Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Momo-what?

The morning and afternoon of my second full day in New York City afforded me some free time to explore the city on my own before our group gathered for dinner and another show in the evening.  I had taken the opportunity to sleep in a bit as the previous night we had watched a musical then had a late night dinner at the Blue Note jazz club.  (Though the focus there is on jazz music performances, the Blue Note did offer some decent food.  Unfortunately, darkness and a no-flash rule during the performance meant taking pictures of the food was out of the question.)  It was mid-morning by the time I was ready to explore again, and explore I did.

Being a planner by day I explored some features that were noteworthy or relevant to planning and architectural circles, including the Flatiron Building near the Grammercy District and The High Line elevated linear park in the Chelsea District.  However, being a foodie as well I managed to take another look at New York's culinary world.  I'd heard about Chelsea Market and, being near The High Line I explored it.  I'll admit I was disappointed in that only the ground floor had restaurants and food retail stores, and even then the number of businesses paled compared to Toronto's St. Lawrence Market, let alone Melbourne's Queen Victoria Market.  Nonetheless, there were still some noteworthy businesses, including the restaurant Morimoto (of Iron Chef Morimoto Masaharu fame), a seafood store with a healthy selection of fish and shellfish from around the world, including at least six varieties of oysters (including Prince Edward Island's renowned Malpeques), and a small stall selling homemade ice pops using fruits grown locally.

With lunch free for my own choosing, I had contemplated between two restaurants my sister flagged for me before I went on my trip: Grammercy Tavern and the Momofuku group, headed by chef David Chang.  I first arrived at Grammercy Tavern by foot from a nearby subway station, but in the drizzle discovered that it wouldn't open until noon, 45min. after I first got there.  I then continued walking to Momofuku Ssam bar, located in East Village, where by that time the drizzle had turn to rain.  Though I wasn't soaked, my hair was definitely dripping wet, so I was relieved that Ssam opened at 11:30am, just two minutes after I arrived there.  With my hair dried a bit and with a Sprecher root beer in hand, I proceeded to order a prix-fixe lunch as I relaxed and savored the minimalist, rectilnear dark wood decor.
For starters I had a dish for which Momofuku is renowned, Steamed Pork Buns.  This was obviously influenced by Peking duck, with the pork belly slices wrapped with cucumber, green onions and hoisin sauce in a thin bread.  In spite of some grease dripping from the meat, the steamed pork belly, first given a simple dry rub, did not taste heavy, and the slices melted in my mouth.  Again, like the previous day, thank goodness I was doing plenty of walking that day!
My main course was Whole Lamb Sausage with cucumber, anise and potato salad.  The sausage was made with meat from practically all parts of the lamb, and I'm sure the potato salad had some sort of cheese that I couldn't identify at the time.  The grilled sausage was less greasy than the pork belly, but it certainly wasn't less flavourful.  Considering how comparatively large (and fatty) the appetizer was, I did appreciate the main course being of a smaller than usual portion size.
Lastly, for dessert I had what I would consider another "Iron Chef" moment, Corn Ice Cream Pie.  Garnished with fresh berries and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, the ice cream was mildly sweet with a clear tinge of fresh sweet corn nearby and was countered by a savoury rice puff crust.  This was definitely one of the more creative uses of corn I've encountered so far, and if I were a judge on that show, I would give high marks for both creativity and taste.

This place was in the end definitely worth the walk in the rain.  The next time I return to New York City, I certainly would like to know how Momofuku's other restaurants fare as they each are completely different from each other in what they generally serve.

Name: Momofuku Ssam Bar
Address: 207 2nd Ave. (@ 13th St.), New York, NY
Cuisine: Fusion
Price Range: Lunch $15-$30; Dinner unknown
Accessible: Yes

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