On Saturday, Robyn invited me and a bunch of her friends to her extremely belated birthday dinner (since her birthday was on late August). I honestly have to say, this was my highly anticipated event of the season. I mean, you’re hanging out with the coolest and funnest food bloggers and her friends, and eating a huge hunk of pork, which will be spoken about later. On another note why I am saying it’s a highly anticipated event it’s because it’s my first time eating at Momofuku Ssäm for dinner; I hang my head down in shame for being the smallest minority who is a New Yorker, foodie, and a food blogger. It’s an embarrassment.
Since I was free around 3 PM, I texted and called Robyn if she’s out in the city before the dinner, she called me and said yes, she’s already visiting one of her friends at work in SoHo. She’s planning to meet another friend, Alex (who happened to be a vegetarian) soon, at the Spring Street stop. As I hauled my butt downtown, there’s a huge confusion in the subways where the E train doesn’t take the normal route of going to Spring Street and the C train goes express, (which I took since the announcement from the conductor of the E train said so earlier) and ended up in the Canal Street stop, where it borderlines TriBeca and Chinatown. Ugh, Don’t I just love the subways systems here…
I called Robyn again for apologizing for taking so long and told her about the whole conundrum. At least Alex hasn’t shown up yet, so I’m not that late. Eventually I walked up to her area, we chatted, and she gave me the gift of macarons. They’re not Pierre Herme but she said that they’re better than Bouchon’s. I trust her palate wholeheartedly since she’s now considered a supertaster but beyond that, she’s the one who introduced me to the transcendent world of macarons. Oh, how I would love to go back to that teary-eyed feeling of bliss again… Anyways, she got these from work, which is Serious Eats, where they got a mail order from Mad Mac (just click here for an idea of what they look like in packaged form). I didn’t take any photos since it got crushed in my bag by the time I got home. So, I’ll spare you people from seeing squished, colorful confetti of macarons crumbs.
We eventually met a reader, Caroline, who stopped near us and went off excitedly about reading our blogs and she’s thrilled to meet us. We’re totally happy that she loves our blogs. I’m still not used to this celebrity thing, even though I’m almost a complete nobody in comparison to Robyn. Anyways, it’s really nice to meet her. So, Hi Caroline! :)
Alex eventually surprised Robyn (then me from her scream) when he took a photo of her when he arrived. Happy hugs exchanged between them and she also gave the gift of macarons to Alex. Instead of calling her “the girl who ate everything” probably I should call her “the chocolate and macaron fairy.” Since her past few trips to Europe she brought me either of those things…
Anyway, after greetings were exchanged, we’re all generally hungry due to the vast pork-centric dinner therefore tried not to eat that much, but Robyn wanted to feed Alex with some delicious bread from Grandaisy Bakery. We love bread…
We all bought a slice of pizza (not the usual slice you’re thinking of; we’re talking about Roman-style) and started to nosh away. Robyn had this ginormous slice of Bianca (incredibly for the low cost of $1), Alex tried out the zucchini and a cookie, and I had the Bianca con pecorino.
There’s something so darn tasty about Grandaisy’s (and Sullivan Street, which tastes the same but different owners for each) bread. It’s chewy, great flavor, and pretty darn inexpensive, especially for Robyn’s Bianca. It would’ve been more delicious if they were fresh out of the oven.
Eventually, I shared my caramel apple that I bought from Bouchon Bakery that morning since I ran out of coffee at home and I needed a cup before my classes. Anyways, Robyn and I were skeptical about cutting that apple in half with a plastic knife since we were assuming that the apple would be very crisp and the caramel coating is hard. However, it was pretty much the opposite. The caramel was chewy and the apple was semi-soft.
The apple had a heady floral scent besides smelling like an apple (which I’m guessing it’s a Gala?). The caramel was very buttery and the peanut coating was actually a bit soft. Not bad but a bit pricey for what I paid for this apple ($8.50).
To give you the idea that the caramel is gooey, look at the photo below.
After we’re done eating, we walked around SoHo for the sake of killing time and waiting for another friend of Robyn’s, Charlie, coming down from New Haven, CT. As we walked out, we discussed about doing another round of “jumping photos” that Robyn’s doing a lot of lately, that’s if there were any open spaces to do so. I had a spark of hope since every time I look at her “jumping photos” it looks like a ton of fun. Anyhow, we walked down Spring Street and Alex noticed this store whose entrance is emblazoned with graffiti, which is named Kiosk. We went upstairs and by the time we were on the landing, it smelled like food and once we went in that tiny store (more like a room), and basically sell international toys or goods. On our way down the stairs, Robyn and I noticed this psychedelically decorated portion of the wall with the word, “SUCK” on it and took a photo.
In time, we walked over to UNIQLO since Alex was kind of looking for a knee-length peacoat that he’s been wanting. So, we’re doing more window shopping and Robyn and I eventually became his “equipment holders” (he brought a camera and a small bag) as he tried on a few coats.
Around five o’clock, Charlie called Robyn, telling her that he’s in SoHo! Since he’s not too familiar with the geography down here and I said out loud that there’s an Adidas store nearby where he’s located, she told Charlie to wait in front of that store and we’ll walk over to meet him.
After greetings were exchanged and I introduced myself, Charlie gave Robyn her birthday present. She opened it later on and turned out to be a gift certificate to Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria. Awesome. She’ll be eating a couple of pizzerias out in Connecticut soon enough…
We walked into the Adidas store since Alex was looking for a particular red sneaker, so we all went in to casually search for it. The funniest thing that Charlie said as Alex heading toward the sneaker section, he said, “Go! Go look for your material wealth!” OMG. Funny. Ok, maybe not to you but if you were there you’ll be laughing out loud. Eventually Alex’s quest for his sneaker ended in defeat, we walked around SoHo to let time pass by even more.
When it’s about forty minutes until her reservation/dinner time, we all decided to go to our destination of the night, Momofuku Ssäm Bar. Since I was heeled boots, I was complaining that I don’t want to walk our way up since it’s quite a distance to go but Alex stated we should walk. Just to save my feet for the rest of the night, I changed to my sneakers before we continue our way uptown.
As we were around the Whole Foods on Houston, Charlie started to complain, “Who’s idea was it to walk?” But eventually we arrived to the temple of pork (Momofuku Ssäm) and meet Robyn’s brother, Hubert at the front. As the time closes toward 6, most of the party-goers have arrived, we all went in. Not surprisingly since it was a Saturday night, the place was packed…and really loud with the chatter of other diners and the music that was playing in the background. When we got seated we all (as in 7 of us at the moment) looked at the menu and start talking about the food. We also saw Chef David Chang working in the kitchen.
Eventually, everyone but Carol arrived before we made a final decision on what we’re ordering, which took another ten minutes since we don’t want to kill ourselves with so much food before the bo ssäm. So here goes the feast…
We started off with the Santa Barabara uni with whipped tofu, tapioca, and scallions. It was really silky and fresh since it tasted like the briny ocean. The tapioca pearls added a chewy dimension and the scallions gave off a subtle onion-y nuance to the dish. The green flecks on top were dried, salty seaweed, which gave it some added flavor. Very delicious.
Shortly afterwards, the large platter of Bread and Butter had arrived. We ordered this mainly for the sake of Alex’s vegetarianism since we know that he won’t be eating the pork butt or anything that is touched or laced with a flavor of an animal. The thin baguette was toasted and it’s served with sea salt butter from Vermont and St. Helen’s Farm goat’s butter, hailing back to England. I only tried the sea salt butter and it was quite good. But it’s strange that this plate cost $8. Probably we should have asked for more bread to justify the price tag a bit.
While most of us were nibbling the bread, the arrival of two orders of Satur Farms Fried Cauliflower ($11 each) bestowed upon our table. This dish was flavored with mint, fish sauce, and chilies. After I took a bite of the cauliflower, I was blown away. The subtle flavor of mint, mingled with the salty fish sauce and chilies worked so well. I think there was some garlic, if my palate serves me well… Anyways, I thought to myself if there were any cauliflower-haters, this would totally make them a convert. Yet the argument would be that it’s fried, so it won’t count as a vegetable anymore but it’s some tasty junk food veggie.
We shared the small order of Tello’s Chawan Mushi ($16). To tell you honestly, I never had this dish before but after this was explained by Robyn and Kathy after we ordered it earlier, I know what they’re talking about. This creamy egg custard tasted like bacon, probably due to the smoked trout roe that topped this dish. The touch of sweetness from the maple syrup was a nice offset to the salinity of the trout roe. It’s quite dainty for its price.
Next up was a plate of Grilled Sweetbreads served with a side of pickled roasted chilies and lime ($14).
I never had sweetbreads grilled before, usually the preparation goes along the lines of having them pan-fried or seared. The char gave off a smoky flavor and the texture was creamy and soft on the inside. The lime was a necessity since it added another layer of flavor and acidity that changes the entire dish. If one ate it as is, the sweetbreads will taste a little bit boring.
The kitchen nearly forgotten to serve us our plate of Roasted Mushroom Salad ($16) and thankfully it appeared. Again, the portions was still on the small side but it’s still quite tasty. The mushrooms worked really well with the pistachio purée since both are generally earthy flavors. The radishes add a crunchy texture to the soft, chewy mushrooms and the crosnes look like insect larvae. I know the latter description isn’t appealing but I don’t think anyone could deny it but at least it doesn’t taste like one…not like I ever ate larvae nor do I want to eat one.
And finally, the pièce de résistance of the evening…the Bo Ssäm ($180)! What they actually do was set up the stage in preparation of the arrival of this magnificent slab of meat. They’ve brought out a large bowl of Bibb lettuce and four sauces (kochujang, scallion and ginger purée, kimchi purée, and regular kimchi) at both ends of the table, three small bowls of rice, and a dozen Glidden Point oysters to accompany the pork. On a side note, Carol finally made it to the party!
To let you know what is bo ssäm is, it is basically the whole pork butt (which is pork shoulder), all five pounds of roasted meaty, fatty glory. And it finally graced our table…
Since its presence cannot be denied, most of our table whipped out our cameras and start snapping photos of this legendary, beautiful, roasted meat. Amy was the first to have the guts to grab the tongs and start the pulling off the meat. Oh it was wonderful to see how the meat lifts off with such ease.
Then everyone else (but Alex, unfortunately) started to join in and start participating in the porcine feast. Now, to complete the whole idea of what one is supposed or can do with the condiments mentioned earlier, you grab a lettuce leaf, put in some pulled pork meat onto the leaf, pile on some rice, plop on an oyster and a condiment of choice, roll up and eat. For me, I didn’t eat the oyster (because I’m allergic) and I didn’t try the kochujang sauce (because I forgot and it’s far away from me). My favorite sauce of the four was the ginger and scallion purée. It’s something about the onion flavor and the gentle spiciness of the ginger that made my palate happy with the rich pork. Rice was a necessity for the pork to subdue the strong, in-your-face pork flavor.
When we were about a pound away from finishing the entire shoulder, people are slowing their eating speed a couple of notches, Robyn said, “We can finish this. There isn’t much left.” We agreed and a few of us kept going until we have about half, Robyn was playing around with that piece and I said, “Eat it.” She replied to me, “That’s a lot of pork!” But then a few of us started to chant to Robyn, “Eat it! Eat it! Eat it!” But she ended up taking a little more than half of that piece. The remainders went to everyone else in the table. But…we actually finish it (sans a large blob of fat that we don’t want to ingest).
Mentally I thought to myself, “Good job everyone!” After we’re done with the pork, we started to talk about dessert and that was gelato. Yes, our love with creamy, frozen desserts are held near and dear to us. Since there aren’t that many gelato places in the city that are great as what Robyn has eaten in her adventures in Paris and Italy, we thought about going to either Grom or L’Arte del Gelato. The latter prevailed since it’s generally closer to the restaurant.
After we paid the check (and it went a bit crazy and strenuous with calculations probably due to the onset of pork stupor), we walked out of the restaurant and wanted to have a group photo. Fortunately, no one is excluded since there was a woman who stopped near our group and volunteered to take a photo of us with Robyn’s camera. So here what we looked like post-dinner…(Just click on the photo for the names of everyone. It’s borrowed from Robyn’s Flickr photostream.)
We all then moved as a group and trekked our way to 7th Avenue to L’Arte del Gelato. We bid Amy farewell on the way since she told Robyn that she had Pinkberry’s fro-yo earlier, so she already fulfilled her frozen dessert quota for the day. Anyway, we eventually made it and it’s quite busy for a slightly chilly night but hey, it’s Saturday and people want to go out and eat and mingle.
After thinking for a while what flavors I want to try, I eventually got meself a small cup with pistachio and Nutella. The pistachio is creamy, nutty, and it doesn’t look or taste artificial. The Nutella was just fine: hazelnut with about a 50%-ish cacao content, and not too sweet.
We started to eat inside the shop, until it got a bit too crowded with the incoming of people and the rest of our group got their sweets so we went outside.
I found out soon enough was that Alex didn’t really eat much from Momofuku. He only ate the bread and butter, nothing else besides that besides a glass of wine. It turned out he didn’t eat the fried cauliflower due to the fish sauce. We tried to persuade him earlier that fish sauce doesn’t exactly taste like fish but I guess it didn’t work. I guess the gelato made up the lack of food for his evening. He’s one heck of a friend to actually put up with a mostly non-vegetarian dinner. That’s a lot of love and loyalty. Props to you, Alex.
Eventually, I bid farewell to Robyn and her posse since I had to get home. Oh fun times…I just wish I could linger longer with them.
73 Sullivan Street
New York, NY 10012
Momofuku Ssäm Bar
207 2nd Avenue
New York, NY 10003
L’Arte del Gelato
75 7th Avenue
New York, NY 10011