Momofuku Ssam Bar‘s large format duck dinner is a whole rotisserie Long Island duck served with chive pancakes, bibb lettuce, hoisin, duck scallion sauce, crispy shallots, and two sides of your choosing. It’s $140, feeds three to six people, and is The Best.
This and the bo ssäm (pork shoulder) dinner are the only ways to get a reservation at Ssam Bar, and that alone is enough to make the dinner worth it, as the wait at Ssam is regularly two hours in my experience. (Get there before 6:30 or after 9:30 on weekdays if you want to avoid the line.) My group of six included a couple of people who can really eat (obviously I’m including myself here), so we started with some regular menu items to supplement the duck:
veal sweetbreads, almond, sauerkraut, Thai chili
It’s really hard to say “this thymus really melted in my mouth” without rolling my eyes at myself, but if I didn’t know this was offal, I’d think it was dessert. It was sweet and creamy inside, spicy and crispy on the outside, with a kick from the lemon segments arranged on top. It’s like fried chicken, if chicken had the texture of custard.
spicy pork sausage & rice cakes, Chinese broccoli, Sichuan peppercorn
This was my second time having this dish, and I’d have it a third time, too. The rice cakes are this perfect spongy, chewy consistency, and I love all of the spicy peppers and the crisp of the shallots over the meaty sauce.
bibb lettuce, sambal sauce, hoisin, crispy shallots, duck scallion sauce
The lettuce and sauces arrived just before the duck did and were the ultimate excitement-builder. I felt about these the way I feel at a concert when the lights dim after hours of standing around, listening to crappy opening bands. Not that our starters were crappy. You know what I mean.
The duck arrived on a platter the width of the table with scallion pancakes, rice dripping with duck drippings, and what must have been every herb in the kitchen. From my vantage point, it looked like a glistening little duck breast lost in the forest:
I took a few slices and tried to keep them intact as they threatened to separate into pieces in all of their tenderness. I grabbed a scallion pancake and found it pleasantly salty and soaked through with oil, like a funnel cake. The duck scallion sauce was just adding duck to duck, and the sambal sauce was too vinegary for my taste, but the crispy shallots and hoisin were just the right combination of crunch and thick stickiness. The skin wasn’t crispy, but it had a layer of pork and duck sausage piped underneath it that was a fine substitute.
The duck thighs were apparently cooked confit and served to the side of the breast, but I couldn’t see what I was doing amidst all of the basil, cilantro, and mint, so I grabbed whatever I could with the tongs and thought it was just a pile of the fatty, fatty skin. Well, even if I missed out on the confit thigh, the skin was shockingly melty, and I wish I could feed it to anyone who’s afraid to eat fat.
herbed fingerling potatoes
Our sides of fingerling potatoes dripping in duck fat and broccoli salad just couldn’t compare to the duck, perfectly adequate as they were. The potatoes had a nice crispy-on-the-outside texture, but the flavor didn’t knock me out. The broccoli salad, on the other hand, had too much fish flavor for me. I wouldn’t order it again for myself, although I’m pleased to have had the two sides that aren’t available on the regular menu.
Clearly the duck was the star of the meal for everyone, because while half of the potatoes sat uneaten at the end of the night, my dining companions were clamoring to finish the fatty rice:
We counted about 26 slices of duck in all, which meant four to five slices per person. And honestly, I could’ve eaten twice that. So next time, I’m bringing half the friends.
Just kidding, friends.
(But not really.)
This dinner will stick with me for a while. I’ve had some good duck, but this was some good duck. A couple of my dining companions were also at the Wong whole duck dinner with me, and they both thought Wong was better because of the diversity of the duck dishes. The creativity at Wong wasn’t lost on me, and I seriously love a good Chinese bun, but I think I may have liked the scallion pancake and hoisin sauce with the duck more at Ssam Bar. It’s a toss-up. Go to Wong for the full-meal experience, but then go to Ssam Bar just to tear into some really well-done plain, ol’ duck.
Momofuku Ssam Bar
207 2nd Avenue
New York, NY 10003 (map)