Momofuku Ssam Bar, New York.

September 2011.

This step-down from David Chang’s wildly impossible Momofuku was more casual than I expected, and not full (it was 2 PM) and a very nice girl explained the $140 ordered-in-advance rotisserie duck, which came (easily enough for four people) carved up with condiments and sauces and was delicious.  This is a creative approach to rotisserie-cooked duck. They stuffed the breast with Asian-flavored sausage meat between the skin and the breast meat.  Point being you can fully cook the leg all the way to oily grey meat without overdoing the breast that way. I’ve got to try it.

We were so stuffed we went straight back to the apartment through the rain with our doggie bags, and slept off the Mercurey we had with the duck.

Ambience 6.2, service  7.7, food 9.1, value 7.4.

April 2019.

Back to the scene of the feast in 2011. We’d entered then, I think, through a different (rear side) door, and the place seemed much different. We were in a back room last time, which was then just about deserted at lunch time. If I remember once home we slept from mid-afternoon until the next morning.

This time coming into the front room it’s a bustling bistro, busy kitchen visible behind, and pretty well-subscribed at around 5:30. Friendly casual young male server was with us immediately and made suggestions, including sending the lady sommelier to help us decide from among the many rieslings he recommended. We started with a couple of cocktails, mine a wonderful twist on classic old-fashioned, bourbon with orange bitters and a seared orange zest.

We chose five dishes to share. A pillow-soft Asian bun with pork and seasoning was a glorious start, reminiscent of the same kind of thing we remember from David Chan’s Toronto restaurant. Next was fluke tartare, a unique small bowl of cold chopped whitefish, accompanied by sliced chives or tiny green onions and mixed with a frozen stock. This one surprised with the unusual frozen-dessert temperature in a savoury item, but again flavours clear and delicious.

Next hearty strips of glazed “St. Louis pork ribs”, soft and Asian-flavoured with external crisp, “Max’s curry and potatoes”, comforting with buratta, and finally fried tripe and purple perilla, the tripe not the least bit chewy but completely crisp, and a festival of lovely tart flavours all around.

Our riesling was an off-dry bottle from a German producer, pretty one-dimensional I thought and short on length but the correct varietal all right with its mild diesel smell, $98. This casual but delicious dinner was just over US$275 with a 20% tip, reflecting value for the food and maybe the master executive chef, but not really the busy clattering experience that felt like an ordinary diner.

We’d either try one of Mr. Chan’s other New York spots, or order the special dishes here, next time. Food 9.3, service 8.0, ambience 7.1, value 7.6, peace and quiet 5.4.

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 40 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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