Into a cab we went and headed from the West Village to the East and were ushered into Ssam Bar and to a table for 3 rather swiftly. I do believe it was a small miracle (read: recessionista) that we were able to avoid any wait at all. As we sat down, I noticed the and instantly fell in love with the cube seats. People. It was a hollow cube so you can put your bag/coat/shopping bag filled with thrifted items under your seat. Genius. Why can’t more restaurants think about the fact that we do not want to just throw our items on the floor by our feet? Do you hear me? THINK about this the next time you choose the decor of your restaurant.
As Pet, Noel and I perused the many interesting and weird menu items, I felt preggers with excitement, anticipation, glory, anger, resentment, love and passion. Ssam Bar had me at hello with all these ridiculous and strange menu items. I wanted one of everything. No, I wanted two of everything. I had to be held back so we agreed on: Pork Buns, Long Island Razor Clams, Sichuan Beef Tendon and the Crispy Pig’s Head Torchon.
The pork buns (seen above) were hands down the best I have ever had. The pork was perfectly fatty and salty, the bun was airy and chewy (nod to my favorite Asian spesh – rice flour) and the cucumber lent that wonderful and refreshing crunch.
Next came the Beef Tendon and Razor Clams. I wasn’t a huge fan of the tendon, it was chewy and interesting but did nothing for my palette. The saving grace of this dish was the mango and peanuts it was served with as the tendon wasn’t flavorful at all. The Razor Clams with nigori broth, pickled ramps and grapes was, in contrast, extremely flavorful and delicate. The clams were very well prepared and fresh – no shock there. The gem of this dish was the broth. As any culinary vanguard knows, broth or stock is a key component and base to thousands of dishes. The viscose, gelatinous, salty, bread-dipping-worthy broth was stunning. Noel and I couldn’t get our fat spoons out of the bowl fast enough. If I didn’t have company and wasn’t in public I would have drawn the lip of that bowl to my mouth with no shame. Hear that? NO SHAME. Yes, it was THAT good. Now, there were also frozen grapes in this dish which should have just not existed. It didn’t add anything, it brought nothing to the table. Minus one point.
And now, to the piece de la resistance….the Crispy Pig’s Head Torchon…
The photo is a bit dark and could have been shot in more detail but doesn’t it go to show just how good this dish was, that I more or less neglected the photography until the last minute? Yes, babies. It does. The torchon (which means “dishtowel” in French, traditionally a Torchon is something that is wrapped in a towel then poached) was very rich and decadent. The outer layer was crispy while the meat inside was buttery, tender, moist and fatty which is characteristic of the flavorful meat of a pigs head (any chef’s favorite part). There were beautiful leaves of Bibb lettuce which cut the fattiness of the torchon beautifully. There was also a mustard sauce served next to the torchon but I don’t think the dish necessarily needed it as the torchon medallions could stand on their own.
Finally, we were given two desserts courtesy of Ssam Bar! The pear sorbet with pumpkin ganche and gorgonzola dolce was absolutly horrid. At no time should gorgonzola be used for a dessert. It’s simply too over powering and neither of us could taste any other element of the dish. It stood uneaten. The second dessert, however, was sheer genius: pb & j with pb cookie, heritage station concord grapes and saltine panna cotta. Whoa der. Whoa. First of all, who doesn’t love me a good pb&j? If you don’t, you should be committed. The pb cookie was flaky and crunchy, kind of like a nutter butter cookie but with more sophistication. This paired with the concord grape “jelly” and saltine panna cotta was like eating a deconstructed sandwich that is in keeping with the “kids dessert for grown-ups” trend in the pastry sector of gastronomy. Plus one point.
All in all, Ssam Bar is an affordable luxury in the doom and gloom days of present-tyme USA. You can eat well and have a few micro brewed beers while being adventurous. There are hardly any restaurants that can achieve this holy trifecta and I am purging with excitement at the thought of going back very soon.