Archive for January 22nd, 2007

A week in review (part une): an ode to David Chang / before the tempest

The tempest being one full week of relentless interviews, 6 in total. It was hellish, but definitely an invaluable experience. I learned a lot about finance, about the markets, and about myself (I’m sorry for being such a melodramatic fruitcup…but whatever). Thanks everyone for your continual support and encouragement. You guys are awesome. I have amazing friends! I’m dedicating the following three installments to all of you (like this means anything, haha).

If you’re a close friend of mine,  you probably know I have an elephantine chef crush on David Chang, the talented mastermind behind Momofuku Noodle Bar and Momofuku Ssam Bar. I don’t know what it is (well, actuall I know, it’s his food), but all of New York foodie aristocrats seem to be so smitten with him and just can’t stop talking about the dude. His speedy rise to fame is rather mindblowing, and really I don’t think there’s any other young New York chef who can claim to have gotten quite as much press as DC and his restaurants have in the past two years. The press absolutely adores the guy, and so does yours truly!

I think my first visit to Noodle Bar was during the summer of 2005. I’d just read all these rave reviews on NYT and NYMag, and suddenly everybody was gushing about the Berkshire pork and the pork buns and the ramen with poached egg. So one balmy day, my noodle buddy A and I made our fateful trip to the East Village premise. I remember ordering the Momofuku Ramen and watching DC preparing our noodles right in front of us. He was so stringent about serving the ramen at the right moment. I remember seeing him scolding his waiter for wanting to bring the bowl out too soon and then myself being so intrigued by that – someone who cares so much about his food! And then our two orders of Momofuku Ramen arrived. Oh, they were revelation. I remember marveling at the perfectly poached egg and thinking what a genius he was for pairing bamboo shoots and wakame seaweed with sweet corn kernels and fresh peas. Of course, the star was the Berkshire pork, so delicious and soulfully tender, and last but not least, the flavorful broth and the ramen itself. It’s like a tasty reverie in my mouth. Love at first taste! 

After that summer I went back several times, but no experience ever matched that first time when DC was there behind the counter. I tried the much-heralded pork buns and they were excellent; the pork was superbly fatty. The ramen, however, was never quite as revelatory as that first bowl that marked my rite of passage. The broth was starting to taste a little too salty even to my NaCl-philic palate. But again, I never saw DC there during my subsequent visits, so my suspicion was that his absence and the resulting looser quality control were causing the salt spill in the soup. Well, I loved him still.

And then we fast forward to August 2006. After much hype and speculation, Momofuku Ssam Bar opened to warm and welcoming reviews from, who else, the foodie aristocrats. It is such a novel idea on so many levels. First, Ssam Bar has a split personality: it’s a Chipotle-style Asian burrito joint by day, and a hypercool late-night grub bar with a style I can’t really pinpoint by night. Seriously, for my MS interview one of the interviewers asked me to name my top three restaurants in New York so I mentioned Momofuku Ssam Bar, and he asked what kind of food it was, and I couldn’t find a word for it…I ended up saying that it was comfort food but not in the traditional sense. It’s a mix of familiar Asian dishes tweaked to perfection and whimsical inventions that still hit the spot. Does that make sense? Yea, I can’t really put my finger on it…I ended up telling my interviewer to just go try it, haha. I hope he took my advice.

I can’t believe it took me that long to get to my point. I am so wordy. But my point is that I love the food there, even more so than Momofuku Ramen (much more so!). This is pure passion and creativity tranlated into edible terms. There’s really nothing like it. I’ve been there a few times since it opened, and the first two times I was there, the chef gave us free stuff! First time it was DC. He was busy tending to some dubious-looking pale green substance in the blender, so we asked him what it was. He told us he was doing a little experiment (Oh my god! I was so friggin excited. I was having a conversation with David Chang!!!) But anyway, we were too wrapped up in our ssams and so didn’t bother to ask him more questions.  Again, I know I’m repeating myself but the guy really is a genius, and the ssam that we were eating was one testament to his culinary vision. My Momofuku ssam (it’s like a burrito but with nontraditional fillings) was a yummy assemblage of his signature Berkshire pork, azuki beans, onion marmalade, kewpie mayo slaw, red kimchi puree, bean sprouts, edamame, rice, and I probably left something out. Once we were done with our food and ready to get our check, DC sent out a plate of raw diver scallops with a dollop of lemon rind foam (the aforementioned dubious pale green substance!) and kombu sprinkle. It was just so cool for him to give us a sample and ask for our comments. 

DC: Did I fail? 
AH: The foam is too bitter.
DC: It’s supposed to be bitter. Do I get an A+?
AH: It’s still too bitter. B+
DC: Hah, I don’t take anything below A+’s.

Ok, so this first installment is taking a little longer that I expected. But read on, my friends, delicious grub ahead. The second time we went there we actually got to try the late-night menu, and that’s really where the magic happens. Starter was oysters with a cooling topping of melon salsa. I didn’t like it too much. The oysters were too small and the melon didn’t stand up to the brininess of the oysters. We also tried the three terrine sandwich, which was really just an haute couture version of banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich) – perfection. We were debating between two apple salads (something with pork jowl? yes James?) so Joaquin (DC‘s partner) made us a sample of the other one we didn’t order (yay, more free stuff!). We also tried the dok dish, which is definitely my absolute favorite item on the menu. It’s a mixture of grilled dok (Korean rice cakes), kimchi, collard green, and ground beef/pork. This is comfort food at its height, in my humble opinion. I was a little disappointed that DC wasn’t there (haha), but Joaquin was so friendly he even gave us the contact number for the purveyor of their Berkshire pork. I think I still have it, so let me know if you’re interested.

So, I am getting to the real point now. Last Saturday D, Gilbey and I made our way to East Village for yet another helping of DC‘s delicious comfort food. It was very packed so we had to wait a little bit. Although the wait wasn’t that long, I think I’d definitely go on a weeknight next time – less crowded, no wait, and easier access to the prime seating (at the bar facing the kitchen in the center) which means full frontal chef-gazing.

But of course, now it’s time to order. By that time, the three musketeers were ravenous due to the 1-hour subway ride and 20-minute wait. First we got the grilled rice cakes with kimchi, collard green, and ground pork. My favorite! I know it doesn’t look too appetizing here, but it’s one of the most satisfying things you will ever eat.


Grilled dok with kimchi, collard green, and ground pork

Gilbey ordered this because he couldn’t eat pork. Ahh, but we’re in pork Disneyland! It was delicious nevertheless. Very clean and fresh, as D has noted.

grilled spanish mackerel

Grilled Spanish Mackarel with ume, lemon, pickled daikon, and ponzu sauce

This is my personal favorite also, a stew of beef and ox tongue with cinnamon, lemongrass, and…argh the third spice/herb’s name is eluding me. Anyway, the stew was a perfect hearty fix for the cold wintery night, and it came with crusty grilled ficelle for us to sop up the sauce with. The beef and the tongue, especially, were meltingly tender. We’re such beasts that we had to request for more bread.


Beef and ox tongue stew with cinnamon, lemongrass, and mystery herb

Gilbey also got the organic chicken ssam. After his first bite he said, “this is like an explosion of flavors in my mouth!”


Organic chicken ssam

In addition, we also got the signature Berkshire pork buns, which seemed to get fattier and fattier every time I tried it, but no complaints here.

It took us about an hour to get down, twenty minutes to get seated, but only forty minutes to inhale everything, like everything.


So, my point is…

how can you not love the dude when he makes food this good???

 I ❤ David Chang!

Momofuku Ssam Bar
207 2nd Avenue
New York, NY 10003
(212) 254-3500


January 2007
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