"I don't know how much meat I can eat."
I said those words not actually being unaware of how much meat I could fit into my belly—the meat in question being the bo ssam at Momofuku Ssam Bar—but with the assumption that the amount I could comfortably digest would be pathetically meager. What ended up happening was that my stomach miraculously grew by about five times to accomodate more tender pork butt than any human my size should eat in one sitting. Of course, my stomach didn't physically grow, so what happened? Did the essence of swine seep into my veins and do some magical stomach-expanding juju on my belly? It certainly infused my viscera, the results of which probably aren't going to lengthen my life. Overall, I really don't know what happened. It was mildly frightening.
But before the eight of us—Connie, Don (the main organizer of the night that we must bow down to), Doug, Eunice, Gerald, Janet, Megan, and me—could dig into a mountain of pork bathing in fat, covered in fat and infused with
a combination of sixteen spices fat, we had a few appetizer-esque plates to get through. And by "a few" I mean "eight". I'm not sure the idea of moderation ever came into play during our dinner.
Then again, maybe it wasn't that excessive considering that between eight people, each person would get a bite or two of the starting dishes. Uni with whipped tofu and tapioca was one of the first. I stopped after one spoonful. Uni doesn't hate me, but it doesn't care much for me either. Its opinion of me would be something like, "Rob-wuh? Whatevs." Which is probably the same opinion many humans also hold of me. Well...uni, you can suck it! I don't know what "it" is, but I'll say it's something sea urchins are not fond of. Like my fist.
Actually, I have nothing against uni; I'm just filling up this space with nonsensical crap because I have failed to recall what the hell this dish tasted like, which does not fare well in a food blog. The textural qualities were more memorable to me than the flavors. Like that whipped tofu? It had the texture of a light pudding but it tasted like...tofu. Kind of like a vegan-friendly tofu-based dessert pudding, except it was just tofu, which I don't think would be a popular pudding flavor. I really don't remember anything about the uni besides that it was soft. Let's move on before I embarrass myself any further.
Next up was an assortment of pickles. It's like winning the lottery of brined vegetables! Also known as "the lottery that no one enters"! But I've never had so many pickled foodstuffs before—brussels sprouts, cauliflower, Asian pear, cabbage, baby carrot thingers, what may have been turnip, and so much more, mainly in the form of "things that are crunchy". Not that I have other plates of assorted pickled matter to compare this one to, but this must be one of the best plates of assorted pickled matter you can get. And it might be one of the few vegetarian-friendly things on the menu. Not that a vegetarian would go to Momofuku...[tosses head back, chuckles]...oh, what a silly idea. Like the curvature of the earth!
I have no idea how brussels sprouts earned that mythical bad rep when they're just cute, spherical lil' cabbage-like buggers. If they had cheeks, I'd want to poke em. Are there people who truly hate these guys? They mean you no harm. They just want to live in peace among the human race. Like squirrels. LET THEM LIVE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD (brussels sprouts, not squirrels so much). Especially in the form of Momofuku's roasted variety, which is flavored with mint, chili, and fish sauce, or something like that. (This is what happens when you don't take notes, kiddies. I'm relying on the massively minute power of my memory to pull this off.) Even after all the brussels sprouts are gone, you'll still want to lick the bowl clean and scoop up all the roasted detritus, which is kind of what Janet ended up doing because she was held up by this silly thing called "work" and arrived to dinner later than expected after most of the brussels spouts matter was consumed. Tasty, tasty detritus!
Here's some raw fish. It's name is hamachi. It tastes like...raw fish. You may have noticed that the raw fish action on my blog is very low, nearly negative. Like uni, raw fish doesn't think much of me. Welllll, two can play that game. Heck, more than two. TEN THOUSAND. But I will stop at two. I don't dislike raw fish; I just don't appreciate it enough to write anything about it that would be of any use to anyone. But at least I took a photo of it.
We split three orders of bahn mi between the eight of us. I exercised some kind of restraint by only eating half of a half of one plate. That was one awesome half-half of crusty Sullivan Street Bakery bread stuffed with ham, veal head cheese and chicken liver pate, along with all the other typical bahn mi fillings that don't fit into the meat category. It bursts with the juicy flavors of multiple kinds of meat matter at different levels of mushiness. It's really, really good.
The mushroom salad was about the size of my fist, so I only tried a wee little bit. Like one mushroom. I forget what the sauce was. I'm not joking when I say my memory is on par with that of a fish. NEXT DISH.
Here's some ham with bread and mustard sauce. What kind of ham? The kind borne forth from pigs. I don't know the specifics, nor am I in possession of the knowledge that would make me a ham connoisseur. But I'm sure it was good ham because I ate it all without thinking, "I don't like ham." Instead, I thought, "Mm...tastes like ham." It was soft and required little chewing. Chewing is overrated.
Momofuku's version of chawanmushi, a savoury Japanese egg custard dish, piles shaven black truffle on the light, smooth-as-a-baby's-butt custard devoid of any imperfections and throws in some chopped edamame and braised snails at the borrom for fun. Hell yeah, why not? I wouldn't want a lifetime supply of it, but I liked it.
And then came what we had all been waiting for in slight fear of the impact it would make on our bellies and fat body percentages: CHUNK-O-BUTT, also known as the star of bo ssam, also known as "the thing you have to gather at least eight people for and warn Momofuku in advance that you want". This meat means business. We just stared at the black hole (or glistening, gold brown hole) for a while as a photographer from the New York Times snapped some photos for their upcoming article, "How eight youthful, somewhat healthy foodies nearly died last Thursday night of stomach explosion." (Actually, I have no idea what the photos are for, but hopefully we'll find out soon.)
Don initiated the tearing of the meat by ripping out a chunk with one of the four pairs of tongs. The muscle effortlessly came apart from the mother chunk. Our eyes widened with a mixture of horror, delight and gluttony at the sight of fat dripping from the jello-like pig flab just underneath the top-most layer of skin. Oh dear lord.
Pulling apart the meat made me feel like I was eating the pork version of Polly-O String Cheese, except this was the real deal, not some bastardized, convenience food version of something better. (By the way, I used to love string cheese when I was little. IT MADE EATING CHEESE FUN!) Each tender muscle fiber stayed attached to its neighbor until poked with chopsticks, at which point it would quickly declare its independence from its meaty brothers and do whatever you wanted it to do. Which would probably involve being lightly masticated (it requires little chewing) and drowning in a pool of your stomach acids.
Aside from the meat, the bo ssam package comes with eight raw oysters, as much (bibb?) lettuce as you can eat, three dipping sauces (kimchi, pureed kimchi and ginger scallion), a dish of maldon sea salt and rice. The idea is that the combination of all the above ingredients will result in the most deliciousness you will ever experience involving lettuce. Not being crazy for oysters (but not disliking them either), I only made one lettuce wrap that combined the tastes of succulent fatty pork bits with briny, flubby mollusk. (When I say "flubby" I don't mean the slang term that I didn't even know existed, but the word I made up because I couldn't think of right term to describe an oyster's soft, slippery texture. So. You get "flubby.")
I think most of us preferred it sans-mollusk. My favorite combination was pork, rice and ginger scallion sauce rolled up in lettuce, although as the night wore on I ended up just eating un-dipped pork with a chunk of short grained rice (that's the rice-hungry Chinese in me, isn't it?) and sometimes just pork. It's what my heart longs for, apparently. Aside from loving companionship. But for now, the pork will have to do.
We kept going. And going. Or was that just me? I ate a disturbing amount of the pork. When other people's chopsticks stopped moving, I was tearing into another meat chunk. "Hey you guys, why'd you stop?" I'd question in between muffled mouthfuls. Although I did get to the point where I couldn't sit up straight because some of my organs had been replaced by pork, my bo ssam-eating stamina was much stronger than I or anyone else could've predicted. The meat was just too easy to eat. Yes, too easy. Unadorned it didn't have an overpowering flavor (only the skin was salted), but since it was just so goddamn delicious and tender and full of pig-ness, you could (and would want to) keep eating and eating without feeling uncomfortably nauseous (not that there is a comfortable state of nausea...I think). The most flavorful bits were the ones at the bottom of the plate that had been soaking in their own fatty meat juices. Meat spong + meat juice = [stream of drool drips from mouth Homer Simpson style]
Like The Little Engine That Could, I told myself that I could climb over the mountain (of meat) if I just BELIEVED IN MYSELF and maybe took some mind altering substances (don't worry, I'm clean!). I got up most of the mountain without regretting it. After we decided that we could eat no more (the remains are now safely tucked away in Don's and Gerald's apartments, or in their bellies) the severity of the meal hit whatever part of my brain it is that isn't a moron, causing me to hug my meat-filled torso while thinking, "Oh my god, get it out of me GET IT OUT uguhg ughgh jesus what did I do?"
Of course, after waiting a while and letting the ol' digested matter settle, you miraculously have enough room for dessert. Then again, each of us only ate the equivalent of one piece of ice cream-filled mochi, which is like adding a grain of sand to a beach. Out of all the flavors—pistachio, guava, coconut-sweet potato and chocolate mint—my favorite was pistachio. I'm afraid I'm not very into the ice cream + mochi combination. Not that it's bad, just that I prefer mochi (filled with red bean paste) or ice cream/gelato on its own. ...In a bucket. With whipped cream. I can't be the only one.
Just to shake things up a bit with non-food photos (and that woosh you just heard was the sound of 50% of my readers leaving my website), here's our table of happy diners eating dessert and apparently flushing out their systems with lots and lots of H20.
Before we disbanded, Doug surprised us all with his secret stash of Trader Joe's Sunflower Seed Butter. This probably confused everyone but me since I keep close tabs on the low activity state of my forum's discussions. I slathered the surprisingly liquidy butter on some homemade bread today (which came out so-so, which I will talk about later); it is sooo good. Partially because of the added cane sugar and salt, but I'm sure the nuts had something to do with it as well. Thanks for making us into sunflower seed butter addicts, Doug!
The awesomness of dinner at Momofuku Ssam Bar naturally had a lot to do with the food, but also relied on hanging out with a bunch of awesome people. Even though I hadn't met half of them beforehand, I knew we'd all get along (yes, I can sense these things through the Internet, which might be why I haven't been murdered yet) and have a comfortable, enjoyable dinner. Or at least we'd all bond over out meat comas. Hell, we got both! The friendly, attentive service also played a part (the waiters would tell us the components of each dish as they brought them out after which I would immediately forget what was said because I was too distracted by the food) along with the mercy that was given to us when the bill came. And by "mercy" I mean not everything we ate was accounted for. Of course, all $180 of the bo ssam was there. We paid about $50 plus drinks per person, which in my case was the most expensive meal I've had in NYC since...possibly ever. (I've spent more money on a night of eating at least once, just not in one location.)
Of course, it was worth the splurge. I'm pretty sure I will never have the chance to eat the bo ssam again due to the cost and that thinking about it makes me a bit nauseous (I assume that the feeling will eventually pass), but I would love to attack another restaurant with the same group of people again. If you get the chance to eat it, you must take it. It doesn't even matter if you're a vegetarian; suck it up. (Just kidding! ...Kinda.) I'm pretty sure that Thursday night wins the prize for "most meat eaten in my lifetime", which isn't something I was exactly striving for. It just happened. I couldn't stop eating the meat, you know. My brain wouldn't let me.
I understand Alaina's "I'm momofukin full" t-shirt better now. It should come in XXXL.
If you want an update on my previous post, I have so far gotten no responses from people in London! Crap. I must have overestimated the reach of this blog. On the other hand, I got two responses from people who live outside of London in semi-major cities. London: 0, outside London: 2!