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Momofuku Ssam is over-rated, go to Province!

Tried the steamed buns at Momofuku Ssam tonight. Decent, but way too much oil and sauce. The bottoms of my steamed buns were wet and soggy! Besides me, the restaurant was completely empty. Oh, besides the photo crew and the editors from the Dining Section of the NY Times. Does anyone know what Frank Bruni looks like? The photographers were taking pictures of a bunch of writer-types surrounded by their macbooks and ssams. Bizarre.

Try the buns at Province, at the corner of Church and Walker. So much better!! Tasty and at half the price. Too bad I don't live closer to Province, otherwise I'd eat there all the time.

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  1. Uh, I was at the place at 9pm and it was packed to the rafters. Not sure what time you were there.

    Didn't see any photographers or people on laptops either. The buns I had there were like every other time I had time, great.

    1 Reply
    1. re: fafner

      Yeah - I wandered by at about 8:30 and it was packed - ended up at Kenka for a ramen and Sapporo.

    2. Well, if they were taking pictures, weren't no Bruni about.

      While many people praise the pork buns at Momofuku (both locations), there's a bit more to it than that. Did you try anything else? The ssam, for instance?

      1. I wouldn't be so quick to write off Ssam Bar after a single bad pork bun incident. What about the ssams? The country hams? The banh mi? The mochi?

        1. While the pork buns at Momo Ssam are as good and usually far better than you would get anywhere, it is the diversity and orginality of the entire menu that makes this place special. Perhaps, you need to expand your comfort zone a little.

          1. I agree, totally overrated...in fact, it shouldn't even be rated. The ssam I had was soo bad. I actually opened it up and just ate the pork out of it, which was very dry. The place was completely empty the time I went also. Not sure why so many people praise the place. Momofuko is interesting, crowded, fresh and fun, but this place is not good.

            1. What's weird is that TWICE when I've been there during the day I've seen photo shoots going on. The hype is a little out of control there. Another time I was trying to eat my meal while Dave Chang was freaking out, kicking stuff in the kitchen, cursing out employees on the phone and in person; then when I left I saw him continue to curse out some staffer by the side door on the street. I like the food, but the place always has a creepy vibe during the day. And the buns are always prepared better at the main Momofuku I've found.


              1. I've never had soggy buns and ssam bar. If you're writing off the place without trying the items on their "late night" menu, then that's your loss and my gain since it makes it easier for me to get in.

                1. eh.. maybe i can't properly judge momofuku ssam bar because i'm korean and have korean taste buds but the one time i went there, i found the food to be just awful. i had the momofuku pork ssam, some kind of pork buns and squid salad..

                  the pork ssam- the kimchi paste was sickeningly sweet and not at all spicy, and the pork in this burrito i found to be far inferior to the usual samgyupsal (pork belly) stuff i get at any normal korean bbq place. this meat, too, was way too sweet. the whole thing was way too sweet.

                  the squid salad was awful- the tanginess was the awful kind and the salad was way way too salty.. i couldnt believe how salty it was.

                  the pork buns- i'm not a big fan of pork buns to begin with, but i actually like the 5 for $2 ones i can get at any korean supermarket much better than these..

                  then again, i'm korean and like i said, i probably expected "ssam" (korean word) to taste more like something korean and not some oversweetened, oversalted fusion dish..

                  but like the OP, i find this place very overrated..

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: koreankorean

                    While I agree the food at both places is totally overrated, especially at Ssam, I have to say I can appreciate what David Chang is doing. Though I think his influence is mainly Japanese, esp. at Momofuku, being Korean and using Korean ingredients and lingo at his restaurants is is finally helping to put this still-isolated cuisine on the map of the mainstream culinary world, at least in NY.

                    I doubt many Chinese or Indian people, for example, would say that the majority of foods served in NY restaurants are authentic, but the sheer fact that they're out there gives us a small peek into the culture. There are so many Korean ingredients and dishes outside kimchi and Korean BBQ, it's about time someone's taken the pride and creative initiative to bring it to the fore.

                    1. re: yumyumyogi

                      now you've made me feel bad =(
                      i shouldnt have criticized a fellow korean .. =(
                      am feeling very contrite.

                      1. re: yumyumyogi

                        I think "overrated" isn't quite the right word. Yes, there's a lot of hype, and I'm sure purposefully generated by the owners, but a lot of the buzz is simply from the fact that focused Korean and Korean-flavored food, outside of big, smoky, cook-everything restaurants, is new in this country. It's not the best food I've ever had, but it's good and I don't think it pretends to be anything more than it is, unlike a lot of middling French bistro/Italian food in NY. I've also noticed that immigrants and immigrants' children often seem to be the most offended when someone tinkers with "their food," whereas in the motherland, people happily eat all kinds of strange combinations. A lot of Koreans, for example, like processed American cheese in their ddukbokki (stir-fried rice cakes) and kimbab (Korean futomaki), without worrying about whether it's authentic. (I'm Korean-American and lived in Korea for 10 years, and go back every year.) I hate the idea of non-white food in the U.S. having to be somehow pure--food is food, and it changes as people move and find new things. It's not something precious to be preserved, like an archaeological specimen.
                        So back to Momofuku and Momofuku Ssam--I wholeheartedly agree with yumyumyogi, what David Chang is doing is fascinating.

                        1. re: AppleSister

                          I understand what you're saying but I wasn't coming from "all korean food must stay authentic" perspective. I actually love Korean food prepared by non-Koreans in a non-Korean style, _when it's done right_. I was just commenting that it tasted bad and I did say that taste may be a highly individualized thing as I do have "Korean tastebuds".

                          Fascinating or not, I found this particular restaurant's rendition very poor-tasting. I do not harbor any bias against non-authentic food and it's very unfair for you to say that about us "immigrants' children".. =(

                          1. re: koreankorean

                            I understand that you personally were careful to say that it was your personal taste, and not a general statement. I was making more of a general comment on the kinds of criticisms I often see of "ethnic" food (I really hate that phrase, "ethnic food"). I guess I feel like people who are doing things that aren't French or Italian or New American get more attention sometimes than the food deserves, and then more bashing than they deserve for having gotten that attention. It's been making me particularly crazy lately, and I had to do a little rant.

                            Sorry, online bulletin boards don't allow for careful analysis of motives or language!

                        2. re: yumyumyogi

                          Some parts of me agree w/ what yumyum is saying: David Chang is taking Korean food places its never been before... while other parts of me are screaming "leave my food alone!"

                          At the end of the day, the thing that bothers me the most about asian fusion in general is how everything is OVERLY SWEETENED. While the 1st few bites are typically great, I get sick of sweet things very quickly (as do many koreans).

                          At the end of the day, I would love to see David Chang or someone else use fusion to highlight some of the very unique and distinct characteristics of Korean food... the stinkiness of daeng jang, the pickled tanginess of different kimchees, the spicy complex soups and stews, etc. I would love to see this done... all without the added sweetness, that is.

                        3. re: koreankorean

                          I'm Korean as well but I didn't expect Ssam to be authentic, or even try to be a "Korean" place per se. Ok, a burrito, that's not authentic (and I'm sure no one is saying it is), it's just a play off the Korean ssam. That said, if you're going to use Korean ingredients, at least use quality versions! I, too, found the kimchi paste not spicy at all, more sweet. I guess the thing I'm afraid of is that people will THINK this is real Korean food. I agree though, Korean food isn't a mainstream hit yet, but it is nice that David Chang is bringing its influence into the spotlight.

                          But on my first and only visit, the pork buns were nothing spectacular, and the pork in the burrito was ridiculously salty. I do want to go back and try their more interesting-sounding late night menu.

                        4. It's very overrated and so is the original momofuku

                          1. I can't figure it out. The "late night" menu is available all evening now, I've tried almost everything on it, and found it very good.

                            1. I have to respectfully disagree with the OP. I've been eight or nine times, tried a bunch of different items and have always enjoyed what I've gotten. If only there were more places like this...not necessarily the style of food, but the quality and execution in such a casual atmosphere. Oh - the Red Ale that they have there is fantastic. Definitely give it a try. But I still think that Dr. Pepper goes perfectly with the Pork Ssam (burrito).

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: dkstar1

                                hi, do you mind detailing what you had there? what I really want to order is the $160 bo ssam for 8 . . . anyone else had that yet?

                                as for hype, out of control!

                                1. re: bigjeff

                                  I've had the following dishes:

                                  Pork Belly steamed buns - I've had this 3 times now and I'm done. A heart stopper.
                                  Pork Shoulder steamed buns - very flavorful
                                  Chicken steamed buns - okay, but can be a bit dry.
                                  Brisket steamed buns - Solid.
                                  Pork Ssam (burrito) - One of my favorite dishes in the city, but can be greasy.
                                  Tofu Ssam (burrito) - pretty good but overly tofu-y
                                  Chicken Ssam (burrito) - okay if a little dry
                                  Bahn Mi sandwich - unreal. A little small but it goes a long way.
                                  Grilled Lemongrass Pork Sausage - Texturally interesting and nicely seasoned.
                                  Marinated Hanger Steak Ssam - solid dish, seared just enough.
                                  Pork short rib stew - excellent. Rich and flavorful.
                                  Dr. Pepper - I love that they serve this. It goes great with just about all of the food.
                                  Hitachino Red Ale - one of my favorite beers at the moment. $9 hurts though. Even my wife, who doesn't care that much for beer really liked it. Figures, it cost $9.

                                  1. re: dkstar1

                                    I too have always way enjoyed my food there, especially:

                                    Pork belly buns -- definitely a heart stopped as dkstar1 says, fatty, decadent
                                    Banh Mi -- possibly the best in the city, I always contemplate taking another one home, in fact my server the other night says she does that sometimes, too
                                    Country Hams -- the Benton's is the best, but the other two are very good, the bread that comes with it now is excellent, and so is the gravy (they recently changed the formula to make it a little tart so it plays off the ham rather nicely)
                                    Mochi -- the best fresh mochi I've ever had, with ever changing flavors: chocolate espresso, blueberry cheesecake, pistachio, lychee, mango, passionfruit, strawberry chocolate, chocolate eggnog...

                              2. I think what they meant more with the word "overrated" is that it's not authentic Korean food. That's always going to be an Asian's (may the person be an immigrant or a visitor) view on any Asian Fusion prepared here as spices are dumb down a bit to cater to a wider audience. I'm Asian and experience that in a lot of the Asian restaurants here may it be or fusion or not but, do appreciate the effort that these restauranteurs are doing to promote each of their individual cuisine and help it gain mainstream status...which is always a good thing IMHO. At the end of the day the question is who can really say what's authentic ?

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: nyufoodie

                                  I don't think the first poster was arguing whether the food was authentic or not. The point was, the poster got poorly prepared food (ie. soggy greasy buns) that tasted merely adequate. I've seen posts on chowhound where it states the momofuku chef is one of the best new chefs around. Other posts state that they see other known chefs frequent momo fuku ssam alot. When you hear such postings, you feel that the experience at momofuku would be mind blowing and when you receive an adequate experience (which is perfectly fine, imo) you feel as though you're been mislead hence the over-rated reaction.

                                  Though, I've never been to ssam, I've been to the original momofuku. The pork buns while good were not fantastic to justify the price. The noodles on the other hand were just bland.

                                  1. re: randumbposter

                                    I absolutely agree with you. Although the pork buns were the "highlight" of my meal at Momofuku, it was too greasy and too heavy handed on the hoisin. The noodles were just awful - limp, overcooked noodles, bland broth. Putting aside the question of whether the food is authentic or not, I find the preparation to be sloppy and the taste to be just "ehhh." Such a shame, when you consider how many fantastic restaurants there are for the same amount of $$.

                                2. *sigh*

                                  I don't know what the OP meant by "overrated" but what I meant by overrated was that it just didn't taste good. Not that it didnt taste authentic etc.

                                  While an "immigrant" or "immigrant's children" are not any more qualified to judge the fusion cuisine of his/her own culture, he/she is also not any less qualified to do so just because of his/her "immigrant" status. Like others who have commented on other momofuku threads, I too found the food to be way too sweet or way too salty. Even accounting for the fact that I have non-American palette, I think I am just as entitled to make a comment about this restaurant without being dismissed as "another immigrant with an archeological obsession for the 'authentic'".

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: koreankorean

                                    I didn't mean to dismiss nor label anyone, I was just stating an observation and I concur that everyone is entitled to his/her own opinion about what's good or not regardless of the cuisine as taste is indeed subjective. The beauty of chowhound though is after awhile...you can more or less identify which poster shares the same good taste as yours and plot your next conquest accordingly. I actually just find the Momos - just okay but, haven't tried the new late evening menu so am saving my conclusion whether I like it or not till I do.

                                  2. "Overrated" is a relative word not an absolute word, so just b/c a place is overrated doesn't mean it's bad. Nor does not being "authentic" mean it's bad.

                                    For example, I don't like americanized chinese food and hence I do think Mr. Chow's is "overrated" though would I say the food is bad...no i wouldn't. The guy working next to me thinks it's "the best chinese food ever"; I could probably take him to what I think is "the best chinese food ever" and he might tell me it's overrated b/c his tastes are different than mine. So, just keep in mind that whats great in one person's mind is maybe just good or decent in anothers.

                                    1. Anyone expecting "authentic" Korean food at Momofuku hasn't read a word about David Chang or his two restaurants. I like NY Mag's description the best: Eclectic/Global/Korean/ Southern/Soul

                                      Re the Saam Bar, Chang himself calls the saam his "Asian Burrito."

                                      I'm no "authentic" food critic but I do know that until you sample a place several times and try a reasonable variety of dishes on different days and different times then you can't possibly be in a position to offer a serous critique of the food.

                                      1. I told my (korean) mom that ssams are a new 'trendy' food-item in NYC and boy she laugh.

                                        Anyways, I think "overhyped" is a better word than "overrated".

                                        1. Both Momofuku's are really good, although I think the noodle bar is better. I've only been to Saam once and it was right after they opened, before they even had the late night menu and both my pork bun and saam were excellent.

                                          As to the definition of overrated, I personally think it means not living up to expectations or the hype. Therefore a good meal at a restaurant where expectations were too high could be described as overrated, conversely the same meal at a restaurant one was expecting to suck could be described as underrated even though it was the same food/experience. It all comes down to expectations and hype. Based on my description of the word I can see how some people might think Momo... is overrated based upon the press.

                                          1. Creative, original food in an atmosphere that is very casual - that is my Ssam bar experience. I love this place. Never been to Province - sounds good.

                                            Looking at Province's menu I am gonna take a huge leap here - People that go to Ssam for dinner and those going to Province for dinner are NOT looking for the same eating experience.

                                            I am guessing that a comparison to Ssam's lunch menu would be more appropriate.

                                            1. I like Momofuku Ssam. It is a great place for a quick lunch if you are in the neighborhood. Not having been for dinner, I can't comment on the more exotic menu options, but the ssam's are just fine in my book. There is a lot of hype surrounding the place, but I don't think anyone, including David Chang, ever said that the restaurant was intended to be a destination restaurant. The intent was to make a neighborhood joint with quick, tasty and original food. They have obviously changed their mission somewhat with the switch to the higher end dinner menu, but I think it is unfair to compare the lunch offerings to places with much higher ambitions. The actual dinner menu, on the other hand, may be fair game, but I don't think the entire restaurant should be written off due to poorly executed pork buns on one occasion.

                                              1. My guess is that the pork buns weren't bad once. I think the OP just didn't like them. Momofuku is rather polarizing and everyone is entitled to their opinion. If a person thinks they're oily and too sweet, they think they're oily and too sweet! It's not a matter of authenticity, overrated dining or anything else. It's just a personal opinion of what pleases the palate.

                                                I love some of Momo's food but I find that a lot of the dishes really do have big pools of oil. And some people like that. Who am I to say you're wrong just because I think it's disgusting?

                                                I also respect Midtown Jimmi for pointing out how uncomfortable he felt watching David Chang yelling. I've seen him cursing loudly and tossing plates on more than one occasion. Sure there's pressure in running a business and yes he's cultivated a bad boy image for himself, but I for one feel very strange and squirm in my seat when this happens. I'm happy I'm not alone in that.

                                                1. all i know is i went last night and the food was fantastic. i had the rice cakes with pork ragu and the momofuku ssam and both were excellent. i've actually been there a bunch of times and it has always been great. i was actually most impressed with the group of four next to me who seemed to have unlimited stomachs; it looked like they ordered and ate just about everything on the menu.

                                                  1. NY Mag recently ran an interview with David Chang. Apparently, Ssam has not performed to expectation yet, and Chang professes to be very concerned. He wonders now if the location was a mistake, and Ssam will start lunch deliveries, per Batali's advice (from the article, I got the sense that Batali serves as Chang's mentor). Also, I'm not sure how serious Chang was about this, but he said that he might open up a branch of Momofuku in Vegas, if only because it could be lucrative and he's tired of having to worry about finances. From reading the article, I got the feeling that he is under lots of stress with the underperforming Ssam.

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: gloriousfood

                                                      That's interesting that it hasn't performed to expectations. I suspect some of it is that the space is horribly designed to attract bystanders. I know when I go in during the day, and there aren't a lot of people there, the place is dark, there is no staff presence up front -- adding up to a "are you open for business?" vibe. Unless you already know how the place works, it's very uninviting to wander through an empty restaurant and go to the back and then try to figure out how the place works. The ripped sports poster upfront adds to the "what is this place" feeling. I like the food mostly, but I don't think it's well designed to attract pedestrian traffic. It's designed like a hip, foodie, insider place -- which I assumed he was going for -- private club, like one of those bars that DOESN'T want to attract people. Maybe not.


                                                      1. re: Midtown Jimmi

                                                        From the article: "So far, despite the undeniably delicious food, the gamble hasn’t paid off. In its first few weeks, Ssäm Bar sat empty most hours, its glass façade putting Chang’s miscalculations on painfully public display. Chang was hoping to sell 100 ssäms at lunch but was lucky to move that many all day."

                                                        Here's the link to the story: http://nymag.com/restaurants/features...

                                                    2. i don't like Momofuku noodle bar but i like ssam a lot - go figure. i think there is plenty of good stuff on the menu - love the banh mi, veal head terrine, hamachi, grilled mackerel, hams... the squid salad and sea urchin are very good too. but i have no interest in the ssam/burrito and find the pork buns a little heavy. luckily, there is lots of good stuff to enjoy. and it gets busy fast.

                                                      Province's buns are nice but a lot simpler than other offerings of Ssam - no match for the depth of flavor in some of ssam's dishes.

                                                      but i wouldn't discount ssam bar just based on not liking their buns

                                                      1. I was at Ssam tonight and was told the wait was an hour for a duece.

                                                        1. Ironic that the original poster's observation of a table full of laptops was for the New York Times piece on the power of food blogging.

                                                          1. I went to Province once and wasn't impressed. The mantou themselves were fine, but the fillings were under-spiced and the pork a little tough. Was disappointed, as I thought the concept was good and had very high hopes. Far from a final opinion - was only there once, but felt it wouldn't hurt to interject a dissenting opinion on the place. I'll try it again and report back if I have a different experience.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: bh_

                                                              totally agree, i though this place was overrated...the mantou are okay though i was expecting mantou more similar to a typical mantou (white semi sweet bread...like a taiwanese gua bao if you know what that is)...i actually wrote a post b/c i was disappointed a couple months ago, i tried like 3 different ones and the meat in all of them was semi tough...i guess its okay if you live right there, but i definately wouldnt go out of the way

                                                              not a fan of momofuku, but their version is better...pork is much more tender

                                                            2. I didnt get a chance to read all the posts here, but I was just searching for a place to express my disappointment about Saam Bar. All the food I had either left me dead-sea salinated, KFC-greaselogged, or just plain bored. I love pork, always will.....but just because you pile on the swiney goodness doesnt mean that I wont notice there is nothing else going on...oh, save for a random edamame bean thrown in for...color? Wished I'd had a fried pork cutlet from Mitsuwa instead. Or maybe some real saam with sesame leaves in ktown. Or even a real burrito...anything.

                                                              4 Replies
                                                              1. re: missinfo

                                                                What did you order? I think the ssam is the least remarkable thing there. The grilled mushrooms, the apple salad, the brussel sprouts were all incredible, as was the mochi. The pork bun was good but not great, and the ssam okay. And even the so-so ssam, half of which i brought home, was transformed into magic when I had it for lunch in the good-chow-free abyss where I work.

                                                                1. re: rose water

                                                                  rose_water, I completely agree with you. It is ironic that despite named as ssam bar, the least impressive food in it is the ssam (and the pork buns IMO). I say everything from the original late night menu minus the ssam and buns will be enough to make me happy.

                                                                  1. re: rose water

                                                                    Yeah, the ssam's are really one-note. They all taste similar, kind of a bland mass. My friend and I ordered one of each to try and could only manage a few bites of each. Very boring. Province was good when it first opened, but I don't think they're managing the execution well since they got popular.

                                                                    1. re: Peter Cuce

                                                                      I'm really wanting to love the ssam bar, because I have the pork fever that's going around. but I'm wondering if the place is a little too pigarific. last night we had the spicy squid salad, which was nice, but not outstanding; the pork buns, which I've had twice now and think they are rich and decadent, but again not out of this world, and finally the spring pea salad, which was just drenched in a gravy with bacon. It was so heavy, it almost made me queasy. The flavor balance just seemed so off, and would have been almost perfect with about a third of the bacon. So we had three dishes that were not great, and I was bummed out.