Tuesday, October 27, 2009

So-So Froufrou

I'd read so much about David Chang and his peachy empire that I was very excited to visit one of his restaurants. We chose momofuku ssam bar because it was sort of on the way to our afternoon tourist destination.
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I really wanted to love it. I really really did. But two words summarize how we felt.

Not impressed.

There is nothing bad about momofuku ssam bar per se. It's just...how do I say this without being completely offensive?

It's Asian food for non-Asian people who don't know any better.

And the "who don't know any better" part is key. There are plenty of non-Asian folks who understand and appreciate Asian food, and they, too, would recognize how unoriginal the food is. You could get this stuff in Chinatown or Koreatown for a quarter of the price.

Granted, the plating is prettier and the ingredient quality superior, but, really, people, don't believe the hype. Kudos to David Chang for pulling the wool over so many eyes. That does take talent!

Maine Root Ginger Brew ($7).
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Nice bite. And, yes, I'm referring to the taste and not what the price did to my ass.

We got the three-course prix fixe meal ($25).
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It seemed like a good deal when we ordered.

Pork buns.
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Ok, so this is just one bun. Mr. Monkey was eating the other one as I snapped this. People go gaga over this. When not on the prix fixe menu, the dish goes for $9. Highway robbery!

Was it good? Sure, it was fine, but it's not orgasmic like the People Who Don't Know Any Better claim. This is an old Taiwanese staple called gua bao that costs only $2 at authentic Taiwanese restaurants. See? And it tastes better at authentic Taiwanese restaurants, too. Suckers. Bah.

Instead of enjoying this, I have to admit I was kind of angry when I finished it because I was a sucker. Ugh.

Sichuan beef tendon.
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Again, another fairly common dish at hole-in-the-wall Chinese dives. Again, only a couple bucks at said places. Again, angry.

Spicy rice cakes.
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I almost feel like I should just say, "Ditto," except insert "Korean" instead of "Chinese" in the commentary above. Yeah, that's about it.

Grilled branzini.
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Hallelujah! This was actually very delicious...and not a prettified version of Asian comfort food. Best savory sampling of the day.

Thai iced tea parfait.
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The questionable presentation notwithstanding (rabbit poo, anyone?), this dessert proved interesting and rather tasty. Tangy, creamy, and crunchy -- it had it all.

Ice cream pie.
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Also surprisingly yummy. I say "surprisingly" because, by the end of the meal, our expectations had dropped considerably.

The "graffiti" outside of momofuku ssam bar continued the theme of "bastardized version of the real thing."
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momofuku milk bar was next door. Didn't go in. Shocker, I know.

I don't understand why people have gone apeshit for this place.

Well, that's not exactly true. I do have a theory, and that theory is perfectly embodied by NBC's old slogan about reruns -- if you haven't seen it, it's new to you.

Don't be one of those people who hasn't seen it. Get out. Explore. Take advantage of having friends who are familiar with non-American cuisines. Try new things in new areas. Don't be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. Don't be one of those People Who Don't Know Any Better.

Or you'll end up paying $25 for a lunch like this, and you'll rave about it.

Next: Liberty and justice for all.


  1. Amen and Hallelujah, Sister Monkey!

  2. Oh no! Been meaning to try this place (all the hype, friends who've been, etc.) and am in the midst of scheduling a bo ssam dinner there w/a big group of friends. Now I am looking fwd to it a lot less. I'll let you know if the specialty of the house is any better than the so-so stuff you had.

  3. I'm so sad! I've been dying to try the Milk Bar for just about ever. Maybe it's fate I never get there.

  4. Martha Stewart is one of those People Who Don't Know Better. ;)

    I feel that way about fancy VNese places. I fed 6 people for $8. Are you telling me that's how much they're gonna charge for one spring roll? Hehe.

  5. you should have done the pig shoulder meal. but would've required 6 friends.

    sad it was a downer for you. it was one of the funnest meals I've had in a long time. maybe it was more about the fabulous company.

    though oyster and pig is definitely something this non-asian had never had together before.

  6. Great post, Rivers. I like it when you're opinionated and totally right on the money!

  7. Woah! This is the one resto I've always thought about going to if or when I get to NYC. Wow. Sing it sister. And why r the monkeys so cosmopolitan? Jealous....

  8. I'm pretty sure David Chang wouldn't be able to get away with this place and its prices in LA. NY foodies may disagree, but when it comes to most Asian cuisines outside of Asia, So Cal can't be beat.

  9. Great post, I am not a Momofuku fan either -- but moreso 'cause of David Chang's pompous attitude.

    I personally don't mind when chefs try to elevate "peasant dishes," but it better be a helluva improvement to justify the markup.

  10. ROFLMA :-) This post is funny because it's *true*! Hope the rest of your culinary pursuits in NYC were better.

  11. I admit I know nothing about Asian food. There is an Asian place in my town I want to try but maybe I should send you there first to make sure it's any good.

  12. Well, the food was pretty to look at, at least. The rice cake looked super tasty. I tend to like B and C rated Asian food restaurants. Authentic, tasty, and cheap too!

  13. Such a shame -- everything looks so good! I hate when I get sucker punched in the wallet and then the flavor doesn't show up at the table.

  14. I just about died over the bite comment and the rabbit poo. My reaction after that meal would have been the same as yours. I cannot get over those prices for what you got.

    The gua bao being touted as orgasmic by previous diners?… hee-la-ri-ous!!! I laughed, and then cried for those people.

  15. See, not everyone gets to take the awesome Monkey with them when they go to Taiwanese food (which makes the experience infinitely better)!!!

  16. Shiiiet.. I used to see that kinda graffiti on my tree bushes while living in East LA. RESPEKT.

    Chang's got nothing on Ktown. The entire Momofucku empire will be the "worst dining trend of last decade". come 2010.

  17. Yikes. The gua bao looks weak. It's totally missing the most important elements - the peanut powder and the pickled vegetables.

  18. :( sad. At least it looked pretty?

  19. Honest and awesome post! Kudos Ms. Monkey!

  20. great post! I miss NY for places like this.

  21. I don't trust any Chef who tells Bourdain that his favorite food is chicken mcnuggets.

    Glad I won't be wasting my money on this spot. Thank you for the candid review!

  22. WM, I too don't get Chang's establishments. The pork bun was ok but I don't know that I would spend the money on the ramen. Chef Morimoto rating him as #1 in NYC? I smell politics. Setagaya ramen and Ippudo ramen are much better than MMFU for sure.

  23. My FIL feels the same way when it comes to Mexican food.

  24. I've been to Momofuku several times....and the Milk Bar as well. It is one of my favorite restaurants. I've never had anything but excellent food and service there. I think your take on it is entertaining um, but I'm shocked a little! Here's our take: http://lovefeasttable.com/blog/oh-my-momofuku/
    And I've had that orange dessert with the crunchy fried tea bits, delish! I agree.

  25. 1.5 years late to comment, but thank God I read this. I thought about adding this to my itinerary for next month. Not anymore! I should have know better. I had his crack pie at the Milk bar last year and I was jipped out of $6 or whatever the hell I paid for that measly slice of pie.


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