Momofuku Ssam Bar & Milk Bar (207 Second Ave, East Village)
Be oh-so-careful before inviting a date to one of David Chang's Manhattan hot spots. I learned from a recently confused series of text messages that not everyone knows that the Japanese "u" always produces the long vowel sound. "You want to have lunch at 'Mama %&#@ you?'" my baffled friend recently asked, while I snickered immaturely. "No, 'Moe-moe-foo-koo' is the correct pronunciation" (Japanese for "lucky peach").
The most infamously exclusive of Chang's restaurants, Momofuku Ko, only offers a tasting menu ranging from $125 to $175, depending on the going market rate. Furthermore, you must apply for a reservation on-line at least a week in advance for a computerized selection process that determines who will fill the 12-seat space. As I have neither the spare change, nor the present patience, I decided to hit up both his Ssam Bar (sit-down restaurant) & Milk Bar (a bakery just around the corner, also connected by a hallway).
While you can certainly order a la carte to build a meal that suits your palate and price point, we opted for the three-course $25 lunch prix-fixe for a sampling of several dishes (the portions are unexpectedly generous, so bring a companion who's willing to dine family-style as you can double the deliciousness plated before you.)
This is surely culinary fusion the way God himself intended it. I have to say it's one of the most playful, surprising, and delicious lunches I have enjoyed in a long time. I was joined by one of my dearest friends, Kieran, who had just returned from Rome, and was skeptical any meal could taste half as good as his previous week's exploit into Italian epicurean bliss. We both walked away extremely pleased.
American soft drinks are not a beverage option, so we tried this Jamaican grapefruit soda... delicious...
A you-gotta-try spin on the traditional Chinese pork bun, featuring Kentucky pork belly, hoisin, cucumbers, and scallions.
An array of pickled seasonal vegetables (we devoured the kimchi and Asian pear).
One of our favorites: the fried brussels sprouts with fish sauce vinaigrette, fresh mint, and puffed rice.
Ridiculicious! These spicy rice cakes were more like lightly-fried Szechuan gnocchi, a delicate outer crunch filled with steamy pillows of rice pastry, adorned with pork sausage, Chinese broccoli, and crispy shallots. Wow!
Braised beef brisket from Creekstone Farms, Kentucky, with rice noodles, thai basil, and cilantro.
Grapefruit cream pie over a brushing of black sesame cream cheese.
Thai iced tea parfait
Though we were stuffed beyond satisfaction, we had come with a mission... so it was off to the Milk Bar for some goodies to take home (laugh out loud... don't kid yourself... they won't even make it a block!)
The aptly-named crack pie on oat crust resembled a gooey pecan pie sans the pesky pecans to pick off.
A cookie baked with dried blueberries and evaporated milk crumbs.
Grasshopper pie with graham cracker crust, mint cheesecake, and brownie pie filling.
I have attached a copy of the Milk Bar menu... where you can also order the Ssam Bar pork buns. Though we wanted to try the compost cookies (with pretzels, potato chips, coffee, butterscotch, and chocolate) and a glass of their famous cereal milk, we literally couldn't fathom even smelling another treat. Whether for a killer lunch or a box of outrageously special cookies, this corner of the village is absolutely worth a visit.