My family and I are just back from a week in the Berkshire Mountains of Western Massachusetts — home to several world-class summer arts festivals and more than a few mediocre restaurants. Suffice it way this wasn’t an eating vacation.
But we did tack on a couple of days in New York at the end of the trip to visit family, walk around the city, shop and….hey, kids, let’s go to Ssam Bar!
I wasn’t quite sure how my daughters would like this pork-happy, offal-intensive, Asian-sorta-kinda-but-not-really link in the small chain of Momofuku restaurants in the East Village. (SSam refers to a Korean dishes that are wrapped; the house signature is a barbecued pork shoulder with lettuce wraps.)
My kids wouldn’t have much to relate to at this restaurant. But, as it turned out, they loved it all — everything from the cured trout with watermelon and roe, to sugar snaps tossed in an intense to XO sauce with minced egg mimosa, to the crispy pig’s head patties served with Indian lime pickle.
But the dish that made all of us melt was this pork bun served with hoisin sauce, cucumbers, scallions and a little squirt bottle of Sriracha on the side. Seriously, my youngest daughter went so limp with rapture I thought she had misplaced her skeleton.
Of course. The pork bun is one of chef David Chang’s signatures, which he developed at his original restaurant, Momofuku Noodle Bar, and saw attain an immediate cult status. I was happy to see that it had migrated to the menu at Ssam Bar.
What makes it so great? For starters, the pork looks like a sturdy slab on the plate but sort of collapses like a marionette at repose as soon as you begin to chew. (I believe it is cooked sous vide.) As your mouth begins to adjust to the surprise, that smear of sweet flavor from the sauce sneaks up. Then the pickley crunch of the cuke kicks in with a funny little echo.
After we had finished eating, my brother called to say he was in the neighborhood. We ordered him a set of pork buns and stared at them after they arrived before he did.
“Are you close???” I texted.
“Just around the corner,” he responded.
We ate the buns anyhow. The true meaning of irresistible.
(Thanks to Zach at Midtown Lunch for the great photo!)