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The Much Anticipiated Momofuku Bo Ssam Review

s
steakrules85 Aug 24, 2009 12:22 PM

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

  1. s
    Simon Feb 21, 2012 03:53 PM

    Thanks for another great review...even though i'm not a fan of the Ssam and all things David Chang, i enjoyed reading it...and even though i'm far less likely to give restaurants a second chance after a poor first experience, i applaud your joie de vivre and openminded nature :)

    1 Reply
    1. re: Simon
      r
      r32nissan Sep 10, 2012 08:10 AM

      Thank you for the excellent review. I have a table reserved this Friday evening. Cannot wait :)

    2. c
      claire1 Feb 21, 2012 03:30 PM

      Was googling bo ssam and found your post.

      Someone had given me this link (sounds like where you all went a couple years ago):
      http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/15/magazine/the-bo-ssam-miracle.html

      And I was looking for the traditional version, which I found here:
      http://korean-cuisine.blogspot.com/20...

      Anyone ever done it traditionally?

      Claire

       
      1. k
        kathryn Aug 25, 2009 11:53 AM

        The fried chicken at Ssam Bar is "corn fried chicken." A combination of light and dark meat, basted in pork fat, "glued" together into two chunks, then breaded and fried. Served (currently) with pickled chanterelle mushrooms, corn off the cob, arugula, and a corn-vadouvan spice puree.

        The fried chicken at Noodle Bar is half Southern style fried chicken (fried once in a buttermilk batter seasoned with Old Bay) and half whole Korean style fried chicken (triple fried after being marinated in bibim sauce). The Korean style prep is used on the dark meat. The Southern style preparation is used on the white meat. It's cut into the typical portions: legs, thighs, breasts, wings, etc.

        2 Replies
        1. re: kathryn
          NellyNel Aug 25, 2009 12:02 PM

          Kathryn - you are a wealth of information! Thank you!

          1. re: kathryn
            t
            therenowtoo Aug 25, 2009 03:01 PM

            So it sounds like the fried chicken at Noodle Bar is much more my speed (love the Old Bay shout out!)! And thanks for the explanation re the fried chicken at Ssam Bar. Hearing that it is two types of meat "glued" together explains the strange un-chicken like shape. With everyone splitting, it sounds like the bit I ended up with was some of the white meat, with no dark meat or pork fat glue, leading to the chicken nugget like taste and texture.

          2. t
            therenowtoo Aug 24, 2009 02:50 PM

            RGR's other half asked me what I thought about the pork, and I think my immediate reaction continues to be my feeling about it: it was good, not transcendent, and I'm glad I was splitting the cost among 11 and not 6. The taste + the experience of trying it just to know what people are talking about were worth $18. It would not have been worth $33.

            As for the other dishes, my favorites were the snap peas and the rice cake and sausage. I actually really, really loved both of these. Probably could have eaten whole orders of both all by myself. (Like steak, apologies if I hogged.) I also enjoyed the bread, butter and lardo, especially when sprinkled with the salt. I may lose some street cred (not that I have any anyways), but it actually was my first time having lardo and I can see why it has its fans. The octopus was good -- not the best I've ever had, but good. They originally forgot to bring it, so it came late in the dinner and I'm not sure if others tried it. I passed it around, but I think most were full by that point. Me, I'm never too full for grilled octopus.

            I will be the dissenter about the fried chicken. I'm not sure if this preparation is the same as the famed "fried chicken" night - at least, I hope it's not. This came out as two, rectangular hunks of chicken that had been fried. I don't like it when my chicken isn't shaped like chicken. It reminds me a bit too much of school lunch. Sadly, the taste didn't do much to assuage my fears. Don't get me wrong, it was better than a frozen and fried chicken nugget, because at least it was fresh.... but still. To me, it was nothing like the juicy, crispy skin fried chicken I'm used to eating down on the eastern shore.

            All in all, I was left feeling lukewarm about Ssam Bar (it was my first visit). There were things I loved, and things I felt meh about. Mostly though, I was so glad to have the opportunity to try it out with such a large group (the more people, the more we can order and sample!), and I was especially glad to be with people as excited about food as I am. Thanks for a great night everybody!

            5 Replies
            1. re: therenowtoo
              NellyNel Aug 25, 2009 08:11 AM

              Hi there!

              First I'd like to thank steakrules for taking the time to write this (yes - much anticipated!) review, and for the shoutout - it was really my pleasure to organize this meal...and even more of a pleasure to experience it!
              It really does prove that food can bring people together for a wonderful shared experience regardless of age or background.

              I would have to agree and disagree with allot of what both steak and therenowtoo have said, (BTW -happy to see you here now too - I'm glad you are no longer just lurking - but now joining in!!)
              For me the stars of the meal were the starters we had. I agree with TNT, in that "formed" chicken is a bit of a turnoff, but I also agree with steak in that it was very good. Juicy and tasty. I love lardo, but I could have done without the bread and butter; I felt that the bread that was served was pretty average, nothing special at all...Shoprite probably has the same bread.
              I got to try the soft boiled egg which I loved and really appreciated how delicate a dish it was, and the same with the buttermilk. I only got to try a tiny taste but to me it was absolutely mind blowing. I don't know really exactly what it was!! (Buttermilk?) - but it exploded with a really delicate taste and texture..
              At first I thought the Chinese sausage dish was just okay, but the more I ate it - the tastier it got - and I LOVED it. Had a taste of the pork bun - which was heavenly, and I also tried the octopus which was good, but not great. The snap peas were yummy.
              On to the Bo Ssam...
              It was good, and I really enjoyed the whole experience of it...the ritual of the huge platter being placed down, and setting up your wrap with meat, oyster and condiment..
              the meat itself was tasty (let's face it how bad can slow cooked pork be?)
              but nothing special.
              I think my main problem here was that on the previous Saturday, I had been to a Mexican hole in the wall in Jersey City and had had the most amazing pork dish I may have ever had!
              It was Cochinita Pibil, which is basically a Mexican vesion of the Bo Ssam!
              Really slow cooked pork - cooked in a bitter orange juice for hours, served on small fresh tortillas. It was served with roasted onions, chilies and Mexican sour cream on the side. It was devastatingly tasty - with tiny bits of char and fat here and there...the meat itself was so moist and flavorful - it was like nothing I've had.
              After I ate it, I kind of knew the Bo Ssam could never come close. I felt the meat itself was not very flavorful - you really did have to add the condiments. I did enjoy it though.

              After out meal I headed to milk bar and ordered the Candy Bar pie and pork buns for the next day.
              I know MB often gets mixed reviews but I couldnt have been happier with my picks. I thought the pork buns were as good as their reputation, and the Candy bar pie was the most perfect dessert I have had in a long time...Rich enough that I had it over three days, and I was very sad to eat the last bit!
              Fudgy, peanutbuttery, salty and buttery ...ahhhhhhh
              I think after all - the candy bar pie was actually the most memorable thing I ate that night - that and the buttermilk.

              But I left wanting more, I really can't wait to get back to Ssam and try more things...It was my first visit but certainly not my last!
              (BTW If anyone wants to come to JC for a pork comparison chowdown - let me know!!)

              -----
              Momofuku Ssam Bar
              207 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

              1. re: NellyNel
                prdct Aug 25, 2009 11:14 AM

                I agree with NellyNel. I loved the apps, and had a great time with Bo Ssam but did not enjoy it as much as I ahve some other dishes at Ssam bar. I really did not like the fried chicken prep. On the other hand I had the Fried Chicken dinner at the Noddle Bar this past weekend and thought it was divine.

                1. re: prdct
                  NellyNel Aug 25, 2009 11:18 AM

                  ooooh what was it like??

                2. re: NellyNel
                  k
                  kathryn Aug 25, 2009 11:56 AM

                  The bread for the bread & butter dish came from Sullivan Street Bakery, last time I checked.

                  The buttermilk "salad" is more like a buttermilk panna cotta or flan that sits in an apple dashi with bitter greens and pine nuts on top. It is not a typical mixed greens salad with buttermilk dressing.

                3. re: therenowtoo
                  k
                  KTinNYC Aug 25, 2009 08:24 AM

                  The fried chicken at Noodle Bar is prepare differently to the fried chicken at Ssam.

                4. E Eto Aug 24, 2009 02:49 PM

                  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.

                  1. seal Aug 24, 2009 02:06 PM

                    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!

                    1. Miss Needle Aug 24, 2009 01:44 PM

                      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.

                      1. ellenost Aug 24, 2009 01:32 PM

                        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!

                        1. c
                          chocokitty Aug 24, 2009 01:30 PM

                          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?

                          Tina
                          http://thewanderingeater.com

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: chocokitty
                            u
                            uwsister Aug 25, 2009 11:40 AM

                            >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.

                            1. re: chocokitty
                              k
                              kathryn Aug 25, 2009 11:47 AM

                              I believe you are correct. The web site calls it ssäm jiang (korean bbq sauce) and when I've had it, it's been presented as "ssam sauce" to me.

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