Momofuku Ssäm Bar

Intriguing news hit the downtown culinary scene recently: David Chang of the revered Korean fushion place Momofuku Noodle Bar, a favorite of off-duty chefs and off-expense-account restaurant reviewers, was opening a new restaurant. The offshoot, Momofuku Ssäm Bar, would specialize in...burritos?

Heresy! How dare this uppity chef tinker with our favorite food? Determined to investigate, I trekked over there one rainy afternoon.

Though the concept sounds kitschy, Momofuku Ssäm Bar is not. Spare and wood paneled, with a bright, open kitchen, the burrito bar is designed much like Momofuku Noodle Bar, though thankfully, this space is wider and roomier. I place an order for the Berkshire pork ssäm (a.k.a. burrito) at the counter. (Unlike the noodle joint, there is no table service here.) One chef pulls a flour tortilla out of a steamer and hands it to two other chefs for what proves to be a major burrito-making operation. I hope the ssäm will rival the Berkshire pork buns at Momofuku Noodle Bar, also on the menu here, which are so good they inspired a friend of mine to call me and repeat: "Pork buns... Pork buns..." until I agreed to accompany her there again.

The chefs pile the tortilla with a mountain of pork, black beans, rice, cabbage slaw, and a dollop of chili sauce, then somehow manage to wrap this into a burrito. They hand it to me - a relatively diminutive person, especially when seen in the same frame as a giant burrito - with an apprehensive look.

The space is welcoming, but there is something about it that makes me feel slightly...out of place. Then I realize: I am one of very few women in the room. I do a headcount. Twelve out of sixteen lunch patrons are men, most of them good-looking, seemingly straight, and dressed in carelessly chic clothing. But of course. There is indie rock playing on the stereo, a beat-up vintage John McEnroe poster by the door, and for Christ's sake, this is a burrito joint! I feel as if I've somehow gotten into the guys' clubhouse. If only more New York women were aware of this phenomenon, perhaps they would embrace carbs as well.

The ssäm itself is great: a delectable combination of ropy Cuban-esque pork, smoky beans, rice, and crunchy vinegary cabbage slaw, all made extremely spicy by the Korean chili sauce. The flavors are similar to the ones at Momofuku Noodle Bar, but in burrito form.

So why did David Chang do it? Perhaps because he is a disciple of master spinner-offer Tom Colicchio of Craft. Perhaps because NYU is building more high-rise dorms in the area every day, much to the chagrin of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. Momofuku Ssam Bar already has late night hours and delivery service on the way, as an email sign-up sheet by the door informs us. Whatever side you're on in the epic NYU/GV real estate battle, there is a definite side benefit to NYU's expansion: This is the ultimate college food, dude.

I roll out of there feeling as if I've turned into an extra-large burrito. When my college-age metabolism was still roaring at relatively high speed, albeit in another, smaller town, all we had in late night offerings was a cheesesteak joint, pizza shops, and Chinese takeout so bad we called it "Hein Garden." Kids these days? They get to binge on Momofuku's $9 gourmet.

Momofuku Ssäm Bar
207 Second Avenue
at 13th Street


joy said...

pork buns...pork buns...when are we going back, anyway?