It’s funny that, having written the book about breakfast in Columbus, I have some sense of what it takes to get your head around a city and its culinary landscape – at least, one part of it. So when I think of trying to choose places to eat in New York City, I’m completely overwhelmed. Resources like Yelp or UrbanSpoon only go so far in helping you, when every neighborhood might have untold hidden gems tucked down every side street and around every corner, and it’s hard to decipher what’s close to what, or what’s popular versus what’s really worth trying. Thankfully, this is when we get a little help from our experienced and knowledgeable friends. (Thanks, John and Shelley!)
Thus, on our first night in NYC, our sights were set on Momofuku Ssäm Bar. Momofuku is a series of restaurants in New York, Toronto, and Sydney, with six varieties in New York alone. The Ssäm Bar is a slim, dimly-lit corner space in the East Village. We managed to walk right in and find two seats at the bar, where we were greeted by the most helpful and welcoming server. He was very patient with us while we poured over the menu, even when the restaurant filled to capacity almost right away after we arrived.
The space is very comfortable and warm. Low lighting. Low ceiling. Lots of wood accents. Bar seats and then a mix of tables. Brightly lit kitchen space at one end, where you watch the busy crew through the windows.
We first ordered the steamed buns, which came as a pair on the plate. Perfectly soft buns, tender pork belly, with a little sweet hoisin and fresh cucumber. I had to slow myself down and savor every bite.
We followed the steamed buns with the BBQ bun, a single steamed bun with lightly fried pork belly, slaw, and a smokey mayonnaise. Great combination: tangy and creamy, nice contrast between the soft steamed bun and the crunch of the pork and slaw.
But the real capstone of the course was the whole boneless porgy. The porgy, topped with shredded kelp, mushrooms, and herbs, was presented in a giant bowl, and the server poured the hot broth from a tea kettle tableside. We could eat everything but the head and tail (we kept daring each other to eat the eyes). But the actual meat and skin of the fish… oh boy. It flaked apart at the lightest touch, and as we ate, the flesh mixed with the mushrooms and herbs in the broth, resulting in this savory, chunky soup. The dish transformed as we ate it, and with each bite we marveled at the rich, comforting flavors. Finishing with the porgy left us with that “wow” impression, where we kept bringing it up to each other throughout the weekend. That tells you what we thought overall: we’d gladly return, especially to try the bo ssäm or rotisserie duck ssäm, which are slow prepped and served family style.