David Chang’s Asian restaurant, Momofuku (“lucky peach” in Japanese), became an East Village phenomenon when it opened in 2004. Momofuku’s success prompted Chang and co-owner Joaquin Baca to open Momofuku Ssam Bar in 2006, specializing in Korean rice paper wraps known as ssam. At night, the cafeteria-style ssam bar lies dormant and the sleek dark wood restaurant becomes a culinary playground for Chang, Baca and chef friends Joshua McFadden (formerly of Lupa) and Tien Ho (formerly of Cafe Boulud). The collective experiments with an ever-changing roster of Asian fusion cuisine. One steadfast rule I’m a big fan of: “We do not serve vegetarian friendly items.” Leaf eaters beware. Omnivores rejoice.
The only decoration in the minimalist restaurant is this John McEnroe poster near the entrance. Is Johnny Mac some sort of maverick inspiration for the owners?
From the “Raw Bar,” we ordered day boat Maine diver sea scallops ($15) in dashi, pineapple and scallion oil. The raw sliced scallops were impeccable, accented by unobstrusive seasoning.
Spicy squid salad ($10) featured tender cuts of cephalopod, mache, onions, and crispy little dots of fried chickpea dough for texture.
A good light option was the Migliorelli’s winesap & Fuji apple salad with smoky chunks of Benton’s bacon (from Madisonville, TN) and lychee, plus lychee jelly.
Grilled veal sweetbreads ($14) were silky inside and charred outside, served with a ferocious dish of pickled roasted chilies, carrots and turnips. The flavor of the sweetbreads was accentuated with a squeeze of lime.
The dish that catapulted the original Momofuku to stardom and chef David Chang to New York Times profiles: steamed buns. These fluffy steamed buns ($9) were filled with luscious strips of pork belly, hoisin, thin-sliced cucumber and scallions. It was obvious why the dish made the leap to the “lucky peach” spin-off.
The dishes we ate were all delicious, and I wanted to eat more, but my stomach just wouldn’t allow it. Maybe next time I could bring a big group and order the whole pork butt with a dozen oysters, kimchi, rice and bibb lettuce; the grilled rice cakes with pork sausage, collard greens and kimchi; or the pork short rib clay pot with fingerling potato and pine nuts. If they’re even on the menu at that point. Given Chang and Baca’s creativity, they may have invented even more fabulous creations by then. I look forward to my next “lucky” opportunity.