The Evolution of an Empire, at Momofuku Ssäm Bar

At this juncture within the evolution of Momofuku, a model so expansive and brimming with persona—a very good quantity of which belongs to its iconoclastic founder, David Chang—that it spans 4 cities, ten areas, and a multi-platform media firm, you would possibly marvel if it’s due for a midlife disaster. If a ruby-red Beamer screams panic for a sure breed of middle-aged males, do soulless company digs for a guerrilla outfit turned institution darling sign anxiousness about id for an iconic culinary empire? The query is posed by the newest incarnation of Ssäm Bar, Chang’s maverick sophomore effort, which as soon as outlined the East Village meals scene and now resides in a glass-walled, L.E.D.-lit behemoth within the South Street Seaport.

The crispy fish is Ssäm Bar’s tackle fish and chips and resembles a hornet’s nest that’s been battered and fried.

This isn’t the primary time a Momofuku restaurant has discovered itself inside a mall—the uptown Noodle Bar is within the Shops at Columbus Circle—however there’s something incongruous about scanning a menu that includes eighty-eight-dollar Wagyu rib eye whereas watching dazed vacationers glide up and down an industrial escalator. But change is just not all unhealthy. In the age of COVID, the mall’s high-ceilinged airiness and the occasional breeze wafting via its open patio, which overlooks the East River, are, if something, welcome.

The sea scallops are coated in an umami bomb of a sauce, constituted of scraps of American nation ham flavored with XO seasoning.

Chang constructed his status on his virtuosity with pork, so when Spicy Impossible Pork Rice Cakes was named as a particular I assumed that “impossible” was a tongue-in-cheek self-appraisal of the dish’s delectability. As it seems, the dish, my favourite on the menu, embodies my favourite Changian trait: imaginative versatility. The unique Momofuku traditional Spicy Pork Rice Cakes was, as Frank Bruni put it in his 2007 Times evaluation, “gnocchi with a Korean passport,” swapping potato dumplings for rice muffins and ragù for Sichuan-peppercorn-laden meat sauce. The 2021 iteration is one more reinvention, utilizing plant-based Impossible Pork and whipped tofu to ship a uncommon gastronomic reward that tastes extra indulgent than it’s.

The Spicy Impossible Pork Rice Cakes use plant-based Impossible Pork and whipped tofu to ship a uncommon gastronomic reward that tastes extra indulgent than it’s.

Other standouts are equally shrewd couplings of previous and current. The Heirloom Tomato Salad would possibly sound forgettable, however, due to the interaction of some Momofuku mainstays—shiso leaf, emulsified garlic, yuzu kosho—it’s a vivid, advanced tangle that packs full-throttle warmth. Of the three gadgets within the uncooked bar, the precise selection is the ocean scallops, that are coated in an umami bomb of a sauce constituted of scraps of American nation ham flavored with XO seasoning.

Ssäm means “wrapped” in Korean, and, greater than a decade in the past, within the East Village, it was the bo ssäm—an epic hunk of slow-roasted pork with an excellent caramelized crust, to be wrapped in lettuce with oysters, rice, and sauces—that catapulted the restaurant to its legendary standing. By comparability, the crispy-fish dish, which resembles a hornet’s nest that’s been battered and fried, is effortful and ungainly.

The standouts at Ssäm Bar are shrewd culinary couplings of previous and current.

The most disappointing merchandise on the menu additionally occurs to be the summer time’s No. 1 vendor: Chili Jam Popcorn Shrimp. Crisp-edged and peanut-encrusted, the appetizer is unobjectionable if generic, a phrase that will seemingly be anathema to Chang, seemingly a violation of the Momofuku spirit. If its accessibility is a concession to the tourist-dense nature of Ssäm Bar’s new dwelling, it’s additionally an indication of one other form of adaptability: Momofuku could also be outlined by its improvements, however its longevity relies upon, too, on a capitalist-minded democracy. As Momofuku’s C.E.O., Marguerite Mariscal, instructed me, “At the end of the day, it’s always the customers who decide.”

There are extra modifications forward. A second ground will open quickly, to accommodate extra indoor seating, and the tables will probably be furnished with countertop grills. A much bigger, and hopefully extra impressed, array of bo-ssäm dishes is rumored to be within the works. If Ssäm Bar, and Momofuku itself, has an id, it’s seemingly an enduring attraction to the churn of evolution. It has survived a number of cycles of start and rebirth, with extra to come back. In Changland, that’s principally a very good factor. (Dishes $32-$84.) ♦


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