Wednesday, July 1, 2009

When Will I See You Again?!

Chef David Chang is one of the most popular restaurateurs in New York right now. He revolutionized how Americans ate ramen with Noodle Bar. (Haven't you noticed that every Korean-owned deli in the city serves some kind of noodle soup concoction?) He unapologetically refuses to make his menu vegetarian-friendly (who doesn't need a side of spiced lard with their bread anyway?!). And, he blatantly mocked the tired reservation system that gave New York's VIPs exclusivity at many A-list restaurants with his computer-reservation-only, molecular-gastronomical experiment (aka Ko).

Last night, we braved the stormy weather (read: torrential downpour) for an important introduction: An aspiring foodie friend's first visit to Ssam Bar. Side note: several of my high-brow eating buddies always ask, "When are you going to get tired of the Chang Machine?" My only response: "When the food goes sub-par then, that's when I'll bail from the DC-bandwagon, but for now, I'm staying loyal, baby. And, shhh... how dare you speak such blasphemy in the House that Chang built!!!" Plus, I dig the laid-back, yet professional vibe, where young - albeit competent - people serve you properly. (Bad service is my biggest dining peeve!) And, for a new-be to the New York eating scene, Ssam is a pleasant beginning. Definitely not as intimidating as Jean-Georges, but it's a quality dining experience none-the-less.

We ordered the pork buns - always a crowd-pleaser! And a round of sake lemonades (Don Lee, the new Momo-mixologist, formerly from PDT, is a liquor-genius!).

However, tonight felt slightly off. The front of house staff was more tense than usual. And, we soon discovered the reason: David was coming to Ssam Bar... tonight... and to be even more precise, in the next 20 minutes!

To be completely honest, Chang-sightings are not the reason why we keep coming back. I could care less about the whole celebrity chef craze. (Although, I'm not gonna lie, our friend was thrilled. Pork buns and a real Chang spotting all in the same night?! I totally looked like a foodie all-star!) The real draw for me though is the food. And, to be even more specific, I want another go at my big, white whale, my own epicurean Moby Dick: an elusive off-the-menu Momo item.

About a month ago, we were eating at Ssam when our server leaned over and said: "Today, we have a BLT-version of our favorite Momo specialty - yes, that's correct, BLT pork buns!"

photo credit: ajkinik (top); Sydl3t (right)

The bacon was perfectly crisp and lean with just enough fat to make it tender in the middle. The two slices of tomato were juicy enough to add a sour tang to the fluffy Chinese-style bun. The bibb lettuce gave just enough snap to off-set the silky fat texture of the sliced pork. And, the In-n-Out-style secret sauce (read: fancy 1,000 island dressing) sealed the deal. Ever since we feasted on those specialty pork buns, nothing else from the menu would suffice. Maybe it's because I know I might never taste them again, and that's probably why I can't stop thinking about them. But, each time I walk into Momofuku Ssam, I secretly hope that someone is going to lean towards me and whisper, "The BLT pork buns are back..."

At that moment, I already know my reaction: I will smile - because that's my default facial expression for everything! - and then, I'll raise two fingers (the pointer and middle), signaling:

1) Two orders of the BLT pork buns please! and...
2) Victory (at last!)

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