February 21, 2009

I Love You, Momofuku (Ssam and Milk Bar, Mostly)

This entry originally took place on February 3. Milk Bar outings took place on February 3, 14, and 16. And a bit of January 4. Um.

I know the Momofuku Empire is overhyped. I know you're sick of hearing it. I know David Chang isn't God. But it's still one of my favorite group of eateries to go for a light splurge, and ever since eating at Ssam Bar with Kåre, it's been a "must eat" for anyone who visits me from out of town.

And then Lee Anne came to visit. DING-A-LINGLE!!! (that's the sound of my wallet deflating)—there went my next Ssam Bar card.

And here is your food porn with insubstantial commentary.

satur farm's fried brussels sprouts
Brussels sprouts.

Satur Farm's fried brussels sprouts: A must-order. If you don't like brussels sprouts, you haven't eaten this dish yet. Then again, if you don't like mint, scallions, fish sauce, or puffed rice, you probably won't find a newfound love for brussels sprouts here. Because the brussels sprouts are kind of soaked in all of that. It's sweet, it's salty, it's fishy, it's crunchy, and if your taste buds are at least halfway functional you'll want to eat a bucket of it.

pork buns
PORK! PORK!

Pork buns: Another must-order. Fatty slab of pork belly on a layer of thinly sliced cucumbers topped with chopped scallion and hoisin sauce in a soft steamed bun/flap. And even though the pork is key—because pork is usually the key—the cucumbers are somehow the most memorable part of the bun. They provide just the sliver of crunch and freshness that elevates the bun from "JUST PORK" (not that I have anything against "just pork"...never) to "PORK WITH MAGIC, YAY."

ham
Oh, this is also pork

Country ham: Surprisingly perhaps, my love for pork doesn't include those of the cured, smoked, and thinly sliced variety. Not that I don't like it; I just prefer hams with less smoke and salt. Whatever our waiter suggested to us fit the bill. Mildly flavored with a texture as soft as a baby bunny (or what I imagine would be baby bunny-soft if I went around gnawing on baby bunnies, which I don't, I think). It comes with red-eye gravy (coffee flavored), but I'd rather eat it plain.

beef tortelloni
Tortelloni

Beef tortelloni: Conveniently, there were five pieces to an order, which meant one for each of us. Although I don't recall this dish very well—the description tells me it involves pine nuts, black garlic, and Gruyère cheese—I KNOW IT WAS AWESOME. I know each delicate tortelloni plop was packed with a creamy filling whose flavors seemed to be time released, one subtle wave of something unidentifiable and delicious coming after the other. Yes, something. That's as descriptive as I'm going to get.

spicy pork sausage and rice cakes
Rice cake babies, come to momma.

Spicy pork sausage and rice cakes: I know I already mentioned a few must-orders already, but this one—this is a SUPER MUST-ORDER. I said it in caps; it is official. Before eating this dish I thought rice cakes were just dense chewy globs, but they can be so much more—they can be crunchy, then dense chewy blogs. And this makes a big difference. Because I really like the crunch factor. I also like the "so spicy, it hurts, and maybe makes my pores weep" factor provided by the ground spicy pork sausage soaked in chile pepper-laden juices.

lamb sweetbreads
GLANDS!!!

Lamb sweetbreads: You may not think you have a soft spot for thymus glands (as sweetbreads are miles away from being sweet bread; what a misleading euphemism) extracted from a lamb's chest, but you do. These delicate, creamy nublets have a fat-infused, lighter-than-meaty texture. Thus is the power of glands. Do not deny this power.

reflection
Hello, mah eaters.

With the eating powers of Lee Anne, Chris, Poonam, Danial, and I combined, we ate every last bit of meatstuff/friedstuff/fried meatstuff and only spent about $26 per person (not including alcohol). That's the smallest bill I've ever walked out of Ssam Bar with. VICTORY! Unfortunately, that meant I was still kind of hungry afterward, a problem easily ameliorated by...

bag of cookies
COOKIES!

...walking through the connecting passageway to Milk Bar and buying a marshmallow cornflake whatnot cookie. But since it was 10:30 p.m., they blessed me with three extra cookies. SWEET. There are deals to be had if it's late and Milk Bar needs to unfurl their extra cookies upon you.

lee anne has cookies
THIS COULD BE YOU!!

Lee Anne went mad with cookie insanity. As she's wont to do.

Milk Bar offers much, much more than bags of cookies—there's also soft serve, pork buns, and a giant bun bursting with potato, cheese, and pork, You could eat well here for less than a buttload, as long as you don't mind standing the whole time, I'll just say that it helps aid digestion, even though it probably doesn't.

Lucky Charms soft serve
Guess the flavor.

Last weekend I delved into the current rotation of cereal-flavored soft serves with the Lucky Charms soft serve. Methinks it's green tinted for that Irish kick. Whether or not it tasted like Lucky Charms I'm not even sure—I can't recall the last time I've ever eaten it, and I could probably count the number of times I've tried it on one hand—but it definitely tasted like cereal. While cereal-flavored soft serve has a high novelty value, it's hard for me to believe that anyone would ravenously lick down a whole cup of this stuff. You get tired of it pretty quickly.

I don't think Greg approves
Uh...yum?

There's Greg's reaction. Yeeeeeeah.

fruity pebbles soft serve sample
More soft serve.

This past Monday when I visited with Greg, Kathy, Kathryn, and Dan, I also tried a sample of the Fruit Pebbles soft serve—and yes, it definitely tastes like Fruity Pebbles. Almost eerily so. Just imagine eating Fruit Pebbles if it were a smooth, colorless, creamy treat. But like the Lucky Charms, I can't imagine wanting to eat more than a few spoonfuls of this. You might think differently; I didn't grow up eating kids' cereals so there isn't much of a nostalgia factor for me.

cinnamon bun pie

cinnamon bun pie?

It's a pie..it's a bun...WHAT IS IT?

While the cinnamon bun pie—a sweet, bready pie crust filled with gooey cinnamon and brown butter cream cheesy frosting topped with oat crumble stuff—sounded like an awesome concept, I found it less awesome than a cinnamon bun in non-pie form. Same components-ish, different configuration. In the bun form the frosting goo is kind of swirled throughout the bread (if I remember correctly; I haven't eaten one since November), which I prefer over the "plopped on bread" construction. Of course, it's still worth trying. It's hard to resist anything containing the words "bun" and "pie."

candy bar pie!
This pie is from the past. January 4 to be exact. Doh.

My favorite pie is the candy bar pie that resembles...I think you can figure it out. My reasons for liking it may be the reason a lot of people don't; it's pretty damn sweet. But of course, it's got toffee and nougat and a chocolate cookie crust and it's all covered in a thick chocolate shell laced with pretzels.

chorizo challah loaf chorizo challah innards
Chorizo challah.

Kathryn went apeshit when she saw a lone loaf of chorizo challah sitting behind the counter. "THAT'S THE CHORIZO CHALLAH! OMG I NEED IT! AHHHHRHFODFo CHHAARLLARH CHORIZOOOoo," is roughly what she said as her eyes lit up with the madness only the combination of pork sausage and fluffy, eggy bread can bring. Good thing we aren't kosher. I only tried a wee nibble of it since I was too full and am not a devout follower of the Church of Challah, but considering that everyone else polished off the loaf, it was probably delicious.

the volcano
VOLCANO!!! Be still my heart.

My award for "most awesome savory bready thing at Milk Bar" goes to the Volcano, a crusty, chewy bun filled with potato gratin, gooey Gruyère cheese, and Benton' bacon bits.

potato cheese goo
GET IN MAH BELLY.

The "volcano" bit is apparent when you try to cut into the thing (I split it into three to share with Alice and Janet) and cheesy goo comes spurting out any open orifice, namely the top. It's a hearty cheese-potato bomb with a touch of pork. Do I really need to convince you to try it? No.

poached egg and pork bun!
Look, eggie!

While the pork buns are good enough as is, Milk Bar makes it breakfast-worthy by super-sizing the bun, stuffing it with more porky goodness, and adding a poached egg. Yes, topping it with another layer of fatty, animal-derived product makes it breakfast-appropriate.

SPLODGE
Don't let the yolk get away!!

Rich yolk combined with the powers of pork = HELL YEAAAAAH. The pork/cucumber/scallion combination is already perfect, but I'm not going to complain about an additional egg.

Addresses

Ssam Bar
207 2nd Ave
New York, NY 10003

Milk Bar
Next door to Ssam on 13th street

Posted by roboppy at 12:46 PM

Tags: Alice, Chris, Dan, Danial, East Village, Greg, Janet, Kathryn, Kathy, Lee Anne, Milk Bar, Momofuku, Poonal, Ssam Bar

Comments

I am SOOO going to the milk bar in April. Not so much into the idea of the cereal milk (Fruity Pebbles are my least favorite cereal ever, followed by Lucky Charms...and then all the chocolate ones...growing up in a health food-oriented house will do that to you), but just the sheer number of good STUFF they seem to cram into all of their food. Mmm, cramming.

Posted by: anna at February 21, 2009 2:02 PM [#]

Awesome!

Were they at least salty pretzels?

And hey, speaking of ding-a-ling, are you familiar with 'Bananaphone'?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?gl=GB&hl=en-GB&v=neKXc7pw4go

Posted by: Graeme at February 21, 2009 2:17 PM [#]

man that poached egg is tempting me with its siren song. need to make eggs.... right this second.

Posted by: jesi at February 21, 2009 2:18 PM [#]

Wow everything looks so yummy that I wish I could've been there too!

Posted by: G at February 21, 2009 2:47 PM [#]

Oozing egg yolk is definitely the sexiest food porn. Let's not extrapolate that thought though.

Cereal flavour soft serve sounds like a really intriguing idea, but maybe it'd just be better to sprinkle some crushed cereal on more exciting ice cream?

Posted by: SuperChomp at February 21, 2009 3:18 PM [#]

Looks incredibly yummy as always. I have a semi random question for you: How do you feel about sushi?

Posted by: Maja at February 21, 2009 6:40 PM [#]

I want to go to there and eat every last one of these things.

Posted by: Beverly at February 21, 2009 11:06 PM [#]

anna: Oh yes, everything else is worth getting. And by the time you get here they may have a whole other set of delicious flavooors.

Graeme: They were probably salty. Hard to tell when they're covered in chocollaaate.

I haven't heard that song in ages! Sweet. Love it.

SuperChomp: Yeah, I think it'd be better as just a topping.

Maja: I like sushi, but rarely eat it because it's expensive and the amount I feel comfortable paying for usually isn't enough to satisfy my belly. :( So eating sushi just leaves me feeling unsatisfied. Fail.

Posted by: roboppy at February 22, 2009 1:22 AM [#]

That poached egg shot gets me every time. That thing just looks absolutely ridiculous. And now that I know they might give you extra cookies late at night, I'm only going to go after 10:30! ahhh.. Is that volcano bun filling overly cheesey?

Posted by: Danny at February 22, 2009 2:24 AM [#]

You really find the greatest places to go. I always want to try the stuff you do. I have the choice of two restaurants most of the year. One is basically a fast food resto and the other is so-so in quality since the management keeps changing hands.Count yourself VERY lucky

Posted by: Nerissa at February 22, 2009 3:02 AM [#]

See, I've been there several times and find it overwhelmingly sweet...and this is coming from a person that eats sweets ALL the time. I think you need milk to wash down whatever you get there, though I don't see how a lucky charms milk can help down the other pies' and cookies' intense sweetness. I don't know...I was a bit disappointed...but I am a fan of Momofuku!

Posted by: Tychenyt at February 22, 2009 9:45 AM [#]

Oh that egg sounds like a good addition! Is that new? I haven't been to Ssam in a while, but I don't recall that being an option when I was there last...

Posted by: Laura at February 22, 2009 12:43 PM [#]

Its weird but when I booked my hotel for May I hadn't heard of Chang and his restaurants but now I do and am so going to Ssam and Milk bar, the best bit is that im staying 10 minutes away.

Posted by: Edd at February 22, 2009 3:56 PM [#]

Whenever I'm back in New York, the Milk Bar's on my list!

Posted by: Su-Lin at February 22, 2009 5:21 PM [#]

Danny: I don't think it's overly cheesy. It's mostly...tato? But then my idea of what overly cheesy is might be off. :)

Nerissa: :( Those choices sound sad.

Tychenyt: I could understand thinking that everything is too sweet. To me, the heavy hand with the salt kind balances things out. Haha.

Laura: The egg pork bun is just at the Milk Bar, not at Ssam. Go inside and check it ouuut!

Edd: It's probably a good thing that I am much farther than 10 minutes away. Can't be tempted more than I already am.

Su-Lin: AND I'LL GO WITH YOUUU!

Posted by: roboppy at February 23, 2009 1:08 AM [#]

In March I'm coming all the way from Germany to NY and after reading all your praises for so long I just can't wait to go running to Ssäm Bar once I'm off the plane.

Could you recommend a good time to go there? I'm afraid I might give up, if I'd have to wait for hours to get in.

Since most of my desired NY destinations are based on your recommendations anyway, I'm sure we'll meet at some point. I'll be the tourist shouting and waving like crazy ;)

Posted by: Kathi at February 23, 2009 4:37 PM [#]

OMG breakfast heaven! I think I'd love the cereal soft serve. I'd be on the lookout for Peanut Butter Captain Crunch. And one day, I hope I get to eat at a David Chang restaurant. I want me some pork belly!

Posted by: Julie at February 23, 2009 5:32 PM [#]

Kathi: Ssam bar has a great lunch prix fixe if you can make it there that early. Or if you can make it at 5pm when it opens, you wouldn't have to wait. I don't think you'd have to wait long if you went before 7.

I will be on the lookout for WAVING AND SHOUTING TOURIST! ;)

Julie: I didn't even think about how the soft serve was also breakfast appropriate. Hehehe..I like that idea.

Posted by: roboppy at February 24, 2009 9:04 AM [#]

i finally visited the momofuku milk bar this weekend after reading your post on the lucky charms soft serve ice cream. unfortunately they changed their entire flavors of soft serve! the flavors of the soft serve is now donuts. jelly, chocolate donut, old fashioned donut, etc. but i did try the cornflake marshmallow chocolate chip cookie which was out of this world. =)

Posted by: Jen S. at March 30, 2009 11:28 AM [#]

Jen: Oh yeah, they just changed the flavors last wednesday. ;_; But the new ones are better! In my opinion. Then again, I'm not a big fan of kids' cereals. Out of the new flavors I like the bavarian cream the most. Not into the chocolate donut...doh.

Posted by: roboppy at March 30, 2009 11:41 AM [#]

That volcano thing looks like the most heart cloggy thing on the planet... and I want one. NOW.

Posted by: LaserLiza at May 1, 2009 9:55 PM [#]

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