Chefs are known to traverse New York by night, a choice number of restaurants saving their best cuts of meat and their best bottles of wine for the late night foodies who know to swing by. David Chang's Momofuku Ssam Bar, a second venture to follow the well-established Momofuku noodle bar, offers a late night Asian fusion menu full of superstar items from 10:30 p.m. - 2:30 a.m. (Wednesday - Sunday) including fatty pork belly, roasted brussels sprout halves (with kimchi), sandwiches made of headcheese, ham, and chicken liver pate, fried veal sweetbreads, and a spicy Korean-style tripe stew.
Between 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., the Ssam bar can appear sparse, almost disturbingly slow. Sleek wood benches line the northern wall, directly across from a long countertop catering to solo diners swinging by for a quick bite. Chang--a gourmand if he should choose to take the title--offers a short "regular" menu with three options: 1) an Asian burrito in a warm flour wrap (a ssam is a Korean wrap) filled with rice, bacon black beans, sweeter-than-usual kimchi puree, and a choice of either organic chicken, shredded Berkshire pork, or spicy marinated tofu ($9) 2) heaping rice bowls topped with the same hearty combination of ingredients ($13) and 3) Berkshire pork or organic chicken steamed buns (2 for $8).
All food is prepared by friendly chefs at the burrito bar, then sent back with you on a silver tray to eat cafeteria style at the seat of your choice. The informaliity can be uncomfortable, especially if accustomed to the bustle and table service of the original Momofuku nearby, but Chang obviously has a plan, and the casual format is part of it. On a recent visit, Gothamist tried the Berkshire pork wrap--here, the ssam is made with pork shoulder rather than the pork belly like it is at the original Momofuku-- and though the meat is noticeably less luxurious, the flavor is far from compromised. The pork buns mimic those at the original Momofuku, but cost a dollar less, spongy white buns spread with a thin layer of pickle, hoison sauce, and a succulent hunk of meat.
Late night, however, is where the real magic happens and one sees quite clearly why Chang was named Food & Wine magazine's Best New Chef of 2006 . Eld inlet oysters are simultaneously sweet, salty, and tingle your tongue; four cuts of ham from either Kentucky, Virginia, or Tennesse will introduce you to the cornucopia that is pig. The spicy honeycomb tripe steams peppery heat into your nostrils, the tripe swimming in fiery red broth. Prices hover betewen $7 - $14 for most plates of cheeses, meats, raw bar items, and assorted small dishes. As for beverages, the bar offers beer, sparkly sake, and Dr. Pepper (because Chang likes it).The best technique to conquering the menu is to bring a big group or go back a few times--but remember: go late, and order without restraint.
Momofuku Ssam Bar is located at 207 2nd Avenue (at 13th St.) and open daily, 11 a.m. - 10 p.m. for the "regular" menu; 10:30 p.m. - 2:30 a.m. Weds - Sun for the late night menu. 212-254-3500
Photos by overshadowed on flickr.