03 Feb2010

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Last Thanksgiving, the Teen and I were in New York and we decided to head down to “Elvie’s turo-turo” for some Filipino comfort food. We took a bus downtown to the East Village, walked up to Elvie’s, and were both shocked and disappointed to see it had permanently closed for business. Bummer. So after a quick visit to nearby Gabay’s, the close-out shoe/clothing store with occasional GREAT finds, we started to wander east in search of some lunch. After a couple of minutes, we found ourselves in front of Momofuku Ssam Bar, and wanting something at least Asian in the flavor spectrum, we decided to give it another try. Roughly two and a half years earlier, we had lunch at the same restaurant, and despite all the rave reviews at the time, we had a surprisingly plebeian and unremarkable lunch, so blah in fact that I decided not to write about it then (even a quick post on Hershey’s Kisses 100th anniversary made it onto the blog from that trip instead!).

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But I am happy to say we had a wonderful meal second time around. Wonderful. The Teen ordered from the reasonably priced (< $30) prix fixe menu and started with a bowl of sichuan beef tendon which we shared, a bowl of unusual but stunningly good braised beef brisket with rice noodles, and ended with a thai iced tea parfait. I ordered the steamed pork buns for which momfuku has attained cult status, and a generous plate of seasonal pickles. The pickles, top photo, were a STANDOUT. I knew the second after tasting the first piece of pickled endive that we were going to be in for a pretty surprising lunch. The plate included shiitakes, endive, cauliflower, bokchoy, cucumbers, kimchi, etc. and were the perfect foil for the pork buns. I promised myself I would try and make them back home. The Sichuan Beef Tendon was also outstanding. Served cold (a twist we weren't expecting), this dish wasn't only about depth of flavor, it was about the slightly unusual texture and mouth feel of the very thinly sliced tendon. Good grief, who would have thought tendon would yield such bliss. The Teen had a bit of this, found it a touch odd, but I polished off the rest of the bowl happily. IMG_0066.JPG

Having spent the year immersed in roast pork, I thought I should try some other examples to keep it real (hence a much earlier post on porchetta, and this foray into pork belly), and it helps that Mr. Bourdain suggested we go back and give Momofuku another try, so I got the classic pork buns. These were SUPERB. Will compare them to the first time we went to Momofuku, with photos below. Here the pork was tender, melt in your mouth and flavorful. Served in a flat bun (thus not overly bready) with some hoisin or other dark sauce concoction and some sliced cucumbers, this definitely hit the spot. And the fat dripping down my forearm and onto the plate was definitely a good sign.

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Portions were just the right size so far, and the flavor spectrum was broad and on occasion, sharp, with high notes that I look for in food from chefs who are in the limelight. And so the bliss continued with the bowl of braised beef brisket, made up of several tender pieces of brisket, possibly then seared on a hot pan, then returned to a bowl of rice noodles with a comforting broth, coriander, bean sprouts and a lot of lime juice. It was definitely a take on a bowl of Vietnamese Pho, but with beef and with a pride all its own. Excellent.

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Finally, the Teen’s rather weird sounding thai iced tea parfait arrived and it was also a stunner. The flavor of Thai iced tea in a gelatinous block, served with lemon mascarpone and all I can say is it worked. The plate was clean when we left. At $60 or less for the entire meal, with drinks, we left well satiated and happy to have given Momofuku another try. A few days later I purchased David Chang’s (the proprietor/chef) cookbook with the primary objective of replicating those wonderful pickles…

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But rewind over two years, to a lunch we had at Momufuku Ssam Bar just months after it opened, and had by then built a reputation as a late night hangout of chefs and other restaurant crews, and we would have rated it a 5 or 6 out of 10.0. I had some pork and rice with a side of fresh soybeans, photo above, that wasn’t any better than some rice toppings available at a fast food restaurant in Manila… It was even served on a disposable plastic plate.

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The pork buns had shredded pork that was dry and tasted like it had been cooked the day before, and we also had other items that simply did not impress. It was cheaper then, but the food wasn’t worth it. Perhaps lunch wasn’t the time to hit the hotspot, but they shouldn’t have bothered to open for lunch if the food was that mediocre.

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So I was incredibly surprised to read David Chang’s introduction in his cookbook Momofuku where he goes into some history of the restaurants, his cooking background, etc. and when he narrates the experience of Momofuku Ssam Bar, he alludes to the early problems with the lunch time menu but thankfully goes on to reconfigure the offerings and he has today, in our opinion, a wonderful set of dishes that are a pleasure to eat. It’s no small added tidbit that the man is reputedly somewhat ornery and snarled at customers early on, something I can definitely relate to… :) If you haven’t been, try it. If you can’t get to New York, try his book instead, he has recipes for his pork buns, pickles, and other goodies from the restaurants he owns…

 

COMMENTS:

  1. rosemarie says:

    Hi MM, my family and I just adore Momofuku esp the buns. the service is really not so great when we tried it the first time way back a few years ago- maybe bec we pinoys are so used to being served royal style di ba …anyway, sans the service, the food is really great and even bought a book from costco a few months ago. also been dreaming of momo in the phil. sana – di ba..anyway, thanks for the lovely photos. after this harsh chilly weather- i will go there this spring.
    ps- and just to think- after reading his book- he went to all the fuss even after finishing at the FCI. wow, its just so hard to make it big here as a chef- takes years, perspiration and lots of luck…

    Feb 3, 2010 | 8:01 am

     
  2. Artisan Chocolatier says:

    The pork buns looks awesome….I should try this using zubuchon!!!

    Feb 3, 2010 | 8:17 am

     
  3. millet says:

    i was just watching this on Martha the other day, and she was raving about the pork buns!

    Feb 3, 2010 | 9:25 am

     
  4. Maricel says:

    Just got me the Momofuku cookbook yesterday:)

    Feb 3, 2010 | 11:46 am

     
  5. silly lolo says:

    ArtisanC: Genius!! Pork bun using Zubuchon! Lookit, you can make it, freeze it immediately, throw it in a shipping box with dry ice, and voila, it is all the way to the East Coast within 48 hours! Customer receives it in NY, opens the box, throws the buns in the micro for say, 45 secs. and you have happy campers. The US West Coast should be a piece of cake. Silly Lola suggests empanada using Zubuchon. You ship it
    frozen with the Customer to finish the cooking process by throwing it in the oven until the flakey pastry is done. Roll up your sleeves, ArtisanC, there’s work to be done!

    Feb 3, 2010 | 12:09 pm

     
  6. chip says:

    On David Chang, if I remember correctly, I believe it was in an interview with Bourdain in a podcast that he expressed exasperation with diners who take pictures of their food before eating it. Meanwhile, food got cold and the diner consumes something that is not at its prime… (conclusion if you can read between the lines: it’s the diner’s fault that the food is not good)

    Feb 3, 2010 | 1:23 pm

     
  7. Marketman says:

    Chip, yes, I remember that quote. And I have to say, I was apprehensive about taking my camera out as I normally am in a restaurant, but with the Teen blocking out the view and careful timing, we managed to get these photos. I realize the guy could be brilliant with some terrific combinations, but early on some of his dishes weren’t so hot at all. In fact, they were glorified turo-turo dishes served on plastic plates. :)

    Feb 3, 2010 | 1:50 pm

     
  8. Cecilia says:

    Looks and sounds oh, so mouthwatering! Since I am not in New York, and have no plans soon of going, I will definitely look-up this cookbook. Thank you!

    Feb 3, 2010 | 3:36 pm

     
  9. JplusOandD says:

    Ah, Momofuku! Reading your blog entry made me suddenly crave for those tasty pork buns… and it’s only 8:30 am! Will definitely hit the East Village for lunch in a few :)

    Feb 3, 2010 | 9:40 pm

     
  10. C.U.S. says:

    Hi MM! I got to try those pork buns in Momofuku Noodle Bar, not far from Ssam Bar. It was okay, I guess, but I didn’t get the hype surrounding it or why people wait in line just to eat at Momofuku. I’ve tried better pork buns and that was probably at one of our local Chinese restos.
    Re: the service, we first went to Ssam Bar on that that day but 5 minutes before the official opening time, in the freezing cold, they wouldn’t allow anyone in (even just to wait by the door). When we asked if we could wait inside, one of the waiters actually said “Whatever.” We just got irked and moved to the noodle bar.

    Feb 3, 2010 | 9:51 pm

     
  11. Marketman says:

    C.U.S., in the cookbook, David Chang acknowledges that the buns shouldn’t have been anything iconic, he simply patterned them after the thousands he had eaten while he was in China… so I think the novelty to New Yorkers is a big part of it, but having said that, the pork belly in the ones I tried was superb.

    Feb 3, 2010 | 11:37 pm

     
  12. roxy831 says:

    OMG! No way! Elvie’s closed na ? :( Im glad I was able to eat at this place.. my Tito who lives in Stuyvesant brought me here last Holy week and we had sinigang na salmon! There was one American lady who ate fried fish (i forgot if it was tilapia) and monggo and she loved it! I wonder where he eats now for his Filipino food fix, seemed like he really lovedthis place..
    Hope you were able to get something from Gabay’s! :)

    Feb 3, 2010 | 11:40 pm

     
  13. FM says:

    I love Momofuku Ssam bar as well as Milk Bar. I tried Momofuku Ko over the holidays – really delicious, and I think some of the recipes are included in the cookbook as well.

    Feb 4, 2010 | 1:21 am

     
  14. thea says:

    hi marketman, i ate in momofuku 2 years ago, and you’re right, their lunch menu wasnt as good as their dinner menu. dinner was definitely much better. momofuku’s pork bun was very good, but you need to try Ippudo NYC next time. their hirata buns are the best. very similar to momofuku, except that they serve it with japanese mayo and fresh crunchy napa cabbage. perfect pair with a bowl of steaming hot ramen.

    Feb 4, 2010 | 3:37 am

     
  15. Lilibeth says:

    Those buns look like the ones they serve in Chinatown when you order Peking duck.

    Feb 4, 2010 | 4:40 am

     
  16. Marketman says:

    Lilibeth, they were more like flat siopao buns, not so much like the pancakes with Peking duck. thea, we had ramen at Ippudo as well… very good as well. :)

    Feb 4, 2010 | 7:14 am

     
  17. yel says:

    Hi MM!

    I was in Momofuku Noodle bar last week and I did like their fried chicken. I love the korean style one when you eat it with cucumber. But you have to call to order in advance though.

    Feb 4, 2010 | 8:51 am

     
  18. pinayinny says:

    when i want my pinoy fix, i go to ihawan 2 (from grand central, take the 7th train, 1 stop to queens, its right across the subway) never failed me.

    i liked the shitake buns better than the pork buns in momofuku.

    Feb 4, 2010 | 11:06 pm

     
  19. pinayinny says:

    yel, try bonchon chicken in k-town (now called mad for chicken) its the best korean fried chicken ever. promise.:)

    Feb 4, 2010 | 11:07 pm

     
  20. Vanessa says:

    I’ve heard so much about the Momofuku Ssam Bar and intend to go the next time I’m in New York. I am also aspiring to go to the Momofuku Ko restaurant, though I have been warned that getting a table there is half the battle. Thanks for featuring this, Marketman!

    Feb 4, 2010 | 11:15 pm

     
  21. psychomom says:

    flat buns also used for kua-pao. would be a good pairing with zubuchon!

    Feb 5, 2010 | 3:44 am

     
  22. chay says:

    i live in Manila, and i go to the US during Christmas time to be with my fiance who lives in DC. we were in New York one weekend before i come home and we chanced upon this restaurant while exploring the Chelsea neighborhood. i must say having lunch here is the highlight of that trip.

    we didnt know what to get so we asked our server for suggestions and he was so helpful. we had the Pork Buns (it was so glorious we ordered another plate), the Rice Cake (one of their bestsellers) and the Brussel Sprouts (my favorite). service is excellent and we didn’t wait long. price is NY standard, which is high for a peso earner like me but i wouldnt mind paying if the food was this good (of course, my fiance paid for it!)

    this place will be a staple in our future NY trips for sure.

    by the way, MM, im a reader of your blog but this is my first comment! :) more power!

    Feb 10, 2010 | 1:46 pm

     
  23. JungMann says:

    The spicy chilled noodles at the Noodle Bar are topped with candied cashews and a sausage that tastes remarkably similar to longaniza. If you have a chance to try it the next time you’re here in NYC, I think it might jog your culinary mind as much as it did mine.

    Mar 1, 2010 | 11:48 am

     
 

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