Off on a New York City Culinary Tour
Trip Start Mar 02, 2011
192Trip End Oct 14, 2011
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The first part of this trip is a few days in New York City with my friend, Bill. I've known him for years but we've only ever gone on day-trips together. He isn't much of a traveler. He's content to stay near home. I've always thought he should get away more often. It took some convincing, but I got him to agree to come with me this time.
While we will also be seeing some of the sights New York has to offer, the simplest description of this trip would be a culinary tour. We're going to be in town for five days and four nights during which we'll eat at five of the most highly-rated restaurants in the country.
I picked up Bill at his office in Virginia and we drove to the Amtrak station in New Carrollton where we caught an evening train to New York. After our arrival at Penn Station we caught a cab to our hotel in the Columbus Circle area, checked in, left our bags in our room and quickly headed out for the first restaurant, Momofuku Ssam bar, which was rated number 26th in the world on Restaurant Magazine's World's Best Restaurants list in 2010. We managed to navigate the subway successfully and arrived at our destination well before closing. The restaurant doesn't take reservations. Fortunately, there was no line to get in when we arrived.
I've been vegetarian for quite a few years. I knew that might be difficult sometimes during this trip but, since the restaurants are something special, I was willing to compromise a bit. Since this restaurant specializes in pork in various forms I knew it was going to be one of the more challenging places to stay vegetarian but it was even worse than I expected. It wasn't just compromising a bit; it was total surrender. We wound up splitting three appetizers and two entrees, only one of which was vegetarian: steamed buns (pork belly, hoisin, cucumbers and scallions), short rib sandwich (taleggio, beef slaw and nueske's bacon), steamed greens, roasted duck (pate, chana dal, date) and spicy pork sausage and rice cakes (chinese broccoli and sichuan peppercorn).
I thought all the dishes except the steamed greens, the lone vegetarian item, were quite tasty. But then, not having had meat for years, I'm not a good judge of meat dishes. Bill liked them too but he didn't seem to like them as much as me. In any case, neither of us understood how this restaurant came to be rated 26th in the world. Apparently, Momofuku Ssam's reputation is based primarily on their "now legendary Bo Ssam of a whole pork butt, dozen oysters, kimchi, rice and bibb lettuce", as the dish is described on the World's 50 Best Restaurants web site. This dish is for groups of six to ten so, since there were just the two of us, we didn't get to try it. But can you rate a restaurant higher than most Michelin 3-star restaurants solely on one superior dish? Surely, each item on the menu of such a superior establishment should be a once-in-a-lifetime culinary experience but, sadly, that wasn't the case with the items we ordered.
The atmosphere isn't what you'd expect from a restaurant with such a high rating either. It's a noisy bar with tables crowded in along one side. They have backless stools for seating. They serve no hot drinks at all. While the food is well above what you'd expect in such a setting, it just didn't seem like one of the 50 best restaurants in the world to either of us. That said, on some future trip I'd still like to eat at Momofuku Ko, another of owner David Chang's restaurants sharing the Momofuku name that's in a more formal setting.