These are two names which most food lovers in NYC consider sacred. Chang’s empire has grown from a tiny noodle shop, Momofuku Noodle Bar, which opened in 2004, to having so many different restaurants, I can barely keep track anymore.
Chris and I have always had a soft spot for Momofuku Ssam Bar, since the eatery opened two years after its predecessor. We ate there from the very beginning, when they only sold Korean-style ssam–similar to burritos–and later fell in love with their (sadly defunct) $45 prix fixe 5-course tasting menu. It was truly the gateway restaurant for our culinary adventurism! Nowadays, the menu is ever-changing, with a stimulating array of choices for everyone.
Recently, Ssam Bar announced its newest concept: weekday “all-duck” lunches. Although getting out for lunch on a weekday is extremely challenging for me, I took advantage of a day off recently to meet Chris for this quacky feast.
The restaurant was equipped with a multi-spit rotisserie to roast the poultry with, and the menu stayed mostly true to its “all-duck” theme. I spotted Fried Duck Dumplings with Srichacha Mayo and Pickled Red Cabbage–these were a must try.
The dumplings were phenomenal. I have eaten many delightful fried pouches in my day, but these rank right at the top. Although I found the pickled red cabbage rather useless, the perfectly crisped wrapper, juicy duck and tangy srichacha mayo were a heavenly combination.
Staying true to Momofuku tradition, we wanted to see how the new school Pulled Duck Bun with Sauerkraut and Smoked Mayo ranked against the old school Pork Bun with Cucumber, Hoisin and Scallions.
Our opinions of the pulled duck bun were opposing–“can’t get enough” and “eh.” I was lukewarm, while Chris was smitten. The melty, fatty and sweet taste of the steamed pork belly has spoiled me so much over the years–there is no comparison in my eyes.
It was finally time for the pièce de résistance–the one, the only, Rotisserie Duck over Rice with Chive Pancakes and Bibb Lettuce. The star of the show came with three accoutrements: Rendered Duck Fat with Scallions, Crispy Shallots and Ssam Sauce. Lastly, we added a side of the Spicy Fingerling Potatoes with Chili Black Bean Sauce.
After hearing that the potatoes were roasted in duck fat under the spit, I thought the potatoes would be much more crisped up, but they were just okay. Not only were they not very crispy, but I didn’t find them very spicy either–boo.
The rotisserie duck, on the other hand, was delectable! Pure vida! Beyond the tender meat, the skin had an Asian sweetness and an out-of-this-world crunch. I found myself savoring each bite of the bird on its own. I did craft one sandwich with the chive pancake, lettuce, rice, shallots and sauces, which almost gave me a flashback to the good old days of ssams, but in the end I was perfectly happy without all the add-ons.
All in all, the Ssam Bar’s “all-duck” lunch did not disappoint. I would encourage everyone to schedule a long lunch to try Chang’s latest meal-tastic concept before he decides to replace it with yet another creative venture. I’ll be happy to join you for seconds.