When Momofuku announced the pandemic relocation of Ssäm Bar after a nearly 15-year run as the East Village’s after-hours culinary destination, gastronomes far and wide mourned David Chang’s experimental second restaurant. But according to the team helming its latest glitzy iteration down at the South Street Seaport, the Ssäm Bar spirit is still very much alive.
That task has been taken up by Momofuku culinary director Max Ng — Ssäm Bar’s last executive chef in the East Village — and executive chef Kris Brumsted, who opened Momofuku CCDC in Washington, D.C. and stayed right until it closed in May 2020. Afterward, Brumsted had stints around the group’s multiple New York restaurants before finally landing in the Seaport. And while the team is bringing back old favorites to bridge the geographical gap between the Seaport and the East Village (expect to see the bo ssäm and cacio e pepe rice cakes), it’s in the upstairs dining room where Ssäm Bar’s innovative spirit lives on.
With a completely separate menu from its ground level bar and patio, the upstairs dining room is “all about the tabletop grills,” Brumsted explains, for which Momofuku chefs will come out for tableside theatrics and to interact with guests. Throw in East River views, a clubby atmosphere, and private karaoke rooms, and the party that Ssäm Bar was renowned for starts to come back into focus.
From tabletop grilling to dry-aging meat in-house, Brumsted walks us through five exciting dishes on the always-evolving menu to be found upstairs at Ssäm Bar.
1. 55-Day Dry-Aged Rib Eye
“One of the dishes I’m most excited about is the dry-aged rib eye, given that we’re aging our meats in-house. We’ve been working with Pat LaFrieda, one of our meat distributors. They recently started working with a company called Local Harvest Beef — a co-op for dairy farmers that sources all of their beef from Pennsylvania and New York. We just got two samples and it’s a great product.
What we’re doing right now is that we sear it downstairs in our kitchen, just black and blue, take it back to the table, slice it up, and grill it right in front of the guest on the tabletop grill. It’s one of our larger steaks, weighing anywhere from 28 to 40 ounces, and it comes with house-cut beef-fat French fries and some iceberg salad. It’s a great dry-aged meat and we want to keep the integrity there.”
2. American Country Ham
(Buckwheat johnnycakes, pear compote)
“This dish is something that connects the old Ssäm Bar to our new location. Ssäm Bar has always had a history of serving a selection of country hams with red eye gravy and some sort of bread. We don’t have as large a selection here; we have two to three hams rotating, and we changed it up a little bit.
Our chef de cuisine, Vincent Edwards, lived and worked in South Carolina, and he was telling me about doing johnnycakes and country ham. And that just made so much sense for us, having a Southern native cake with a Southern country ham. It’s accompanied by an Asian pear compote right now, and it’s real nice.”
3. Potato Rösti
“I did something similar to this dish at Momofuku CCDC before we closed. It’s a fried potato. It’s delicious, and for us, it’s a white canvas — something we can experiment with, with different toppings. Right now, we have two preparations. One with ranch and Osetra caviar from Regalis, which is a classic pairing that really [fits into] the Momofuku spirit as a whole. And one that’s an Époisses cheese sauce with Momofuku chili crunch honey. It’s one of our highest sellers right now. It gets to the table, and people see it, and it’s kind of a big ‘wow’ moment. It’s an appetizer that’s great for sharing.”
4. Trout Roe
(Ham chawanmushi, optional Santa Barbara uni)
“This was a good way for us to utilize a lot of the ham we have in-house. It’s a classic Japanese egg custard but with our flavors. It’s our play on chawanmushi, using country ham, trout roe, as well as optional uni when it’s in season — we’re getting this beautiful uni right now. But come spring or summer, we’ll get nice vegetables and play with that.”
5. Smoked Quail
(Alabama white sauce)
“A lot of people see our tabletop grills and automatically assume they’ll be used for Korean barbecue. We want to showcase there’s more to them than just that, and we’re demonstrating the versatility of the grills with this quail dish.
I spent some time in South Florida where there were these smoked chicken places I went to. It can be hard to put a whole chicken on the grill, but something like quail that we can prepare, brine, and cook — that on the grill with an Alabama white sauce is really nice.”
Momofuku Ssäm Bar is open Tuesday through Sunday from 5 to 10 p.m. Select the “Dining Room” tile on Resy to book the upstairs dining room.