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 here is your food porn with insubstantial commentary.
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: 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."
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: 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: 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: 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.
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...
...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 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.
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.
There's Greg's reaction. Yeeeeeeah.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Next door to Ssam on 13th street