Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Momofuku Ssäm Bar: It Just Gets Better

It's been six years since I last visited Momofuku Ssäm Bar in New York City and on that prior visit, detailed in Duck ExtraordinareI was thoroughly impressed. So, on my recent trip back to NYC, I wanted to return there, to hopefully experience once again the delights of their rotisserie duck. There is always a little trepidation when returning to any restaurant after a number of years has passed. You worry that it might have changed, that it might not be as good any longer.

However, I was willing to take that risk and in the end, after my lunch there last week, I feel that the restaurant may even be better than my prior visit.

Momofuku, which is Japanese for "lucky peach," has grown greatly since 2011, a culinary empire with additional restaurants now in Washington, D.C., Las Vegas, Toronto and Australia. Adam Japko and I stopped at the Momofuku Ssäm Bar for lunch, both of us excited for what we hoped to come. In Korea, ssäm refers to "wrapped food," indicative of their main lunch entrees, meat which is wrapped in either lettuce or chive pancakes.

Their menu has grown since my last visit, especially adding more meat options. You can start with Country Ham (5 types priced $12-$20) or a get a Ham sampler for $37. Under Etc., you can select six different appetizers ($7-$19) such as Togarashi Chicarron or Honeycrisp Apple Kimchi. You'll also find Sides (8 choices at $4 each or 5 for $16) including Pickles and Tea Eggs. For entrees, there is a selection of Meats, including Stuffed Rotisserie Duck, Slow Roasted Pork Shoulder, Seven Spiced Beef Brisket, Gochu Glazed Pork Ribs, and Spicy Ginger Scallion Porgy. These meats can be ordered Solo (meat & cucumbers, $11-14), Ssäm (Solo plus rice & lettuce, $14-$17) or Plate (Solo & two sides, $16-$19). There is an additional charge for Extra Lettuce ($1) or Chive Pancake ($1).

Their Drinks menu is eclectic and interesting, including beer, cider, wine, Sake, soju, and more. The Wine list, with 15 available by the glass, will appeal to geeky wine lovers who love more unusual choices, and mark-ups generally are reasonable. The Wine list is primarily French but there are plenty of other regions represented as well, from Italy to Lebanon, California to Germany. The Sake list is small, though they have some good choices and also carry 5 Sakes in large format, 1.8 Liter bottles. They also have plenty of spirits and intriguing cocktails.

We began with the Benton's Ham (from Madisonville, TN) which were accompanied by a couple slices of crusty baguette. The thinly sliced ham was delicious, with a silky texture and a mouthwatering blend of fat and salt. And the bread was excellent too. A nice way to begin our lunch, and made me wish we had ordered the ham sampler to try all of the country hams.

We then had a couple of Steamed Buns, which were made with pork belly, hoison, cucumber, and scallion. First, the buns were soft and slightly spongy (in a good way). Second, like the country ham, the pork belly was silky, melting in your mouth, and with a delightful blend of fat and saltiness. Third, it was enhanced by the tangy and sweet hoisin sauce and the crunch of the thinly sliced cucumbers. Simply a perfect pork bun, one of the best I've ever eaten, each bite blissful.

The Spicy Rice Cakes were made with pork and scallions, offering chewy rice cakes, enhanced by the heat of the spices and the tender, flavorful pork. This was a heartier dish and large enough to share.

The Stuffed Rotisserie Duck, Ssäm style with a chive pancake, was as good as I remembered. The crispy skin was exquisite, bursting with flavor and texture, while the duck meat itself was juicy and tender, melting in your mouth. This was perfectly cooked duck and I couldn't think of any way in which it could have been made better. If you love duck, then you MUST go here and try this rotisserie duck. The chive pancake is similar in a scallion pancake, though maybe a bit thinner, and also was delicious, with a great crispness and some buttery elements. I made my own duck "taco", adding a touch of hoisin and cucumbers. Next time, I'll have to try some of the other meat options as I suspect they will be equally as delicious.

With our lunch, we ordered a bottle of the 2008 Radikon Jakot Friuliano (500 ml/$72), which can retail for about $40. This is an "orange" wine, made from 100% Friuliano in the Friuli region of Italy. It was a stunning wine, with a fascinating melange of flavors, from apricot to salted nuts, dried herbs to honey. It is one of those wines that brings something new to every sip. It paired well with the pork and duck dishes.

Once again, Momofuku Ssäm Bar presented an amazing lunch, its quality not having diminished a single iota over the years. If anything, with its expanded menu, the restaurant is even better. Their Rotisserie Duck remains one of the best duck dishes I've ever eaten. What makes it all the more compelling is that most of these dishes are relatively simple, comfort foods that are perfectly executed. If I lived in NYC, I'd probably be having lunch at Ssäm Bar every week. It receives my highest recommendation.

No comments: