Momofuku Ssäm Bar | 207 2nd Ave. (on 13th St.) | 212.254.3500 | | | | |
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THERE ARE ARGUABLY A FEW legitimate "emperors" in the food world of New York City. Of note among them are Keith McNally (Pravda, Balthazar, Pastis, Schiller's Liquor Bar, Morandi, the still buzzing Minetta Tavern), Danny Meyer (Gramercy Tavern, Eleven Madison Park, Blue Smoke, the annoyingly ubiquitous Shake Shack), and newest to this list is David Chang, who has a family of popular and trendy eateries under his Momofuku umbrella, including Ko, Má Pêche, Momofuku Noodle Bar, Momofuku Milk Bar, and Momofuku Ssäm Bar.

Momofuku Ssäm has most recently expended into it's former Milk Bar space right next door, probably to accommodate their ever-increasing number of customers, night and day. I approached it for lunch, not just jonesing to try the duck featured on its ever-changing menu, but to reconcile walking by it so many times in my PHUDE travels without even popping a toe in.

The modest corner storefront remains, as does the long room that crams people elbow-to-elbow most nights.

Walk along 13th Street to see the new counter-service shop, where you peruse the menu taped to the window, walk in, place your order with the cashier, then get an identifying playing card to take to your seat with you while you await your order.

As mentioned, I was all about duck this afternoon, ordering first the small plate pulled duck bun, that comes with sauerkraut and smoked mayo.

Yes, steamed buns are de rigueur all over the city, but these are, first, larger than their default-sized cousins, and the bun itself didn't suffer any of the adverse anomalies that I've had to endure, such as stickiness, gumminess, dryness, or weakness. These were perfect pillows of softness with enough structural integrity to withstand the layers of pulled, perfectly roasted duck leg/thigh meat, darker than the duck breast, which means a richer flavor, accented by crunchy, thickly-sliced sauerkraut and mellowed through the nose by the "smoke" in the smooth mayo.

I then ordered the rotisserie duck over rice, which arrives in a large bowl to accommodate the dishes heft. Already table-side were the condiments for this particular dish: duck scallion, ssäm sauce, and crisp-fried shallots.

As you can hopefully tell by the photos, the percentage of lean, slowly roasted duck meat to the slightly rendered, protective layer of fat to the self-basted, crispy skin was outstanding to visually behold as well as slowly consume, enjoying the purity of it all at first that it took me a while to even address the possibilities of adding the condiments. And so glad that I did as the crispy shallots added crunch and an earthy pop, while the ssäm sauce supplied a welcome layer of chili pepper heat and depth and vinegary kick.

I bow down to David Chang, for bringing these sensibilities to the city, more grateful now that I was no longer the one walking by looking into Momofuku Ssäm Bar, but happily sitting and eating inside, looking out.

Bun Apple Tea!


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Momofuku Ssäm Bar | 207 2nd Ave. (on 13th St.) | 212.254.3500 | | | | |