are the most popular thing on their menu, and I can see why. The buns themselves are light and so fluffy, and there was a huge piece of fatty pork belly sandwiched inside each one. Maybe the best pork belly bun I’ve ever had? Probably. With the country hams, we were able to choose whether we wanted smoked or unsmoked ham, and we went with the waiter’s recommendation of smoked. He said he thought that kind of ham paired well with the red eye gravy it’s served with. What’s red eye gravy you ask? Well, it’s made with coffee. Get “red eye” now? The amount of ham you get with this dish is very generous, served along with two pieces of crusty bread. I’m not much of a coffee fan, so I only had little dabs of the sauce with my ham, but it was fun to try something completely new. And the duck. That luscious, luscious duck. I always feel extravagant eating duck because it’s so rich and fatty and tender, and the kind here was no exception. “Jurgielewicz” is actually the name of the purveyor who provides the duck, and I had heard of them before so it was awesome finally getting to try some of their juicy, flavorful product. And top-notch product it is.
I liked how they served us one plate at a time, so we could focus on that dish and only that dish and didn’t feel rushed to eat everything in front of us. Maybe it was a logistical thing too because we were eating at the bar, but still. After we cleaned off all of our plates, we decided to order the Thai Tea Pie for dessert since that intrigued us when we first spotted it on the menu. The Thai tea flavor wasn’t overpowering and I liked that the pie had some crunch to it with the crumble on top and the crust to go with the smooth pie filling.
Every dish, no, every BITE I had was amazing, so even when my dinner was over and I was stuffed, I couldn’t stop thinking and guessing how awesome everything else on the menu must taste. I NEED to try their whole rotisserie duck dinner. It’s a whole duck (stuffed with duck and pork sausage under the skin and cooked on a rotisserie), chive pancakes, lettuce, hoisin, duck scallion sauce, crispy shallots, and two sides. It feeds 3 to 6 people, but it also costs $140. I have no doubt it’s worth every penny. You’ve got me Ssäm Bar…you really do. Because this was a truly wonderful dining experience.
Striped bass, steamed buns, country hams, roasted jurgielewicz duck, Thai tea pie
207 2nd Ave
New York, NY 10003