In keeping with our homage to David Chang at age 40; Foodboomblogger and power diner Ken Shin revisits one of the places that put Chang on the Culinary Map.
Momofuku Ssam Bar has long been one of the crown jewels of chef David Chang’s empire in New York City, an institution that has pioneered the bold style of chef Chang. While ostensibly based on pan-Asian tradition, it is not bound by any particular influence. We have typically had mixed experiences at Momofuku restaurants, due largely to the fact that the “fusion” cuisine pioneered by chef Chang doesn’t always get the execution right. By consistently resorting to strong flavors, that may appeal to ordinary American diners, we found them to be overwhelming at times. When New York Times reviewed the evolution of Ssam Bar under the new Singaporean chef Max Ng, who used to be the chef de cuisine at Momofuku’s fine dining establishment Ko, we were still somewhat on the fence as to whether to give this restaurant a try. Finally after visiting the new Ssam Bar with my wife Jun and another couple, we are happy to report everything went quite well.
Tip: The menu at Ssam Bar consists of raw and small plates, country hams and larger options. If you want to get one of those popular ssam options for large groups, you have to order in advance, which we unfortunately didn’t.
The Iconic Pork Bun with Cucumber, Scallion, Oyster Sauce
Max’s Curry & Potatoes with Burrata, Spinach, Garam Masala
We ate this curry in a hurry !
The garam masala whose spicy kick added wonderful effect to the overall flavor of the dish.
Foie Gras Taiyaki with Apricot, White Port Honey, Candied Brown Rice
While neither Jun nor I are huge fans of foie gras in general, the playful foie gras taiyaki had the delightfully sweet sensation with the use of apricot, white port honey and candied brown rice sprinkled on top.
We totally dug this.
We ate the entire shrimps, which are relatively tiny in size, without peeling off their shells. The heat provided by the Sichuan-garlic butter was almost cathartic and kept us digging into this outstanding dish.
Banana leaf roasted skate was nicely cooked but a bit too aggressive in flavor compared to the other dishes, although the kitchen thoughtfully serves out rice porridges for the diners to somewhat neutralize the skate’s flavor.
28-Day Dry Aged Striploin with Fried Pickled Onion, Béarnaise
Jun and I often lament that American restaurants too oftentimes over-season their steaks, but the 28-day dry aged striploin was more or less devoid of salt or any other condiments (other than the béarnaise sauce on the side, which turned out to be totally unnecessary) just the way we liked, allowing us to appreciate the texture of the meat.
The restaurant, in a departure from the notoriously difficult to navigate Momofuku online reservations, accepts reservations thru OpenTable which makes it a little easier to secure a table. Ssam Bar has expanded taking over the space formerly occupied by Booker and Dax next door and here is now a full bar with a creative cocktail menu that goes well with the mostly excellent dishes at the restaurant. The casual vibe of Ssam Bar has not changed from its older days, but its a lot more comfortable. Instead of the long communal table with stools, there more tables actual chairs with backs. We were very impressed with the versatile cooking at Ssam Bar, it certainly is different and much improved.