OK, so I finally made it to Momofuku Ssam last night after literally wanting to go for over a year. I had read several reviews, looked at pics, and perused many menus over that time. So, you could imagine how excited I was about finally going. From the second I woke up I couldn’t wait to just get out of work and be one my way to the Momofuku feast that awaited me. I was staring at the clock all day trying to rush the hours and get out of work. Once it was time, I flew out of my office and into the subway to embark on my journey. I was psyched about what I figured would be an ethereal experience. So was it ethereal? Hardly. Almost? Nope. Disappointing? That would be the most accurate way to describe it for me unfortunately.
So why didn’t it live up to my expectations? Well, we all know that the piece de resistance and signature dish at Ssam is well- the Bo Ssam… that beautiful 7 pound bone-in pork butt that all lovers of meat would love to sink their teeth into. Unfortunately, you need 6-10 people to take on this behemoth and knowing that I was dining solo this was not a viable option. So, I went for the next best thing, the $140 ribeye.. of course. Afterall I am steakrules, steak is my passion, my love, my death bed meal (yes PL porterhouse please). So I just HAD to try to pan roasted ribeye from Four story farms. Many restaurants in the city offer it, however I was bent on trying Momofuku’s version. Now onto what happened.
After arriving at 5pm I was seated right away at the bar as the place was empty (it opens at 5 for dinner). As a solo diner you are basically forced to sit at the bar since there is very limited table seating reserved for group parties. My first thought was wow this place is small- and all of the seats are backless stools. If you are into décor this place doesn’t have much of it. For me, this isn’t a big deal I just want great food. One cool thing though is that they have an open kitchen so anywhere you sit you can see the kitchen cooking your meal.
OK so now I am at the bar and a young lady takes my order. I knew what I wanted but I perused the menu just to see if there was anything different from what was on their website, which there wasn’t. So I preceded to go with the pork buns to start, ribeye bloody rare with a charred crust, and a side of snap peas with egg and xo sauce. I knew coming in that Momofuku slices the ribeye off the bone and actually prefer to have my steak served whole but whatever. I for one LOVE to have a nice chunk of meat still attached to the bone so I can pick it up and gnaw the meaty goodness! Yes I know I am a pig when it comes to steak but hey I am not ashamed to admit. So I told this to the waitress and she said “ We will call you over when its done and you can instruct the kitchen how you’d like it cut”. I thought this was a great gesture! So when the steak was finished they did, however as I made my way up to the open kitchen the cook already had the knife in hand and in one quick motion of the knife sliced the whole steak off the bone! He left barely any meat on it… and I felt my heart kinda sink into my stomach. Oh well I thought I am sure it will still be good.
So I went back to my table where I was presented the steak, snap peas, and a side of fingerling potatoes with zucchini topped with arugla in a buttermilk ranch type dressing (this comes “complimentary” with the ribeye). The ribeye was presented very nicely in about 14 slices with the bone beside it and it was topped with a great shallot confit, which basically tasted like roasted garlic. I actually loved this shallot confit and wished they gave me more. It is also served with sea salt and a bowl of the pan juices of rendered fat from the steak which I thought was really cool since not many places do that. Now how was it?
Pork buns are supposed to be a must try here but honestly I didn’t think they were anything special. You get two buns with 2 pieces of pork in each for $9. 2 pieces were nice and juicy but two were dry. I have had much better pork belly at Craft, and bacon at Peter Luger and Old Homestead.
Ribeye- As stated before, my favorite part of a steak is the meat right on the bone. And yes the darn cook left me absolutely nothing but fat on the bone. Barely any meat on it but there were a few tasty crispy bits of fat on it. So I looked for the rarest piece and took my first slice, sprinkled a little sea salt, some shallot confit, and spooned some of the pan juices over it. First thought- this is a pretty good piece of meat. However, the steak was overcooked for me. It was more medium to medium rare than my requested rare. The crust was very good on the outside, but I was bummed about my internal temp not being correct. Also, about 1/3 of the steak was FAT! Yes, I like some fat with my steak, that’s the flavor, marbelization is key I know. But when 1/3 of a steak this expensive is uneatable fat that is ridiculous. This was the most expensive steak I had ever ordered. Comparable steaks I have had in this price range were the $120 porterhouse at Craft (which I shared with my dad), and the 64 ounce monster double cut ribeye for $110 at Quality Meats. Both were far superior to Momofuku’s ribeye and the QM ribeye is double the portion for $30 less!
Now comes the part that really got me mad! I am a butter FANATIC. I love to have some extra butter with my meal whether its for my steak or to put on my veggies or whatever. So I asked my server if I could have some butter. Around 2 mins later one of the expediters comes over to me and says “Sorry the kitchen refuses to give out sides of butter, they do not like when diners tweak their dishes”. I could not believe what I was hearing. I started dying laughing and I said hey buddy listen I am paying over 200 bucks for this meal when all is said and done and you can’t get me some butter? Again he refused and offered some lame ass apology. He then left and I guess sensing my anger came back and said.. “You know what if you want we can actually give you the bread and butter which comes with sea salt and whipped lardo but it will be $8.” That really put me over the edge! After all that I had already spent this guy was trying to get me to pay 8 bucks for some butter? I laughed in his face, said I didn’t want any bread, and sent him on his way. At this point I was also tempted to say the steak was overcooked, too fatty, and really disappointing, but I am really not one to send my food back- especially not a $140 steak.In any event I continued eating, and made my way through a good amount of the steak. It had a good dry aged minerally tasted that all of us steak lovers crave. I’d say I wound up eating about 18-20 ounces of it. I get into this “steak zone” where I just keep eating an eating. But I really think it was more because subconsciously I was thinking..”This is $140..must..keep..eating”, rather than “Oh my God this is an orgasmic piece of meat”.
In any event I’d say it was good, certainly not great. For this price and my high expectations I was left utterly disappointed. I was expecting at least this one to be in my top 10 steaks but it definitely didn’t make the cut. And the fact that they wouldn’t give me extra butter really pissed me off. If they had given me my butter maybe I would have been more lenient in my review, maybe even lied a little and said it was better than it was, or cooked better than it way, etc. But no I am going to be completely honest. It just didn’t live up to the hype.
Snap peas were good, but nothing great. They could have used more egg and xo sauce. The star really actually was the fingerling potatoes that came with the ribeye. The zucchini and buttermilk dressing were amazing and a great complement to the potatoes.
I was offered dessert however I passed for three reasons 1. I was really full after consuming a huge amount of food …2. Mostly because I wanted to try Momofuku Milk bar (which I did and will review later).. and 3. Because I knew I had already spent about $200 and was totally pissed at the whole butter refusal ordeal.
One other thing will say is the service sucked. Maybe it was cuz I was sitting at the bar but I don’t know. After the food was plopped in front of me I didn’t see my waitress again until it came time for the check. But I think this was more isolated incident, because the people behind me had a great waiter who checked on them several times. I think groups get more attention that solo diners oh well.
So in conclusion, evern though it seems like I am trashing the whole meal, the steak was a quality piece of meat and meal was pretty good. However, the price was totally unjustified. I left here over $200 lighter in my wallet and disappointed. For a great steak stick to a steakhouse where you can get a great steak for $50. No need to spend 140 on a “pretty good” steak. Oh well, you live and learn and I have no regrets- I want to try it and I did so that’s fine.
As if this post wasn’t long enough (I know lol), I will close with this. As I was leaving I saw a table of 10 eating that Bo Ssam! OMG it looked so amazing… this is what I am coming for next time. I will be back to Momofuku to try that Bo Ssam it looked just too good and I KNOW there is no way that can be disappointing. This thing was huge and I was so tempted to ask the people if I could pull some uber juicy pork butt and stuff it into my mouth for a taste. Ahh it looekd so good. So that was it. My Momofuku meal was a bit of a letdown.. the lesson is stick to steakhouses for steak. I advise all of you who want a great meal at Momofuku to avoid the ribeye and go for the Ssam. Better bang for your buck also at around $35-40 pp.