The Much Anticipiated Momofuku Bo Ssam Review
Sorry for the delay people- been busy but I finally put a little something together for everyone. So here's the "much anticipated" write up. Enjoy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Before I get into specifics about the food, I would like to thank NellyNel for putting together the Bo Ssam meet-up. She definitely did a terrific job. It without a doubt was a fun time for all and I am glad everyone was able to make it out. It was also a pleasure to meet everyone and put a face to your Chowhound names. Even though we were all meeting for the first time, it was not awkward in the least, yet rather extremely comfortable and enjoyable. There are few things in life that are better than sharing a good meal with good people, which Chowhound made possible. Now onto some food talk.
Before my first visit to Momofuku Ssam my expectations were enormous. I had anticipated going there for such a long time to try their ribeye after hearing glowing feedback. Nevertheless, if you read my first review I left feeling somewhat disappointed with my ribeye experience. Aside from disappointments in the food, was some iffy service and a poor attitude by some staff members that really left a sour taste in my mouth. So all in all, I have to admit I wasn't really dying to come back. However, I am a big believer in second chances for redemption. And truthfully, as a carnivore and lover of all things meat, I knew I had to come back to try to vaunted Bo Ssam. After all, it is the Bo Ssam and not the ribeye that is the speciality at Momofuku. So when NellyNel asked who wanted in I jumped. I just had to try that pork butt!
So right after work that day I made my way down to the restaurant. I arrived early at about 5:15 (our reservation was at 6) and luckily my buddy seal was already there at bar so I wasn't alone. We chatted for a good half hour or so, talking about what else- mostly food, restaurants, etc. He has really been to some impressive places and even showed me some food pics on his phone. Shortly thereafter his wife came to join us and the staff lead us to our communal table. By 6, everyone had arrived and got to meet for the first time which was pretty cool. It was great to see some people who are regular posters on the board and who I converse with quite often. It was really great to finally meet RGR and her husband, who are really great people. I told her that I owe her for one of the best meals of my life (EMP). Sitting between her and seal was like attending a food "college" of sorts. The wealth of food knowledge between them was pretty incredible and you can really sense their passion when discussing it which I admire. They have both made their rounds and really know their stuff when it comes to food. I think I even joked and referred to them as food encyclopedias. But of course that does not mean everyone else wasn't contributing to the conversation. All at the table were mentioning some of their recent meals and favorite places. They all really seemed to know about and appreciate great food and to no surprise that was the main topic of convo for the 3 or so hours we were there.
After the introductions, we were all about deciding what to order. Initially, there was some division between our table as the best way to approach the menu. The funniest comment came from Michael when he leaned over to RGR when we were discussing appetizers and yelled "Were getting some appetizers"? I thought you said we're having a pig?' Hilarious, I was dying... We all knew we had the Bo Ssam ahead of us, but being such a large group of 11 we had to order some appetizers as well.
So we all threw out some ideas and started formulating the order. Seal was really great and I even labeled him "the ringleader" because he knows how to take charge (no surprise he sat at the head of the table ahah!). OK so this was the final decision (forgive me if I forget anything as it was a few weeks ago).
Appetizers- 2 orders of spicy rice cakes with sausage, 2 orders of bread and butter (lardo), 2 orders of fried chicken, Wagyu Beef (for me, but yes I shared), 1 order pork buns (for ellen), order of octopus
Vegetables- 1 of each- Snap peas, buttermilk salad, soft boiled egg with summer beans
Main event- Bo Ssam
After taking our order, the food started to hit the table and everyone was of course delighted. We starting passing everything around and it was kind of funny as I was thinking "hmmm this is kind of reminiscent of the Last Supper". I pretty much got a chance to sample everything except for the buttermilk salad because it was really a miniscule portion and not enough for all of us to taste. I also did not sample the snap peas or the pork buns because I had them before and was trying to save as much stomach space as possible for what I came for--- the pork! But of course, I had to indulge in some things so here is what I thought of what I tasted.
Apps- My two favorites were the fried chicken and wagyu beef (I know surprise huh?). The fried chicken was delicious and I could have eaten much more if "forced" to. Surprisingly, with our 2 orders each person was able to get an ample amount to taste ( we were worried it wouldn't be enough). It was breaded in cormeal and came with corn and a vadouvan cream sauce. Fried chicken and corn how can you go wrong? You really can't and the sauce was a great compliment as well. The wagyu beef was ordered by myself extra rare and indeed it was. It was sliced ultra ultra thin and the sprinkling of sea salt seemed to melt perfectly with the marbled fat of the wagyu. A few others at my end of the table had a piece. It was a very tiny portion, so not everyone got to sample it unfortunately. But those who did snag a bite seemed to all enjoy it.
The spicy rice cakes with sausage were a nice surprise. Personally, I am not really a huge sausage fan at all. It is the one meat I really don't care for. And I'm not huge into anything insanely spicy, which I thought these would be. However, they really weren't that spicy and were quite tasty. The texture of the rice cakes was somewhat like a crispy gnocchi and had the sauce had a nice kick to it without being too spicy. I avoided the sausage and it turned out to be a decent dish.
Soft boiled egg and Bread and butter for me didn't do much. Just bread.. and butter. But I am a sucker for butter and it was good butter. Loved the lardo too. Yeah, I even saved some to mix in with my rice and even spread some on my pork later (yeah fat on more fat- I am a pig I know lol but at least I am comfortable admitting it). The soft boiled egg just wasn't that creative and again was just an egg.
OK, so after we devoured our appetizers I was eagerly awating the main event. Up to this point, the meal was going much better than my first one and service was better also. I really think they cater to you more when you are with a group of people(thew will beg to differ lol). As a solo diner I felt totally ignored. Our appetizers seemed to come out within 10 minutes of each other, however that Bo Ssam seemed like it was taking for.ev..err. And to make matters worse the table next to us already was digging into their Bo Ssam, adding to my jealousy. But I knew the Bo Ssam was going to make its way to our table eventually, if not soon enough.
And arrive it did. First came the oysters and the 4 different sauces. Then came the monster, the heavyweight, the main event, what we all were waiting for.. the massive 7 pound Bo Ssam. And guess where they placed it? Right in front of yours truly. It's as if they knew where to put it (sorry guys). This thing was huge and it turned out to be just the right amount of food for 11 of us. They serve it with tongs so you can pull the meat right off the bone. So, there it was in all its glory sitting right in front of me staring me in the face waiting to be pulled. So being my gluttonous self I did the honors of "christening" the Bo Ssam. I grabbed the tongs and dug in for my first piece of meat, trying to strategically pick the fattiest, juiciest piece. So naturally, I went right near the bone, which is usually where the most tender meat is. Surprisingly there were parts near the bone that were a tad dry. However, I would say overall the pork pulls away from the bone nicely, very juicy and fatty if you pick the right spots. It actually seemed like the most juicy parts were on the bottom of the Bo Ssam, which I guess is where the most fat was. And those parts were uber-juicy, fatty, succulent and delicious.
I tried it both ways- with the condiments (rolled in the lettuce wrap, sauce, rice) and sans the condiments. I didn't eat the oysters because I am not an oysters guy. But, the other condiments all complimented each other very nicely. I am a straightforward "meat and potatoes" kind of guy so I really enjoyed the pork on its own in its pure glory and the condiments separately. The sauces they come with are pretty good (You get 4, the best being the ginger scallion and this other red sauce which name escapes me). I did not care much for the two kimchi sauces honestly. I'd have to say I probably ate the most pork out of everyone else, but hopefully everyone got their fair share! Sorry to anyone if I was too much of a hog and didn't share the wealth more. My strategy of not filling up on the appetizers worked out pretty well. There is just something about a "family" style meal where the food is presented and left on the table that gets me, especially when its a huge hunk of meat. I find myself continuously eating, and admittedly sometimes for no reason. So, the Bo Ssam was really good. Was it the best piece of pork I have had in my entire life? No, but it was definitely good value and a great experience. The title of best pork still belongs to my mom's pork in sauce that we have with our traditional Italian Sunday macaroni and meatballs.
Seal asked me "Do you think the $200 price tag for just this piece of pork is warranted?" Pork alone definitely no, but when you consider that you are splitting it with 10 other people its a bargain. RGR also said " What distinguishes this from any other pork butt?". Honestly, nothing in particular really- it is pretty simple and straightforward. I think they supposedly marinate it in some kind of Asian (hoisin) sauce, but honestly I didn't get a distinctly Asian taste. Probably could have even used something else (extra seasoning perhaps maybe) to make it a little more creative and different. But then again, with a great piece of meat you really don't need to do much and kill it. Simplicity is the key. Hey guys, in any event we can now say we dominated the Bo Ssam! Hopefully, we can meet up again and have another dinner somewhere.
In conclusion, I suggest you go with like 7-8 friends and you get the Ssam. It is no doubt the best thing on the menu and the signature item for a reason. I think it is a great deal for those on a budget- It will set you back about only $35 tops which is great value and really affordable for so much food. In addition, it is a really fun experience to share with a group of people- think birthdays or other celebrations. We all had a very good meal and I enjoyed the Bo Ssam very much (I do love all things pork =) ). Overall, my experience the second time around was much more enjoyable. I got to meet some great people and made some new friends, which obviously helps. The service was much much better and most of all I didn't feel like someone stole my wallet when I left like I did on my first encounter here. A great time, but I will still leave you with the disclaimer that this place is a tad overrated and overpriced if you don't get the Bo Ssam. In my opinion, the ala carte options seem to be small portions and high priced for what you get. So like I said come with some friends and stick with the Bo Ssam. You'll enjoy it and feel like it was money well spent.
Momofuku Ssam Bar
207 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003
The red sauce is red bean paste sauce, methinks?
I do agree with your assestments about the Bo Ssam. It is a huge slab of pork (shoulder) butt. Nothing too remarkable in terms of flavor (except for me, the heft and its juicy fattiness) but it's all about meeting up with friends (or simply foodies) - eating and talking with them.
Should you propose Momofuku's Fried Chicken dinner with another bunch of Chowhounders?
>Should you propose Momofuku's Fried Chicken dinner with another bunch of Chowhounders?
That would be fantastic! I would love to be there. Anybody want to organize? (pretty please!)
Thanks for the review, BTW. I've been curious about the Bo Ssam at Momofuku for a long time -- it's not my favorite Korean dish, but I'd like to see how David Chang interpreted it. Has anyone had bo ssam at both Momofuku Ssam and Gan Mi Oak? Would be curious to hear the comparison.
Bravo! As expected, a well-written review (well worth the wait!). Unfortunately, the pieces of Bo Ssam that I had were the dry ones. I'm glad there were some juicy pieces. Definitely enjoyed the appetizers and especially the company!
Thanks for your well-written report as always!
Just a note: This is David Chang's version of the Korean dish bo ssam. Chang brines his pork in salt and sugar and then roasts it. In the traditional Korean version, the pork is boiled in water with a little bit of daen jang (soy bean paste), ginger, garlic, wine, and onions. The flavorings don't really contribute a huge amount to the taste of the pork. They're more in there to take away the "porky" smell. So Chang with his minimalist treatment of the pork is more in line with what the traditional dish should be as opposed to trying to achieve an "Asian" taste.
So, I log into the old chow boards and lookie what I found - the long awaited review of our Ssam chowdown. In a short phrase, great review steak!
I remember the old days when I would have had no problem typing up something that long, but now it just feels like work. And as a schoolteacher, I don't work until next week, So, thank you very much for doing it.
That said, the chowdown was anything but work. We all had such a great time that the food could have been awful and it still would have rocked, but the food matched the company. I happen to love Chang's cuisine so I am a bit biased.
As steak said, I wondered, "In a vacuum, is that Bo Ssam worth $200?" And I'm not sure it was. I've had pork butts that cost much less and were as good, different, but as good in their own way.
The night however, was worth a lot more than the $60 pp that it cost. Hounds rule!
I've always wanted to know how Momofuku's bo ssam compares to the versions you get at a variety of Korean places at a fraction of the price. Can anyone comment on that? Seems most people who get it at Momo have never had it before.