Monday, January 19, 2009

New Year's Eve at Momofuku Ssäm Bar and Milk Bar

Maybe my hands were shaking from excitement when I took these photos.

A month or so before New Year's Eve, I took the liberty of making a dinner reservation for eight at Momofuku Ssäm Bar. I had a specific purpose in mind, and probably at least some of you recognize the above picture for what it is: the whole roasted pork butt served as the feature of their bo ssäm. For those unfamiliar with what that is, it's basically the massive hunk of meat you see above accompanied by white rice, different sauces, a platter of raw oysters, and bibb lettuce, and you're meant to use the pieces of lettuce as wrappers for meaty mouthfuls of the rest. In other words, a pig-fest, straight up.

I made the reservation without knowing who would join me, and then basically did a call-out to friends to see who was down. Luckily we ended up with the full eight (you do need at least six people in order to make a bo sm reservation), because I don't know how any fewer can get through this meal.
I didn't realize exactly how much food we'd be getting at first, though. So when the server said that most groups getting the bo sm usually also get four or five starters, I thought we were being conservative by only ordering three.

The cult-following pork buns from the Momofuku empire don't actually impress me that much—especially since the price of them is so steep (an order of two costs nine bucks; that's $4.50 per, yo!). People seem to talk about them as one of the greatest inventions ever, but if you look at Peking Duck or the Taiwanese gua bao, it's really nothing that new. What Momofuku does offer, though, is a high-quality variation using good ingredients, and so for that I suggested getting them, especially since others at the table hadn't tried 'em before.
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The other two starters we ordered were the honeycrisp apple kimchi, with "burger's smoked jowl, maple labne, arugula" and the satur farm's fried brussels sprouts, with "mint, scallions, fish sauce vinaigrette." I liked the first dish a lot, which was basically pieces of honeycrisp tossed in a kimchi puree and paired with bacon and yogurt. And even though TL usually doesn't like brussel sprouts, he was quite fond of the Momofuku rendition, going back for seconds and even thirds of the stuff.

Then came the bo ssäm:
Glorious, fatty, gigantic, meltingly tender and flavoful pork butt, the meat coming right off the bone. There's about seven pounds of pig on that platter.
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Platter of oysters; bibb lettuce. In the bowls: kimchi, kimchi puree, scallion sauce, and sweet pepper paste. You can consume the bo ssäm any way you like, but my favorite method—stolen from TL—was to fold a bit of meat, a bit of rice, a bit of sweet pepper paste, and a whole raw oyster into a lettuce leaf and to eat that in a few bites. In that way the brininess of the oysters playing off the meat was maximized. Who knew those two would work so well together?

We tried mightily, but damn, we just could not get through it all. Our bellies were straining and there was still a pile of meat left on the plate. Even a dare to TC with several hundred dollars at stake didn't result in her polishing it off…not even close.
Everyone knows there's always extra room in the stomach for dessert, though, so after our meal we trooped through the back of Ssäm Bar to the adjoining and newly opened Momofuku Bakery & Milk Bar. I shared a piece of the pumpkin blondie pie with TL, which was good but so dense and sweet I only wanted a few bites. I also had a piece of GQ's blueberry cream cookie, which was absolutely delicious—tender and rich and buttery and crisp and full of fruit. If we didn't have several parties to attend afterward, I would have seriously considered getting a whole one for myself. As it was, I'd already gone beyond my limit—I spent the remainder of the night trying to gracefully digest. Lesson learned: eat light on New Year's Eve, not decadent.


  1. Looks great! Every time I see a post on the bo ssam, I always wonder - is it worth the hefty price tage? Sure, it doesn't work out to be that much if you divide it amongst 8 people but it looks like you can do it at home. For me, part of the joy of going out is eating food I can't make at home (lack of skill/equipment, etc.). Do you think it's worth it?

  2. It is hefty—when I looked it up, people seemed to quote $180 but I believe when we got the bill it was $210. So between eight people it's about $26 each, which isn't too bad. I'm sure it is something that can be done at home, but it's probable that I'd never tackle such a huge amount of meat on my own, so I'm good with it!