Sunday, 19 October 2014

Ssam Bar 2007 @ Momofuku Seiobo - October 2014

Next Good Food Month 2014 event that I've marked off the calendar is Ssam Bar 2007 at Momofuku Seiobo. This was one of the 'Hats Off Dinner' events where hatted restaurants put their regular menus aside and offer a special menu instead. Ssam Bar has just finished and was on for just a week, from 13 October to 18 October. The special menu included a la carte selections of classics from Momofuku Ssam Bar's 2007 menu in New York, items that have become signatures of David Chang such as steamed pork buns and marinated hanger steak ssam.

The menu proudly proclaims that they "do not serve vegetarian friendly items", an "up yours" to all vegetarians out there. So this obviously ruled out dining with my vegetarian wife so I decided to organise a catchup with Crystal from Delectably Degusting, M and M's boyfriend, B at the Ssam Bar 2007.

I originally planned to visit the Ssam Bar just once, but Crystal and I ended up making a second visit, as we both regretted that we didn't order the entire menu in our first visit. So this write-up will cover two separate visits, the first on opening night and the second on the final night of Ssam Bar 2007.

First visit (13 Oct 2014)
Momofuku's open kitchen, where you can watch the chef's prepare your meal
Momofuku Ssam Bar 2007 was the first event that caught my attention when I first flicked through the program guide for the Good Food Month. As no reservations were taken and customers were accepted on a first come, first served basis, I knew I would have to get to Seiobo early as the event was going to be hugely popular. I arrived at Seiobo just after 5pm and to my surprise I was FIRST IN LINE - success! I was relieved that I was going to be going in first when they opened at 6.30pm but I was a Nigel for the next 10 or 15 minutes before M and B arrived to join me in the queue. By 6pm, Crystal had arrived (and went straight to the front of the line like a boss) and the queue had stretched quite far, so I was glad that I had gone through the trouble of rushing down to The Star to claim my spot in the line. 

Steamed buns, pork belly, hoisin, cucumber, scallion ($18 for 2)
Right off the bat, we went straight for a Momofuku steamed pork bun each. Not much needs to be said about this bun, besides that this is the best pork bun in Sydney, hands down. Soft, fluffy bun with melt in your mouth pork belly, cucumber, scallions and hoisin sauce. Add Sriracha hot sauce for a bit more of a spicy kick, and you have heaven. The only problem was, the pork buns are quite tiny at $9 a pop, so one is unlikely to satisfy any pork bun craving. 

Smoked prosciutto, red eye mayo, baguette ($15)
Thin slices of smoked prosciutto was served with baguette and red eye mayo. The red eye mayo tasted incredibly strange at first; I wasn't sure what I was eating. Then I realised it tasted like coffee, red eye mayo was a coffee flavoured mayonnaise! Red eye mayo is David Chang's riff of red eye gravy, which is a gravy made with instant coffee found in Southern US. The red eye mayo really grew on me after a while and made for a delicious dip with the warm, crusty baguette.        

Tasmanian sea urchin, tapioca, whipped tofu, scallions ($22)
Sea urchin is one of my favourite delicacies to eat in the world. The last time I had amazing sea urchin was in June at Hokkaido (at Sushi Tanabe amongst others), and this Tasmanian sea urchin brought me back to Hokkaido (maybe not as good as Hokkaido, but close enough)! This particular urchin was quite strong in flavour and filled my mouth with wonderful sweet and briney flavours of the sea. 

Sharing this plate was whipped tofu, which was so light and airy and infused with my favourite yuzu! Strangely there were chewy tapioca balls in this dish, which I think are more at home in pearl milk tea, but this is David Chang we are talking about, so anything goes.

Tello's Chawan Mushi, black truffle, snails, edamame, scallion ($28)
I have no idea who Tello is but his chawan mushi really rocks! I was transported to heaven again with my first spoonful of this gorgeous egg custard. Not only was the chawan mushi soft and silky, it was creamier than usual and thus incredibly moreish. The chawan mushi was beautifully paired with edamame beans, earthy, aromatic black truffle, and plump, juicy snails. Snails are a bit of a bizarre addition to a chawan mushi, but they are another stroke of genius from the crazy David Chang!           

Rice cakes, pork sausage, kale, kimchi ($20)
This was Ssam Bar's version of the popular Korean street food, tteokbokki (or spicy rice cakes). It was another delicious dish with loads of big and bold flavours. I really liked the addition of coarse pork sausage meat and kale against the chewy rice cakes. 

Marinated Hanger Steak Ssam, ginger scallion, kimchi, bibb lettuce ($30)
The idea with ssam is you take a bibb lettuce cup and fill it with a slice of the marinated hanger steak and some condiments, which were kimchi and ginger scallion sauce. I will start off by saying that the hanger steak is incredibly flavoursome, and tastes amazing on its own. You also get the pleasure of using your jaw muscles with hanger steaks unlike the softer cuts that melt in your mouth like baby food. 

The lettuce cups were fresh and crisp, the kimchi more sour and less spicy than what I am used to, and the ginger scallion sauce... just strange with steak. It's a condiment that is usually enjoyed with Cantonese style white cut chicken, so it takes a while getting used to having it with steak. But hey, ginger scallion sauce makes practically anything taste delicious, so why not.       

Grilled veal sweetbreads, pickled roasted chillies, lime ($24)
The last of the dishes that we ordered were the grilled veal sweetbreads with pickled whole chillis and lime. The sweetbreads were amazing and cooked to perfection. They were soft and creamy in texture and absolutely delicious. The pickled chillis packed a fiery punch as expected and together with the lime, provide some acidity to cut through the richness of the sweetbreads. 

Petit fours... I mean more steamed pork buns
One of the downsides of the Ssam menu (besides the insanely LOUD music, hey I'm getting old!) is the lack of desserts. We decided that our pork bun cravings were not satisfied first time round, so another round of steamed pork buns were needed as a petit four to conclude the first visit to Momofuku Ssam Bar 2007. 

Second visit (18 Oct 2014)
Another shot of the open kitchen, this time from the kitchen counter
Flicking through picture after picture on Instagram of honeycomb tripe, fried brussel sprouts and apple salad with lychee and bacon (which were some of the dishes that I did not order in my first visit) pretty much summed up the rest of my week. The more Instagrammers that I saw raving about the honeycomb tripe, the more regretful I became that I didn't just order the entire menu first time round! Luckily, Crystal shared the same sentiments as I did, and somehow a casual Saturday morning chat over social media turned into plans for a last ditch visit to Ssam Bar. Call me crazy, but I don't think I could live with myself if I passed on an opportunity to try the Ssam menu one more time!

We also discovered that a couple of tweaks had since been made to the menu (pig's head torchon and asparagus with soft boiled egg and miso butter were added in place of veal sweetbread and pan roasted skate), giving me more reason a repeat visit was indeed required.

Tasmanian sea urchin, tapioca, whipped tofu, scallions ($22)
A repeat visit meant that I could be reacquainted with the awesomeness of Tasmanian sea urchin, tapioca, whipped tofu an scallions. I don't think I could ever get tired of sea urchin and yuzu-flavoured whipped tofu!   

Fried brussel sprouts, chillies, mint, fish sauce ($16)
Brussel sprouts are a vegetable that I don't normally enjoy (especially when they are boiled balls of bitter mush). But the signature fried brussel sprouts at Ssam Bar are on a whole new level, turning the much maligned vegetable into a crowd favourite. The brussel sprouts were fried to a crisp with a charred flavour that's just irresistible. The sprouts were doused with a sweet, sour and salty fish sauce vinaigrette, with some mint and chillies thrown in. Puffed rice grains were added to give the dish even more crunch.

Apple salad, bacon, lychee, peanut ($15)
Fruit with bacon? We all know that sweet and salty can work well together, but this is another wacky David Chang idea that just flat out works. This salad consisted of batons of green apple, lychee fruit and jelly, chilli peanuts, mint and crispy bacon. I could taste wasabi in the dressing. This was quite a light and refreshing dish, and actually felt quite healthy to eat (if you discount the bacon). 

Spicy honeycomb tripe ($18)
The spicy honeycomb tripe was one of the main reasons I decided to revisit Momofuku and it did not disappoint and was one of my favourite dishes on the whole menu! The flavours in this dish are pretty big but really delicious. The tripe was slightly different to what I am used to, it was more tender and not as chewy. And there was a soft poached egg with perfectly warm, runny egg yolk - just a beautiful combination! 

Pan roasted asparagus, poached egg, miso butter ($19)
Ssam Bar's take on the classic breakfast favourite of asparagus with soft poached egg features miso butter. Miso butter is something that I have made at home before and is simple yet really tasty. Butter and sherry vinegar help to balance out the saltiness of miso to create something that is super addictive.     

Pig's head torchon, mustard, pickled cherries ($21)
The pig's head torchon were croquettes filled with all the goodness of the pig's head - meat, fat and all! The croquettes were coated in panko crumbs and were wonderfully crispy, so satisfying against the softness of the pig head. The pig's head torchon was served with lettuce leaves, pickled cherries and mustard

Now I can happily sleep knowing that I have tried most of the menu and have no regrets. The nightly queues at Seiobo were justified because the Momofuku Ssam Bar 2007 menu was nothing short of epic! I enjoyed every dish that I tried, with my favourites being the pork bun, the sea urchin, chawan mushi and the spicy honeycomb tripe. Now I need to start planning a trip to the Big Apple to get the actual Momofuku Ssam Bar experience!     

Momofuku Seiobo
Address: The Star, 80 Pyrmont St, Pyrmont NSW 2009 

Momofuku Seiƍbo on Urbanspoon