Last night I ventured out of my warm, cozy apartment into the slushy, snowy aftermath of an all day snow-day and popped into a fortune of a cab ride down to the semi-Lower East side to meet up with my two friends Lauren and Cristine at Momofuku Ssam. The cab driver was a guy named Mohammed and he was eating the most delicious smelling meal of noodles and stir fried vegetables he'd just prepared at home before his shift, we talked about food and favorite places to shop in the city. He lives in Jackson Heights and said the produce out there was great and he stocks up and stores things in the freezer for meals before work. I think he got a little shy about eating in front of me after I asked him to show me what he was eating and I swear he tucked his Tupperware in the glove compartment! I thought it was rather ingenious, and funny, maybe it keeps it warmer in there!
After crawling down 5th Avenue and sludging through Union Square, we made it over to 13th Street and Second Avenue to Momofuku Ssam, an innocuous and sleek, corner spot with no visible signage. Even as early as we were at seven pm on the beastly Tuesday night that it was, most of the tables were full but we didn't have to wait when our third showed up and we could be seated. I was excited to share this experience with Lauren and Cristine who hadn't eaten there yet and couldn't wait for their reactions. I love turning friends on to good food!
We started with a bottle of the house sake, the Momofuku "Private Label" Honjozo, moderately priced at $44 a bottle, it was clean and refreshing and a nice accompaniment to the rest of the meal.
The menu features Local / Seasonal small dishes and Artisinally raised foods and at my request, we started with the Steamed Buns, small slabs of fat rimmed pork belly, resting on a bed of hoisin sauce, with tiny cucumbers and scallions, it's one of my favorite dishes (even though it's not a dumpling, but the pillowy, doughy bun is a great stand in) and we shared the two by halving them and then all got a good bite out of the remaining quarter.
Our next dish was the Satur Farm's Fried Brussels Sprouts. These were definitely not the stuff of scarred memories of stinky boiled baby cabbages and I swear if I could, I would have curled up in the cradle shaped dish they came in and been quite happy. They are fried but not greasy, a culinary feat, making them almost melt in your mouth but still have a pleasing texture and are intermingled with a surprising addition of mint, and the more predictable, but still welcome, scallions and a light fish sauce vinaigrette.
We wound up ordering all three of the Local/Seasonal small plates, in addition to the Brussels sprouts, the other two were the Charred Squid, easily chewed and tender to the bite, tossed with ginger, scallion, mizuna and gorgeous paper thin wafers of watermelon radish and the Honeycrisp Apple Kimchi - a few sections of the sweet and tart HoneyCrisp apples, seasoned with spicy kimchi seasoning and served in a small pool of light maple labne yogurt sauce, a few crisped strips of Burger's smoked jowl bacon on the side and a smattering of tangy Arugula to round out the palate.
Approaching saturation but still enjoying the symphony of flavors, we ordered the Spicy Pork Sausage and Rice Cakes, a stir fry of pork sausage, spicy red peppers (we were warned to put aside) and tiny little marshmallow like rice cakes with chopped Chinese Broccoli, crispy shallots and enough heat to make Lauren and Cristine order an Anchor Steam to put out the fire. We finished with a shared piece of the Blondie Pie, a solid piece of sweetness with a dense butter crust and cashews mingled in the Blondie and fought over giving the last bite to Cristine, who demurred graciously then wisely changed her mind and gobbled it up.
I would have licked all the plates but didn't want to embarrass my friends...