Servers have a tough job. We learn more and more the more we dine. For example, ever wonder when servers are asked “what’s good here”, they often stumble or tell you to get the most expensive dish. The correct answer is actually the stumble, usually indicative of the “if its not good, it wouldnt be on the menu”. But often enough, the best dish is in fact its most expensive. Whether its the use of expensive ingredients, popularity, labor intensive, the reasons are numerous. Servers are not stupid. They already know all about the “Oh, he’s probably saying that to get a bigger tip”, and all the rest of them. Which is yet another reason for the hesitations
At the last meal at Momofuku Ssam Bar I didnt ask the server “what’s good here” because I already had a good idea from previous visits, and Chowhound chatter. The only questions I asked the server centered around the most expensive dish, the whole boneless Porgy. “How were the bones removed”, “What’s in the green sauce”, “where did the Porgy come from”, “What was his name”. An instant classic that blew us away like no other whole fish before.
This Long Island sound Porgy shows up in all her glory, with head and teeth and all. Except for the main bone that was surgically removed. The fish is dressed with the momofuku signature ginger scallion sauce which made Mrs Z take note. One bite, and you can tell this is not your average grilled branzino. Another bite and its an entire Havah Nagilla rendition in your mouth. By the 5th bite, you want to run around with scissors, naked. And then at around the 5th inning, you feel you must try the accompanied lettuce, and tortillas to make fish wraps. You experiment by adding some pickled bean sprouts, some cabbage, and creme fraiche, and you are suddenly the world’s greatest fish taco maker. The fish comes with all these goodies in “Ssam” style (“Ssam” essentially means everything you need to make wraps)
The Porgy and the rest of the meal help cement this one, not only as part the Z-List, but as one of my favorite restaurants in NYC. Maybe top 5. The signature steamed buns are perhaps better then Ippudo’s me thinks now (making a historic change of mind). The spicy sausage with rice cakes is another signature that continues to please. The spring menu featuring the scrumptious Broccolini with thinly sliced beef tongue and egg is adds more joy. The Porgy is $42 but can easily feed two. Add the rice cakes, pork buns, Broccolini, and you got yourself a great meal for under $150. The only forgettable dish this time was the Octopus salad. No much wrong there, just average octopus
The only thing I have to mention here is that Ssam Bar will not win any comfort awards, especially if you are two people. You will sit at a long communal table either facing workers cleaning glasses or facing each other next to other diners. And oooh boy the place can get loud. But we are in it for the food, and as long as no one is poking me or runs around naked with scissors, we’ll keep coming for that Porgy
Momofuku Ssäm Bar
207 2nd Ave