When my friend Austin invited me to her “Pork Birthday Celebration” at Momofuku Ssam, I responded affirmatively right away, ecstatic that I finally found an opportunity to share David Chang’s famous bo ssam (crispy pork shoulder) feast. Despite being Filipino, I am really not a pork lover – in fact, I can’t remember the last time I ordered or cooked any type of pig product, not to mention the whole bacon obsession is beyond me. But this particular pig gathering has been so highly praised in my presence, I knew I had to put all preferences aside and just dig in like a fan – which I did, and regretted more than ever when my food coma finally subsided at 6pm the next day.
Our table of 13 chose the 5 course meal, which at $55 per person, gives you a small portion of raw fish, warm bread with butter and lard, ham and “gravy,” steamed pork buns, bo ssam, and a few giant-sized s’mores. I made the mistake of arriving starving, and after having to wait almost two hours to be seated for our 7:30pm reservation, I was about ready to eat the table cloth. At least we were able to explore the new, albeit tiny, cocktail bar in the back, which uses liquid nitrogen to make a vodka soda. Though you definitely want to be hungry enough to appreciate the food, arriving with an empty stomach is not recommended unless you want to be in the same situation I was when leaving the restaurant (in so much pain that you’re afraid for your life).
There was literally enough food to feed an army, and with all the tasty things that arrived before the grand finale of the pork shoulder, I failed at leaving any legitimate stomach space to really enjoy it. That said, my absolute favorite was his well-known steamed pork buns. While the starters of bread, ham, and raw fish were just fine (still don’t quite understand the bread and lardo situation) – the buns totally filled my void of interesting, hunger-solving food. We also (thanks to Lauren) ordered the bbq buns, which were essentially crispy fried pork with coleslaw in a soft steamed bun. This was phenomenal, and in normal situations, one would be just enough for a solid lunch. But, when in Rome…
When the pork shoulder arrived I was in shock. The supply of crispy, tender pork meat was endless, as were the delicious sides of oysters, green onion, spicy sauce, lettuce cups, rice, and bok choy. Despite having an entire beer poured on my plate and lap in the heat of the moment, I still had a chance to discover what the hype around this traditional Korean meal was about. It’s the act of not only sharing something so delicious, but also the fun of putting together lettuce cup after lettuce cup with different combinations of sauces.
Had dessert notarrived, I would have kept on going. The giant s’more was not what I would recall as delicious. It was composed as a ridiculously sweet marshmellow-y mush sandwiched between two very dense graham-cracker like cookies, which acted as a platform for 3 scoops of sour, labne flavored ice cream. My biggest issue with some dessert chefs is that they feel the need to substitute vanilla ice cream for something totally insane. Why mess with a good thing? Vanilla would have made this dessert amazing, but the cheese flavored ice cream made my lips curl.
All in all, despite some of my complaints, I would recommend the Bo Ssam dinner at Ssam Bar to any serious pork lover. I have to imagine that there could be nothing better than an endless supply of crispy pig meat to someone who truly loves it. And at $55 a person, the overall experience is quite a deal.
*photo credit to Austin Scott
Location: 207 2nd Avenue at 13th