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Bo Ssäm Doesn’t Quite Bring Home the Bacon

A couple of months ago, I received a note out of the blue from Jicama, a family friend and almost-relative who I pretty much only see at various West Coast events. He lives in Berkeley, California, but he said he would be coming to New York for a few days and wanted me to join him and his friends for a meal. The meal he had in mind wasn’t just any meal. It was the much-raved-about bo ssäm at David Chang’s Momofuku Ssäm Bar. Bo ssäm is Korean dish, consisting of an entire pork butt (which is actually the shoulder) rubbed in sugar and salt and cooked on low heat for about six hours. At Momofuku Ssäm, parties of eight to 10 people can order them in advance for a total price of $250. Needless to say, I was in. I asked if I could bring a friend and invited Dan Dan Noodle to join me.

Ten of us arrived at the restaurant at around 5 pm, apparently the only time slot they had open for a large group. I had to take off early from work, but it’s the excitement of meals like this that reminds me why I work to begin with. The others in the group were mostly Jicama’s classmates from his not-too-distant undergraduate days at Brown. Indeed Dan Dan and I were by far the oldest, but there is nothing like a big piece of pork to unite the generations. We were seated at one of the larger tables, and the pork accompaniments soon began to arrive, including a platter of oysters. The pork would be falling off the bone, so we were to eat it with a little bit of rice, wrapped in some butter lettuce and topped with condiments. It is apparently also traditional to eat oysters alongside the meat in the little lettuce packets.

The lettuce was delivered as a lovely whole head, and it came with a variety of sauces, including two kinds of kimchi, scallion-ginder sauce and ssäm sauce, made with vinegar and fermented bean and chili pastes. When the meat arrived, our appetites had been whetted. Glistening and caramelized, the pork looked like heaven on a plate. We pulled off moist, tender chunks with tongs, assembled our little bundles and dug in. The lettuce was crisp, the sauces were vibrant, and the meat was rich and flavorful. But there was something lacking. It’s not that the melt-in-your-mouth quality of the meat was disappointing, it’s just that it became a little monotonous. I found myself wanting more texture in each bite. I wanted the charred edges and chew that you get with Korean barbecue.

With 10 ravenous people, even a huge hunk of meat goes quickly. Luckily for Dan Dan, who couldn’t reach the platter, I was somewhat aggressive in making sure we both got some meat before it was gone. For eight people, this might have been a huge meal, but for 10 it was moderate. I wasn’t starving, but I had been prepared to be much more full. All in all, I was grateful for the opportunity to sample such a delectable treat with an interesting group of people, but if pressed, I think I would probably pick a barbecue place in K-Town or Flushing over the Momofuku bo ssäm for my next large-group Korean feast. I prefer to come to David Chang’s restaurants for his innovative dishes like fried shrimp tails or chili soft-shell crab with tomatillo and mole. That is unquestionably where he shines. For everything else, there are traditional cooks throughout the city that can prepare a more pleasant feast at a similarly modest price.

Momofuku Ssäm Bar
207 2nd Ave.
New York, NY 10003
Reservations for bo ssäm are here.

Momofuku Ssäm Bar on Urbanspoon

Fourth of July in Hudson, NY

These ribs were not as good as they look. They weren’t smoked long enough for their considerable ribbons of fat to be fully rendered into tender deliciousness, making them chewy and somewhat bland. The sauce that accompanied them was cold, thin and tasted like it had been bottled. Empanada Boy was still hungry when he finished gnawing on them. The ribs, accompanied by collared greens, and a marginally more successful sandwich of brisket topped with tangy coleslaw were our unfortunate culinary introduction to the riverside town of Hudson, New York, where we spent Fourth of July weekend.

As it turns out, Hudson is actually a pretty good dining town. We had been considering having our first meal there at Swoon Kitchenbar, a much-lauded locavore mecca that redesigns its menu daily based on what’s available in the Hudson Valley. I had successfully gotten a last-minute reservation but decided at the last minute that were were too poor to shell out for the $30 entrees. We also had our dog, Percy, who suffers from separation anxiety and would not have done well had we left him at the home of Vladimir Pudding, our friend and host in Hudson. This combination of factors led to the decision to stop in at the outdoor food cart for American Glory BBQ. The American-flag bedecked food truck, which looked like it had been designed by Harley Davidson, was set up in an empty grassy lot not far up the street from the bricks-and-mortar restaurant on Warren Street, Hudson’s main drag. I should have known better once I saw the empty picnic tables out front. (Vladimir Pudding later said he should have warned us about the place: not only is the food mediocre, but he’s convinced the owner is a Republican. Not a huge leap, based on the decor.)

Feeling unsated, we consoled ourselves with a cone from Lick, an artisanal ice cream shop, also on Warren Street. Empanada Boy ordered a cone of apricot-orange blossom ice cream, from which I took my requisite tax. The ice cream was of the thick, rich and creamy variety (none of this gelato-inspired business). With chunks of apricot and enough orangey aroma to revive the most barbecue-beleaguered palate, the flavor tasted exactly like it sounds—heady, exotic and delicious. Lick would make another appearance the next evening at the barbecue we had in Vladimir Pudding’s backyard. The grilled skirt steak tacos (my creation) were followed by ice cream sandwiches, which we assembled with Lick’s fantastic gingersnap ice cream and its chewy ginger cookies.

The next morning we braved the pouring rain for coffee. Vladimir Pudding’s French press was broken, and my fuse was already getting short by the time we made it to Strongtree Organic Coffee Roasters. As the name implies, Strongtree makes some excellent full-bodied roasts and brews them into powerful, flavorful cups of coffee. Their espresso machine was out of commission, so we all got mugs of American-style brew and sat outside on the bench in front to watch the rain come down. Coffee makes everything better. (I also liked the cappuccino and the vibe at Swallow the next day.) Our heads were finally clear enough to plan our next move. With the downpour, there would, alas, be no hiking until later that afternoon, so we opted for the next best thing: a big breakfast.

We knew we wanted bloody Marys, so a place without a liquor license just would not do. We headed over to Red Dot, a friendly and cozy cafe, also on Warren Street. The bloody Marys were sparsely garnished with one stalk of celery each. But pine as I might for pickles and olives, the drink itself was well made with a good thickness and just the right amount of horseradish. For food, I ordered the croque madame, the typical French bistro sandwich made with ham, Gruyere and bechamel. The feature that distinguishes this sandwich from its husband, the croque monsieur, is the egg on top, which is supposed to be sunnyside up. Which is why I was surprised when our server asked me how I would like my egg cooked. Um, sunnyside up, of course! When the dish arrived, I was a little disappointed to see that my egg looked more overeasy than sunnyside up. There was no bright yellow yolk beaming from the top of the sandwich ready to be dispersed with a swift puncture from the fork. I did find the yolk, but the disappointment continued in the bread (not good quality and not toasty enough) and the bechamel (undersalted and soggy). My companions ordered more successfully, particularly those that got the latkes, which were thin and crispy, just like I like them. EB ordered eggs benedict with latkes in place of the English muffin. It was a brilliant substitution, if you ask me. There was also a very successful dish with poached eggs and smoked salmon on top of latkes, something I might be eating for breakfast when Hanukkah rolls around.

Hudson had its hits and misses, but it is a fine place to eat and drink casually and revel in the simple, oh-so-American, pleasures of a quaint riverside town.

American Glory BBQ
342 Warren St.
Hudson, NY 12534

253 Warren St.
Hudson, NY 12534

Strongtree Organic Coffee Roasters
60 South Front St., at the Train Depot
Hudson, NY 12534

Red Dot Bar & Restaurant
321 Warren St.
Hudson, NY 12534