So…I know it’s been a while, but let’s pick up right where we left off, shall we?
The morning after that momentous day D. Chang’s Ssam Bar rose to NYT two-stardom, Sofia messaged me. It went something like:
SYL: I think it’s time for the bo ssam
AH: Are you serious?? OMG. OMFG. Hells yeaaaa! yippeeeee
SYL: YAY. I’M SO EXCITED. YAY PORK BUTT!!!
AH: YEA, ME TOO. YIPPPEEEE. PORK BUTT FEAST!!!
I had been fantasizing about this pork butt business for a while. Everywhere I went, it just seemed like everybody was doing it, you know what I mean? Obviously I felt the need to join the rank. Sofia and I started gather round a group of dedicated eaters, made the fateful reservation, and tada!! I’m proud to announce that this past Friday, eleven of us all got ass, a beautiful bootilicious porcine ass nonetheless. It was an event to be remembered: a decadent pork butt orgy to usher in spring break–how ironically timely, eh?
In case you’re curious, Sofia wrote up a wonderful account of the evening over at her blog. Now I feel no need to burden you anymore with my crappy writing. Enjoy the crappy pictures. Buh bye!
All accoutrements ready, awaiting the main star
Ahahah, gotcha over there! Of course, my loyal readers (like five of you? Thank you. I love you more than my other friends, but let’s keep it secret ;p) would know there’s no way I would end a real entry without hitting that 500 word count. So, since Sofia already recounted the night of gluttony in all its porky detail, I’m just going to do what I do best here: WHINE. The blog is called food and whine for a reason, duh!
Disclaimer: Despite my bitchin’ and moanin’ below, Ssam Bar is still one of my favorite places to eat in the City. All these whines are based on my personal tastes. They are subjective and should not dissuade you from going there (if you haven’t been, that is. Because if you have, you’re hooked, and right at this minute you’re thinking, “Who the hell do you think you are?? You unfaithful bitch,” or something along that line. haha, am I right?
Main Sea Urchin with Tapioca, Whipped Tofu, and Scallion
1. Main Sea Urchin with Tapioca, Whipped Tofu, and Scallion – so this was a very visually pleasing dish. The colors I liked. The tastes? not so much. It’s not that I don’t like sea urchin or foamy whipped thing or tapioca balls; I just didn’t like them together. Actually, I almost liked the dish, but something in there was off for me. I enjoyed the airy texture of the whipped tofu, but oh my god, the yuzu! I hated the yuzu in there. I can see why you would want to have some sort of acid somewhere in that dish to cut through the unctuousness of the sea urchin, but the yuzu tang was just, ugh, too floral for the uni. And the big tapioca balls, sorry but you don’t belong there. They were too sweet and chewy, and they contributed nothing to the dish. Ok, I take that back. Maybe their sliminess did contribute something, but flavorwise, it just didn’t work. I think I would’ve liked this dish if it was just sea urchin, whipped tofu (no yuzu infusion contamination infiltration please!), and then maybe something refreshing and crispy like…hmmm…shiso leaf tempura? or maybe even the Korean kkaennip? or a tempura of some other Asian minty varietal. Or, if we want to keep the acidic flavor, maybe a pickled something…like okra? Will okra stay slimy and sticky if it’s been pickled? Or maybe braised okra will do. Sea urchin needs something slimy. That viscous slime inside the okra would’ve been perfect. Or, alternatively, if we want to stick with the tapioca idea, I think the smaller pearl tapioca would work ten times better, so you would have an island of sea urchin and an island of whipped tofu floating in some dreamy pearl tapioca liquid, ok maybe sabayon (a la Thomas Keller’s Oysters and Pearls. Actually, this dish did remind me of Oysters and Pearls with the seafood-tapioca action going on there). But yea, maybe the pearl tapioca sabayon could be lightly flavored with dashi, lightly being the operative word. Ok, I’m actually really curious now. Perhaps someone can tell me how to whip tofu to get to that texture so I can try out all these combinations? =)
Chawanmushi with Black Truffle, Snails, Edamame, and Scallion
2. Chawanmushi with Black Truffle, Snails, Edamame, and Scallion – aka Tello’s Chawanmushi. Is Tello a real person? If yes, I want to marry him, so he can make this chawanmushi of his for me all day everyday. This dish hit all the right spots for me, from the smooth beyond perfection texture to the delightful bits of edamame at the bottom. TELLO, MARRY ME!!!
Three Terrine Sandwich (aka Banh Mi)
3. Three Terrine Sandwich– still the best banh mi in the City for me. I shall revisit all my favorite bahn mi places in LA now that I”m here and report back whether Ssam Bar’s version is indeed the best of the best.
Aside from those three dishes, we also got my favorite, grilled rice cake + sausage + collard + kimchee, and the grilled sweetbreads, which were cooked perfectly. No whining over there, nope.
4. Bo Ssam – this was massive. I propose that we break it down to its components.
4.1 Oysters – I almost slurped mine down before the pork butt arrived, but then our waiter rushed over to stop the sacrilege from happening, lol. He said to save it for the ssam…and I did. Unfortunately, I didn’t find the oysters to be that complementary to the pork, or the ssam, due to some major salt spill issue to be discussed below.
4.2 Condiments – so along with the oysters, bibb lettuce and rice, we were also given 4 kinds of sauces to customize our ssam with: napa cabbage kimchee, kimchee puree, ginger scallion sauce, and sea salt. My problem was that everything tasted salty. By itself, it was salty ok, but together with the pork (which was quite salty, in a good way) it became too salty. A few people in our party complained that the kimchee was not sour or spicy enough, which I agreed, and I think that would’ve helped the ssam as a whole too. I would love to see another sauce added to the trio, something complex and sweet and maybe tart rather than salty. I think onion marmalade would work quite well too.
Saucage for the Bo Ssam (kimchee puree, ginger scallion sauce)
4.3 Bibb Lettuce – they’re crisp and beautiful. No complaints here.
4.4 Rice – I really wish they used more glutinous rice than whatever kind they had there. The rice got hard towards the end from sitting too long outside. Stickier rice, like Japanese or Korean kind, would withstand the long duration on the table and absorb the pork fat and all other sauces better, I think. I wonder how the ssam would taste like with coconut rice–jasmine rice cooked with coconut milk and a tad bit of brown sugar. Really nutty and fragrant rice with a little hint of sweetness…mmm
Pork butt in all its glory
4.5 HUUUUUGE Pork Butt – our raison d’etre! haha just kidding, more like our raison de trekking down there. How do you say that in French? No whining here. I just wish the crispy skin: mushy flesh ratio were higher, but I know that’s not really within their control…oh, fatty me.
When people tell you, Bo Ssam is a lot of food, you need to believe them, JUST BELIEVE. This meal was a lesson in humility as we quickly realized that our supposedly hyperelastic stomachs weren’t quite that elastic and our appetites indeed limited. *oh gasp* Witnessing your waiter dividing the unfinished pork into three sizable containers for you to doggybag home was an ordeal no self-respected glutton should ever go through, I tell ya.
So bottomline, I did enjoy the Bo Ssam experience a lot and would love to try it again (not anytime soon though and not without a 2-liter bottle of Evian by my side ;p ). You ask, so what’s your problem really? No, no problem. Somehow in my poor little head I had thought that Bo Ssam would be the ultimate Momofuku Ssam Bar experience, but really it’s not, not for me at least. Now I think my ultimate Ssam Bar experience would be to order every friggin item on their menu along with a twelve-pack of Hitachino Red Ale (despite the fact that they don’t come in twelve…but you get the idea)…mMMmMm… who’s in?
Momofuku Ssam Bar
207 2nd Avenue
New York, NY 10003