November 3, 2012

A Food-Focused Weekend in NYC: Momofuku Ssam Bar and Recette

"I try to make a trip to NYC every few years so that I can stay current with one of the most influential food scenes I know. During my most recent visit to the city, I followed a splendid lifestyle for three nights and ate at many marvelous restaurants.

It all started with a conversation, three weeks prior to my arrival in October, about where we should go for the first meal of the weekend. For the last few years, I have heard my food-connisseur friends and family members rave about Momofuku Ssam Bar in the East Village. Even after 3 visits to Manhattan in the last 4 years, I still hadn't had a chance to experience the quintessential New York restaurant. Finally, it was set: Thursday night's dinner was going to be at the Ssam Bar.

Momofuku Ssam Bar 

The anticipation about this restaurant had been developing for weeks; rather, years. The walk across town to the restaurant reminded me of the excitement you feel on your first day of school. I was absolutely psyched to be there. We arrived, put our name on the list for a table, and went to the restaurant's sidebar, Booker & Dax, for cocktails and appetizers. I was already in heaven by the time I had the first sip of my Basil Bixby, a precise mixture of of gin, lemon, and basil. Followed by the Hatchback, made of campari, tequila, lime, and grapefruit juice, I was ready to roll. Conveniently, my first bite into one of David Chang's masterpieces was a steamed bun filled with a juicy pork belly and garnished with hoisin sauce, coleslaw, cucumbers, and scallions. If I lived within a 10 mile radius of the Ssam Bar, these steamed buns would become a regular staple in my diet.

Steamed Buns with juicy pork belly 

My anticipation for the night's meal was building by the minute. After about an hour, we were seated at a corner table, ready for the menu. Now, I already knew that I wouldn't actually order any food this weekend. I wouldn't need to. My cousin's husband was the designated (and highly qualified) menu-master. After his long conversation with the waiter about this evening's selections,  we ordered multiple dishes, including: Spanish mackerel from the raw bar, Jerusalem artichoke soup with snails, pork jowl, and jalapeno, veal sweetbreads, beef tendon's topped with mustard seeds and many more exquisitely prepared dishes. With the enormous amout of excitement inside me, you might imagine that I consumed my food like a frenzied animal. Well, I can assure you that I refrained from such behavior and mindfully enjoyed the unparalleled flavors and textures as I slowly fell into a deep and satisfying food coma. As the dishes came and went, we all savored more than our fair share of wine and sake and my first experience at Momofuku Ssam Bar defined exceptional.

For dessert, it was suggested that we go to another restaurant. After all, I was only in the city for 3 nights and considering that the primary purpose of my visit was to fulfill my food-desires, I agreed to the idea. So, we hailed a cab and set out to the West Village to a little French restaurant named, Recette.

Let's be real here: after all of the cocktails, wine, and sake, none of us were really thinking clearly at this point. In any case, we sat down at Recette's cozy bar and starting discussing desserts. Were we going to order 1, 2, or 3? How can you say no to the creme brulee? I already had complete faith in my cousin's husband's ability to order the freshest and most extravagant items from a menu, so I excused myself to the powder room, letting him take charge.

When I returned, I didn't see any desserts on the table. There was nothing of the sort. Instead, I was looking at plates of foie gras terrine and sweetbreads! I wish I could comment on how delicious the foie gras was, but in all honesty, I cannot remember. I do know that we cleaned our plates, so it must have been great.

Little did I know that dessert wine and desserts were already ordered and they were quickly placed in front of us. Normal people would share 2 deserts among 4 people. Well, you already know that we are not "normal" eaters and so you're probably not surprised that we chowed down four desserts. These included the following: "bacon & eggs" creme brulee with roasted figs, brown butter almond cake with lemon cream and black raspberry sorbet, "smores" with a chocolate ganache, and a chocolate custard with a toffee sauce and malt ice cream. Everything was delicious and my food coma was feeling more and more like a deep trance.

Don't worry, Recette was the final restaurant of the evening. Even if we wanted to try another place, what would we be able to order that we hadn't already had? I was content and happy to be back in New York City.

One would imagine a quiet cab ride home, considering the food comas we were all experiencing. No. Not in the least bit. The question of the moment was: "What's on the agenda for lunch tomorrow?" And the suggestion was:

"How about lobster rolls?"

"Sure! Why not?"

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