Last year at about this time, Anna and I traveled with a band of my high school buddies and their burgeoning families to the East Coast for our good friend (Ed)'s wedding. Suffice it to say, we take every opportunity to make such excursions to be all about the food (last week's trip in detail to Kaua'i will follow shortly). During our short stay in NYC, we had the distinct privilege of dining at not one, but two of The S. Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants. And although the other restaurant was slightly more heralded (as to factors such as television exposure for celebrity chef/owner) and significantly more expensive (thanks for treating, honey!), the one that truly spurred in me a sense of wonderment (and sparked in me some well deserved Asian pride) was Chef David Chang's Momofuku Ssam Bar.
The dish that did this to me, that unseated the wondrous spectacle of a 9-course molecular gastronomy tasting menu or the more rustic pleasures of a streetside bowl of Halah-prepared chicken rice with tzatziki and hot sauces, was a simple steamed bun with pork belly, hoison, cucumber and scallion.
It's hard to describe how these flavors that are so familiar to someone raised in a Chinese household, that have been savored again and again in countless greasy Chinese restaurants throughout the world (and even this past week at a "mom and pop" take-out joint in Oahu), could suddenly be perfected by a Korean-American chef... in a bar... in the East Village. In all honesty, I could barely recall the experience. I just remember biting down and meeting the spongy resiliency of the bun, the crisp of the cucumber and scallion, the meat (and fat) almost melting, the explosion of different depths of sweetness from the bun, the pork, the hoisin, the cleanness of it all, and the ecstasy in knowing that this simple dish had met its apex.
I can't stop this post without mentioning that the good chefs at Momofuku Ssam Bar are not without their own molecular gastronimic tricks. The dessert pictured above included a frozen grape jelly sorbet (of sorts) and peanut butter crumbles that once engulfed with the bread of the pie crust co-mingled in the mouth formed a more than memorable (and unexpected) PB&J treat!