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Momofuku Ssam Bar (Bo Ssam, etc..)

I might be the last Chowhound to try this meal. But if anyone's looking for a recent report:

(Accompanying photographs, here: http://www.girleatscity.com/2011/07/m...

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The bo ssam's slow roasted pork shoulder (a slight departure from the steamed or boiled pork more traditionally used in bo ssäms) was elegantly simple. The outside layer was nicely caramelized and on the inside, the meat was almost unspeakably tender, streaked through and through with generous amounts of fat, which helped to keep the entire roast moist. When you used the provided meat tongs to rip off a chunk, there was hardly any resistance. According to his published recipe, David Chang achieves this magnificent texture by immersing the shoulder in a salt and sugar brine, and then slow roasting for about seven hours.

The bibb lettuce used for wrapping was not an afterthought. It was buttery, tender, flavorful and a real delight to eat, even by itself. Kimchi (at the far right in the picture) was made of about equal parts daikon cubes and Napa cabbage. I had a very hard time not greedily scarfing both bowls that were brought out to our table. In pureed form (second bowl from the right), the kimchi was a bit more noticeably salty and slightly overwhelming to eat unless you wrapped it with plenty of white rice. Ginger scallion oil (second bowl from left) was a well made, run-of-the-mill rendition and ssämjan (far left) was standard issue, as well.

I didn't actually end up wrapping my ssäm with oysters on the inside, but I did eat one by itself. Flavors were not highly concentrated, but the shellfish was very fresh and of surprisingly quality, given that it was supposed to be eaten in a wrap along with other strong-tasting ingredients like kimchi.

Our order of seasonal pickles included an impressive array of vegetables: beets, white baby radishes, sunchokes, shiitake mushroom, cucumber, green cherry tomatoes, more kimchi, celery, baby carrots and fennel. All of these (except the kimchi) had been lightly pickled in what tasted to me like rice wine vinegar, salt and sugar, a simple preparation that did not garble the distinctive, delicious flavors of each vegetable. It may sound like an oxymoron, but the quick pickling actually highlighted the freshness of the vegetables: The sour vinegar highlighted their innate sweetness.

Since this was the first time that many of our dining companions had eaten at a Momofuku restaurant, we had to order the steamed buns (pictured at the top of this post), the signature Momofuku dish that launched a thousand diners, copycats and David Chang's Momofuku empire. Fluffy, white buns were filled with two generous slices of pork belly, a moderate amount of hoisin sauce, thinly sliced cucumbers and sliced scallions. Each 3/4" x 1" x 2" cut of pork belly was very tender, lightly seasoned, but intensely flavorful, half glisteny, slippery, silky fat by volume. Cucumber slices and scallions helped balance the richness. This deceptively simple dish is not so difficult to make at home, but to make it this well and to achieve that perfect, tender-to-the-point-of-melting texture and clean, clear taste of pork is a matter that calls for some attention to detail.

The only possible disappointment of the evening was the dish of market greens with XO sauce, which was in our case Swiss chard sauteed with bits of what tasted like bacon and topped with fried onions. In concept, the dish was great, but in execution, the bite I tried (near the bottom of the bowl) was overly salty and too heavily doused in XO sauce.

The two drinks I tasted were both erudite, well-conceived, cocktail nerdy concoctions. The spring pea cocktail, made by shaking good mezcal, lime, agave, yellow chartreuse and wasabi with ice, and straining, was beautifully smokey with a modest kick of wasabi. There was just enough sweetness to blunt the high alcohol content.

The mountainside cocktail was made with Japanese whisky, fennel and orange bitters, served with a curl of grapefruit peel. It was a serious, adult drink of the style served at Employee's Only and The Highlands, again with a slight touch of sweetness (from a fennel syrup?). Notably, it was served with the sort of oversized ice cube favored by mixologists for melting at a slower rate than their smaller counterparts.

As good as both cocktails were, I would probably just order beer or ginger ale, next time. These cocktails ought to be savored long after a meal, as dessert. They're so heavy that they take away stomach capacity during a meal.

As it was, we ended the meal with orders of black rice horchata with dulce de leche, lime and sake. This barely sweet, light, frozen confection was a perfect chaser for an indulgent meal of fatty pork and strong kimchi. Flavors were interesting, but the slightly icy texture and presentation on a bed of puffed rice did not change my opinion that David Chang does savory much more successfully than he does sweet.

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

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  1. Thanks Michelle for another well-written review! Your photos are great too! (especially the pork buns and the Bo Ssam itself). I'm heading back to Ssam Bar in about 10 days to try the whole Rotisserie Duck that Ssam Bar is now serving also by reservation only. Definitely will need to add the pork buns too!

    1 Reply
    1. re: ellenost

      Thank you, ellenost -- you are too kind. I can't wait to read your impressions of the duck meal. I've mostly seen pictures, without much written description, but those chive pancakes look mighty tasty. Please let us know how that goes!

    2. when my drinks start getting erudite, i know it's time to slow down.

      seriously - good review. i dont make there as often as i used to, but it remains a favorite place.

      i need try the new duck soon

      1. It's a temptation to eat the oysters by themselves, but the pork/oyster combination is really spectacular and worth trying. Now you have an excuse to go back, michelleats.

        I've gotten the bo ssam, ordered lots of dishes and lived it up, and I've gone there with a group of musicians and composers on a budget. The "budget" bo ssam lunch was still stupendous. 10 of us ate well, had leftovers, and paid $27 each which allowed for tax and a decent tip.

        1 Reply
        1. re: hungrycomposer

          >>It's a temptation to eat the oysters by themselves, but the pork/oyster combination is really spectacular and worth trying. Now you have an excuse to go back, michelleats.

          Ohhh, I have many, many excuses to go back. :)

          I really love the oyster / pork combination, too. In this case, though, our group was large, so I only took one oyster and I wanted to see how it held up, on its own. I even contemplated chewing it in half so I could have some both ways, but once it was in my mouth, it was kind of a goner...

        2. Loved your review! Quite envious as well, as I can't seem to gather up enough people for bo ssam ever. It's like herding cats! Anyway it was great to live vicariously through your experience. And I love the whole bit about "erudite" cocktails - what nerds! ;)

          2 Replies
          1. re: uwsister

            And I, in turn, love your reviews! I just read every word of your Quebec restaurants reports. (The APDC report really made me cringe...)

            Re: getting people together for that bo ssam meal: In that situation, I think I might be gluttonous enough to order the bo ssam to go, I'd invite what friends I could pin down, we'd stuff ourselves and then divvy up the leftovers. Or maybe I'd just eat it all myself. I bet the pork would freeze pretty well..... =)

            1. re: michelleats

              Wow, thank you so much - that night @ ADPC was like a bad comedy, my husband and I kept looking at each other and laughed. I really hope it was only an off-night. We'll be back.

              That's actually a really good idea re: bo ssam. It hadn't even occurred to me that I could get it as a take-out. I can definitely see myself doing that one of these days.

          2. getting the bo ssam in a week. will try the pork buns also. any other must try items while i'm there?

            1 Reply
            1. re: uncledunkel

              Most people would consider their country hams, apple kimchi, and spicy pork sausage & rice cakes to be signature items.