Remember when Gucci was just a ho-hum luxury brand with logo bags that no one cared that much about it? And then Alessandro Michele shook things up with his bold and whimsical designs and suddenly made the brand very relevant again? Momofuku Ssäm Bar is similarly having its Gucci moment. It’s one of the solid restaurants in David Chang’s empire that’s been humming along on its pork buns and bo ssam, but now it’s undergone a dazzling redesign that’s all for the better.
One of the most obvious renovations is the physical layout of the restaurant. The Momofuku restaurants were notorious for being very uncomfortable, one of the culprits being the backless, wooden seats. There are now proper seats at Ssäm Bar, and they’ve also expanded the restaurant in the back, getting rid of the space dedicated to the Booker and Dax cocktail bar and converting it into an extra dining room. It’s now a restaurant that you can bring your parents to, although if you’re nostalgic for those days of discomfort, you can still eat at the bar, which has stayed largely intact.
The Alessandro Michele of Momofuku Ssäm Bar is Max Ng, a Singaporean chef who’s made some significant changes to the menu. The menu at Ssäm Bar has always read very heavy and masculine. You come here for pork buns, country ham and other robust meats. Chang isn’t the type of chef who would get all cute with his dishes, but it seems like he’s had a change of heart by having Ng bring some levity and sparkle to the food selection. One of the most whimsical is the the foie gras taiyaki, inspired by the fish-shaped Japanese street snack. It’s sinfully delicious, tasting like a rich, golden pastry except the filling is foie gras, not chocolate or cream.
The food at Ssäm Bar has never been particularly pretty or easy to Instagram, but under Ng’s leadership, the dishes have become a lot more photogenic. No doubt that the foie gras will be on Instagram feeds everywhere, and same goes for the gnarly and freakish looking fried curly corn-on-the-cob, which melds two street fair food greats, corn on the cob and spicy chiccarones, into a super snack food. Like all the best finger foods, you’ll be licking your fingers clean of all the delicious spices and seasonings, and they even thoughtfully give you some wet naps to finish the job.
You can order some of the stalwarts like the pork buns and the spicy pork sausage with rice cakes, but frankly, they taste a little stale compared to the new lineup. It’s much more interesting to have a bite of the briney and crunchy sardines on toast, or to scrape off the delicious meat on the roasted skate wing and marvel over the slight funkiness of its seasonings. It used to be unthinkable to leave Ssäm Bar without eating some type of pork, but with a broader range, there’s more to pig out on.
Momofuku Ssäm Bar
207 2nd Ave (between 12th and 13th St)
New York, NY 10003