NYC – Saturday – Ssam Bar and the Cupcake Tour
Let me preface this post by saying the boy and I went out for dinner at Daniel Humm’s Eleven Madison Park on Saturday evening in NYC. It was so special that it deserves a post of it’s own. More on EMP after this.
Saturday was the best food day of my life!! No kidding. Soup to nuts, I don’t know if anything will beat it. :sigh:
The boy and I lazed around in bed a bit before getting up to start our day. While I showered, he ran to a shop on the corner for blueberries, bagels and coffee. After we were both cleaned up, we made our way to The Village in search of Momofuku Ssam Bar. I’d heard all about the pork buns there and just had to try them. Since we still needed some time to feel hungry again, we wandered into an open street fair which was pretty cool. A man was walking his cat on a leash through the street. The cat frequently climbed his back and sat on top of his head. I thought that was pretty funny. After some browsing and people watching (our favorite activity), the boy and I grabbed a spot at the bar inside Ssam Bar. The bar itself had some great stools lined along either side of it, dark wooden tables and semi-loud rock music filling the inside of the small space. The waitstaff all looked cool and laid back. After walking in to a good scene and seeing some of the plates belonging to other diners, I became really excited for my Korean lunch.
Ssam Bar had a $25 prix fixe lunch that included dessert so we both ordered from the set menu. I ordered the steamed pork buns (of course) and the spicy rice cake dish. The boy ordered the beef tendon and braised beef brisket. The pork buns were exceptional. They were made with fatty pork belly, hoisin, cucumbers and scallions. The cucumbers were unexpected and really rounded out the heaviness very well. The bun itself could have used a bit more hoisin sauce but that’s just me being fussy for a little more moisture. The bun itself was soft, fluffy and folded. Wait, folded? I was expecting it to resemble a steamed empanada but the dish looked more like an Asian taco.
The sichuan beef tendon was served with bitter green mango and peanuts. The tendon was easily the most surprising dish of the weekend for both of us. Neither of us had had it before and it was not what I expected at all. I thought it would be chewy in texture–kind of like a beef version of calamari–but it was buttery and soft. For a beef dish, it was almost oddly sweet without being sickening or over sugared. The bitter mango offset the sweetness quite nicely. I avoided the peanuts–or, rather, they avoided me and my less-than-steller chopstick skills–but I’m sure they’d have added a nice saltiness. The saltiness is precisely why I saved them for the boy because he is such a salt fanatic.
The braised brisket was tender and juicy served pho-style in broth over rice noodles with thai basil and cilantro. The meat was cooked perfectly as a result of being braised but the clear broth fell a little flat for me. It was good but not as great as my spicy rice cakes with pork sausage. The rice cakes themselves were funny looking. I asked the server and she said they’re made from a huge roll that looks like a tube–I’m pretty sure it was tteokbokki. They cut the tube into little pieces so they looked like mini-marshmallows or gnocchi on my plate. They were crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. The sauce in the dish was red chile based and complimented the crumbled pork quite nicely. It was spicy enough to sting my lips when I licked them but not so much to make me regret ordering the dish, which is a good sign of a comfortable spice level. I’d consider ordering it again but only if I had the boy with me to finish off everything under the top layer again because it was really oily.
For dessert, the boy ordered the cashew blondie pie. We’re pretty sure there was a whole stick of butter in that one piece of pie. The crust was like brittle. It was very good but very, very rich. I wasn’t sure the boy would finish off something so dense and sweet but he managed with a little help from me. I commented to our server that the pie brought back memories of my grandmother’s home baked sweets and she laughed saying how true that was. I had a Thai iced tea parfait with lemon mascarpone and almond tea crunch. This parfait was simply amazing. It was light and refreshing with a nice crunch to compliment it. The lemon mascarpone was worth a round of dueling spoons between me and the boy as we tried to scrape up the last little bits.
After we finished dessert, we walked into the adjoining Momofuku Milk Bar (Momofuku has a whole line of spots) for cookies. There was something special drawing me to Milk Bar that I had heard about and just had to hunt down. The boy got the cornflake marshmallow cookie and I, of course, got the blueberries and cream cookie. I almost had a spaz attack when I bit into the cookie. It was soft and chewy with a just-crunchy-enough base to support it. And WOW!! The blueberry flavor was strong without being fake. I ate it in shifts over the next 3 days and was very sad when it was finally all gone.
After Ssam Bar, we wandered around for a bit more in the Village to digest. I’m not sure if I digested very much since I had major butterflies of anticipation over what was coming next: my cupcake tour!! We checked out some shops and mostly just people watched. The boy makes the best comments about strangers that he would never say to anyone’s face. After we felt like we could nosh again, we started the cupcake tour. What a fantastic event for me. I had put a lot of thought into it and knew which places I wanted to go to. I wanted to avoid tourist traps with dry cake like Magnolia and I wanted to make sure that each place would take me on a round trip walk of about 3-5 miles to hopefully burn off a few scraps of frosting. After a lot of planning, reading reviews, making up my mind and then changing it again, I was ready. Map in hand, we set off to find the first shop called Chikalicious Dessert Bar.
First up was the triple chocolate cupcake. This was a chocolate cake with a dark ganache center with chocolate buttercream frosting. Holy wow. I promised myself I wouldn’t eat the whole thing and promptly broke my promise. The ganache center was amazing. My only complaints were with the frosting to cake ratio and the temperature. I would have liked more frosting but the size of the cupcake (reasonable, not too large) and the ganache made up for it. The cake itself was a little too warm and the frosting was kind of melted because of that. Ranking: #3.
Second on the list and choosen by the boy was the banana cupcake. This was so awesome. It was like really moist banana bread with cream cheese frosting. It was like the banana version of carrot cake, essentially. The cake itself wasn’t as dense as banana bread which was what made it awesome. Ranking: #4.
After filling our bellies at Chikalicious, we took off on foot to a shop called Pinisi Bakery for their famous red velvet cupcake. This cupcake was a huge letdown because it looked fantastic but tasted awful. You could only taste the cream cheese frosting which wasn’t even sweet enough. NONE of the red velvet cake taste came through. The cupcake itself was too large to really be a cupcake and it was also cold. Who refrigerates cupcakes? Ugh. I’m sure I could have gotten a better cupcake at Magnolia. This was a ‘one bite to the trash’ cupcake. Ranking: #7.
Weighed down with wasted calories and disappointment from Pinisi Bakery, I anxiously made my way to Sugar Sweet Sunshine. I was expecting the best from this place and they did not let me down. When I walked in, I was drawn to the display case (pictured above) and almost ordered one of each. I knew I had to make choices, though, so I carefully picked out a few I hoped would be winners. First up was a cupcake called “Black & White…Just Right”. I know that’s the actual name but I went for the one with the blue tinted frosting because it looked more fun (and reminded me of blueberries). This was a chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream and it actually was “just right”. The frosting to cake ratio was PERFECT. It had a few sprinkles but not so many that it altered the taste of the frosting or the texture. The cake was moist and the temperature was the best of the bunch. Cool but not cold. Loved it. No complaints for this classic cupcake. Ranking: #2.
The boy happily noshed on (and shared) the pumpkin cake which had the perfect blend of fall spices and we really enjoyed it even though it was 90 degrees outside. It was paired with cream cheese icing which was a million times better than the cream cheese frosting on the red velvet cupcake. I found the cake part to be a little dry but the boy really seemed to love it. Ranking: #5.
The next in the bunch was pistachio. I ordered the pistachio as an afterthought because I really wanted two more cupcaked from Sugar Sweet Sunshine but I didn’t want to load up on chocolate since the boy won’t share chocolate with me. I figured pistachio would be a choice we could both enjoy. This was easily the best cupcake choice I’ve ever made. This was, hands down, the best cupcake I’ve ever had in my life. The buttercream frosting was simple vanilla with some crushed pistachios sprinkled on top. The cake itself was moist and full of pistachio flavour. I don’t know how they did it! It tasted like they would have needed to create their own pistachio extract for this. The cake was pretty, too. It was green! 🙂 Ranking: #1.
Finally, we had the Lemon Yummy cupcake. This was surprisingly good and tasting very much of lemon but sickeningly sweet. I’m not sure if anyone could finish more than a few bites of this cupcake. The flavour was fantastic, don’t get me wrong, but it was like lemon and sugar overload. It would have been much better as a mini-cupcake where you take one or two bites to the finish. The cupcake looked really pretty but, sadly, the top layer of the frosting had gotten slightly hard so I couldn’t lick a part of it off with my finger. Ranking: #6.
Sadly, I could not make it to the last bakery on the tour, Butter Lane. Now I have unfinished cupcake business in NYC, though, so I know I will be back. After all the cupcakes, we made our way back to Times Square and Rockefeller Plaza to go to The Top of the Rock observation deck where we had some great views of the park and the rest of the city. We spent some time shooting photos, goofing around and digesting. We walked around for a bit after that to do some shopping (I bought two new shirts!) and then went back to the hotel to get ready for EMP. As mentioned above, EMP deserves it’s own post and is 95% of the reason Saturday was the best food day of my life.
~ by canadianbaconette on May 24, 2009.