Momofuku Ssam Bar  MAR 19 2007

Taking advantage of a burst steam pipe in our bedroom and the slushy weather, the wife and I finally ventured out to Momofuku Ssäm Bar. Due to the icy sidewalks, the place was less than jam-packed so we were seated immediately. From our seats at the bar, we could see David Chang slicing ham and utilizing the one-for-me-one-for-you plating technique. Hholy Ccrap, what a place!

I could go on and on about the food -- it's some of the best I've had in the city -- but equally impressive is how the place feels and how fun it is to eat there. The staff seems imported wholesale from one of Danny Meyer's restaurants...the service is friendly and enthusiastic and genuinely loves when when you're excited about the food. The music ranged from the Pixies to Metallica to Bob Dylan while we were there and was at just the right volume. The vibe is more relaxed than at the Noodle Bar...the food is less "street" and "on-the-run" so you feel less rushed in your meal. The beverages are a casual and interesting mix; we had a taste of a sparkling Shiraz from The Black Chook...fizzy like champagne and red like, well, red wine. In the opening paragraphs of his recent review of Ssäm Bar, Frank Bruni does a great job capturing what's so good about the place:

It has also put a greater premium on service, distinguished by attentive young waiters with more knowledge and palpable enthusiasm about the menu than many of their counterparts at more conventionally polished establishments.

And it has emerged as much, much more than the precocious fast-food restaurant it initially was. By bringing sophisticated, inventive cooking and a few high-end grace notes to a setting that discourages even the slightest sense of ceremony, Ssäm Bar answers the desires of a generation of savvy, adventurous diners with little appetite for starchy rituals and stratospheric prices.

They want great food, but they want it to feel more accessible, less effete. They'll gladly take some style along with it, but not if the tax is too punishing. And that's what they get at Ssäm Bar, sleek, softly lighted and decidedly unfussy. Most of its roughly 55 seats are at a gleaming dark wood counter that runs the length of the narrow room, though these seats afford more elbow room than exists at the much smaller Noodle Bar.

And ok, a word or two about the food. Is it even Asian? It's more like food that tastes fantastic and you can eat with chopsticks. I would describe it as truly international food, drawing upon many influences without being obvious about it. And who cares anyway...Chang could put Swedish food on the menu and make it work. I have no real evidence or experience to back this up, but the approach to food at Ssäm seems like a new one to me, a new type of cuisine, an approach that values the tastiness and the end result over regional influence and style1. We'll see how that prediction works out.

[1] Maybe I like this approach so much because it reminds me of the way in which I edit kottke.org. This isn't a tech site or a design site or a pop culture site or a news site...I'll put anything on kottke.org as long as it's interesting, topic be damned.

Read more posts on kottke.org about:
David Chang   food   NYC   restaurants   ssambar

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