[A note of sorts: This entry originally took place on October 13th. I'm slow.]
I shouted something roughly resembling the above exclamation of crazed buggy-eyed surprise (I have no photographic evidence of the buggy eye, but trust me) when Alex finally appeared outside the Spring Street subway station where Tina and I had been waiting. The jarbled nature of my greeting was due to two factors: one, I was excited to see the Alex and two, I thought he may have been swallowed up by the dank belly of the NYC subway system. See, it took him an alarmingly long time to get downtown from the Upper East Side and I was afraid that something horrible had happened. Perhaps a train broke down, or a crazy person lunged at his hirsute face, or he had gone the wrong way and was currently roaming around the Bronx...
But he was fine. Or at least he appeared to have not endured much psychological damage.
The three of us proceeded to do what we do best. Or at least what we do best in the presence of each other: eat stuff.
The closest place I wanted to eat at was Grandaisy Bakery, formerly Sullivan Street Bakery and as far as I can tell, almost the same. (The original may be better, but if you think I'm going to go to Hell's Kitchen just for some bread, hells no.)
My favorite thing at Grandaisy/Sullivan Street Bakery—and beyond that, one of my favorite baked goods in the world, the wooorrlld—is the pizza bianca. A generous slab of the flat, elastic hole-filled bread encased in a thin, crackly, bubbled, golden crust seasoned with just the right amount of salt and olive oil with a hint of rosemary is carb heaven when fresh out of the oven.
This one wasn't as fresh as a newborn puppy, but it still made angels sing. ...A little off key, but still, that's better than no angels at all. Hell, it only costs $1; few things have such a high tastiness-to-dollar ratio.
Alex got a slice of zucchini pizza. It's awesome as long as you don't expect a typical pizza but a rectangular piece of very thin, crispy bread topped with a layer of shredded zucchini and some Gruyère cheese. My personal favorite is the potato and onion pizza. I'd probably have to eat five slices to feel satisfied though—the slices are so thin that their weight barely registers in my stomach.
Alex also bought a lemon ginger sandwich cookie. You see the round browned disc he's holding in his right hand? That's the cookie! I know, it's amazing how the field of sandwich cookie technology has progressed in these past few years, isn't it...yeeeah ok, I just wanted to write something about the photo but I wasn't sure what.
Tina whipped out her humongor (a variant of "ginormous," if I may) caramel covered apple from Bouchon Bakery to share with us. To share...the joy. To share...the calories
As someone who has never eaten a caramel-coated apple before (but have eaten a candy-coated apple at least once as a child, a memory that still rings clear in my head as horrific and something that should earn the inventor a spot in Hell because it just doesn't work, doesn't work at all), I don't know how good Bouchon's was in comparison to other caramel-coated apples. I enjoyed the caramel part in its sweet, buttery, non-tacky glory. The apple was of the soft, somewhat mealy sort, a texture that I didn't think went with the soft caramel very well. Soft caramel blending into crisp apple flesh would've been better.
And then a bunch of stuff happened in between, mostly coat-hunting for Alex at Uniqlo and Zara and failing to find anything perfect at either location. We met up with Charlie (who traveled the farthest for my dinner, all the way from the distant land of New Haven, CT, YAY CHARLIE!!!) at the Adidas store on Houston Street where shoe hunting also ended in failure. There was just so much fail. So much.
And then. It was time. FOR MOMOFUKU-ING! Before I went to Italy I made a reservation to share a bo ssam with nine of my friends (10 is the largest party you can reserve)—Alex, Amy, Bert (my brother), Carol, Charlie, John, Kathy, Patricia and Tina—using my birthday as an excuse.
"But Robyn, your birthday was in August!" you might be thinking (or not if you don't know when my birthday is, which is quite alright as there's very little chance I know when your birthday is). Celebrating closer to my actual birthday was kind of difficult with all the traveling (I was on a train all day from Toronto on my birthday) and need to coordinate with friends' schedules. So after much mass emailing, I settled on October 13th.
Now, if you recall from previous entries, Alex is a vegetarian and Momofuku is not vegetarian-friendly. As least, I thought it was safe to assume that since the menu said, "UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES WILL BE VEGETARIANIZE ANYTHING, SUCKAZ!" Or something like that. Probably not that. They can't really help it; the restaurant's air is permeated with pork particles. Every breath you take costs 5 calories and a bit of atherosclerosis.
So why did Alex come? Because I asked/begged/pleaded. And because is is a swell friend. I didn't realize how hungry he must've been until after the dinner was over. :( Anyhoo, more on that later.
ONTO THE FOOD!
The first time I had uni (sea urchin) at Momofuku, I was underwhelmed. The textures of the whipped tofu and chewy tapicoa balls were more prominent than the flavors of the individual components. However, the second time around was different. Better. Briny. Like licking the ocean floor, but without sand or anything unpleasant (I don't recommend actually licking the ocean floor; it's just a simile, you know). Even the furikake sprinkled on top provided a punch of sea-ness atop the puddingly-soft sea urchin flesh. That's what sea urchin is—the pudding of the sea.
The bread and butter (not just any butter of course, but sea salt butter from Vermont and St Helen's Farm goat's butter from England, possibly from a goat named Daisy) made up the bulk of Alex's food for the evening. You can get a refill on the bread when you inevitably run out and still have lots of butter leftover. Stupidly, we didn't do this. Or I didn't do this. On the other hand, the waiter didn't offer. Seriously, if you're going to charge $8 for bread and butter at least give (or offer) more bread, especially when it's for a table of 10 PEOPLE.
Granted, it was very good bread (from Sullivan Street Bakery perhaps) and butter. The bread was soft, light, not very chewy, with a crisp, dry crust. I could've eaten the whole loaf/stick/whatever it was. No really, what is it? A skinny bread log? Something like that?
Momofuku's fried cauliflower was naturally extraordinary. Extraordinary because it wasn't just "fried cauliflower" but "Satur Farms fried cauliflower." THIS IS VERY SPECIFIC FRIED CAULIFLOWER. (By now you may have noticed that they like to bring attention to their growers, which is great!, even if I have no idea where Satur Farms is.) The delicately fried cauliflower was dressed with fish sauce, chopped mint leaves, chile, and something like rice krispies. I'm sorry I can't describe it better. Basically, think "some of the best cauliflower you will ever eat."
Tello's chawanmushi (nope, I have no idea who Tello is) with maple syrup and smoked trout roe was unsurprisingly awesome with its uber smooth and light texture. What did surprise me was the intensity of the smoked trout roe—it tasted like bacon. Or rather, it tasted like smoked something and the only something that came to my mind was bacon. Which was odd. But tasty.
The roasted mushroom salad with radishes and crosnes (the things that look like maggots...really, they do) atop a pistachio puree was painfully tiny for something that cost $16. Not that I regret ordering it—those tender lil' mushroom bits burst with fungal juices of the tastiest sort—I just don't appreciate mushrooms enough to order it again.
What I would get again is a plate of grilled veal sweetbreads. The term "sweetbreads" confused some of my friends who didn't know that this euphemistic (aka, very misleading) name is given to the thymus gland, a lumpy looking organ riddled with membranes and connective tissue (before you eat it, I mean) that sits somewhere in the neck-ish/chest area. Bring it on!
...Yeah, no wonder someone renamed it.
Anyhoo, don't let the idea of eating a baby cow's glands turn you off! You're probably eating lots of horrible things anyway. Maybe eating my first sweetbreads at Momofuku wasn't such a great idea since from now on I'll always expect them to have this delicious thin crust that gives way to a soft, somewhat spongy interior. It doesn't taste foreign, but it doesn't really taste like...anything else. Well. Maybe like fat. Like little pillows of delicious, crispy fat, without the unpleasant properties of eating plain fat. NutritionData says that veal thymus is 22% fat, but I almost think they got the fat and protein percentages mixed up.
Uh, I don't know how to describe sweetbreads. Just order them.
AND THEN IT CAME! THE GLORIOUS CHUNK OF GLISTENING PORK WHOSE IMPOSSIBLY TENDER SUCCULENT MEAT WAS ENCASED UNDER A LAYER OF VELVETY...FAT...OOZING WITH...PORKY JUICES! AND SODIUM!!!
But this meat doesn't work its magic on its own (although it could). Add some fresh bibb lettuce (soft and crisp at the same time), kim chi, pureed kim chi, ginger scallion sauce, that red Korea spicy sauce (kochujang somethin'?...help, for I am a Korean food-tard), 12 raw oysters, rice and Maldon sea salt (which you won't need, but use anyway because it's in front of you). Now it's complete.
The suggested eating method is to take a leaf of the bibb lettuce, dump everything else inside it, roll it up. and shove into welcoming mouth. Okay, maybe not everything (stick to one sauce, my favorite being the ginger scallion) and I wouldn't say the oysters are really necessary (then again, I'm not a big fan of shellfish), but the rice-pork-sauce combo works out very nicely. Even though rice is usually a filler, Momofuku's rice is perfectly cooked (not too mushy or dry, every plump little grain defined, etc) and you kind of need it to mellow out the porkiness or else you'll OD on pork essence. In this case, rice isn't a filler but a tool that actually helps you eat more pork. And trust me, you want to eat more pork. It pulls away from the bone with hardly any effort, and you know why? Because every muscle fiber is wrapped in magic. And salt. And sugar. Which results in some kind of hallucinogenic pork-based serum infusing every bit of the meat.
So pile on the rice.
And yet even more people from photos taken by Amy. I'm at the top mid-photo-take-age sitting next to my brother, John and Tina are in the left photo, and Bert, Patricia, Charlie's arm and part of Alex's face are in the right photo.
There's Alex being fake-sad as the pile of pork looks in front of him. Aw. [pat pat]
At no point did he ever give any indication that he was starving or wanted to flee from our table of swinal carnage. Perhaps he was thinking those things and managed to keep his instincts under control. Or maybe he's just very laid back. Whatever was going through his head, I was super grateful that he came to my dinner, even if that meant enduring the sounds of our lips smacking with porkly happiness. I felt bad that he really didn't eat much at all. :[ (Not even the awesome cauliflower; I think the fish sauce turned him off.)
- Aftermath, taken by Amy
We cleaned up good, if I do say so myself. Nine human stomachs can be a dangerous thing...if you're a giant pile of pork.
Obviously, I highly recommend Momofuku Ssam Bar. I'm not sure I would go without the prospect of bo ssam (which you have to order in advance with at least 8 willing stomachs) since that's where the height of the magic lies, but their other dishes are also excellent. Just not in the unmatchable "giant slab of pork" kind of way. And you should believe me when I say the pork is delicious beyond the realm of this universe; I can be pretty cheap when it comes to eating out (despite doing it a lot, although I trust you have an idea of my price range by now), but paying $180 (sigh) for the bo ssam package feels totally worth it. Every once in a while.
OMG, GRATUITOUS GROUP SHOT. Do I have to identify all these people? You should be somewhat familiar with them by now. Miraculous that we don't look like fat asses in this photo, eh?
Don't ask me where the non-Asian females are. Just...I don't know!
Naturally, you can't end the night without dessert. And there ain't no better dessert than gelato, known in some circles as, "The Frozen Digestif," known in some other circles as, "The Only Reason to Live." We trekked over from the East Village to the West Village (not that far, really), burning 0.45 calories in the process, to L'Arte Del Gelato, my favorite conveniently-located gelateria.
I prefer to pair my pistachio with strawberry sorbet, but strawberry gelato was the next best thing. And the pistachio gelato was alright. Pistachio was better, of course. I think L'Arte del Gelato's pistachio gelato, although not knock-your-socks-off awesome, is very good (for NYC). Otherwise I wouldn't keep going back. Again. And again. ...And some more. Again.
I think most of us approved of the gelato.
And thus I finally celebrated my birthday just 47 days after my actual birthday. It was totally worth the wait.
For more bo ssam action, check out Tina's post about the dinner.