Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Pork Emporium

Bib Bim Bap I: Unmixed, still pretty.

Last week I had the pleasure of doing business over lunch at Momofuku Ssam Bar. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision based mostly on the fact that the business at hand revolved around an impending conference on Chinese cuisine. No, Momofuku isn't really Chinese food, but when you're in the neighborhood discussing the merits of various bao fillings, it's only natural that someone should bring up David Chang's super-hyped pork-belly buns.

But those buns lost their appeal to me (well, not really "lost," more like "were overshadowed by") when I saw bib bim bap on the menu, which is definitely not Chinese (try Korea)—but whatever—I am not one to deny my tongue or arteries the pleasure of shredded Berkshire pork (usually beef in more traditional versions) and a poached egg (usually fried) over rice, especially when the bowl also included pickled shiitake mushrooms, red kimchee puree, pickled baby cucumbers, caramelized shallots and seasonally-appropriate broad beans. Any bowl of bib bim bap is essentially an assortment of toppings (the word literally means "stirred or mixed meal"), and this one only differs in its toppings of choice.

Pickled Vegetables & Chap Chae: Meh.

As with most Momofuku fare, this is probably the richest, heaviest version of bib bim bap in the city. It's not really an indicator of what you would get in any Korean restaurant, but that's kind of the point. The poached egg (which, surprisingly, must be requested as a $1 add-on) was really the kicker—while I find that noodles with poached eggs (i.e., Momo ramen) can get a bit slimy, rice actually seems to absorb some of the yolk, making a lovely, sticky stew. The pork was, as it is always in a Chang production, generous, tender and fatty. The mess of pickled vegetables on top were a smart addition: their vinegary bite helped cut some of the egg/pork richness, though I did find it slightly disconcerting that the rice, egg and pork were all served warm while the vegetables were room-temperature or colder. (Note: once everything was stirred up into a big swampy mess in the bowl, the temperature evened out.) My side of chap chae, Korean-style vermicelli noodles with vinegar-kissed carrots, shiitake and scallions, was underwhelming and probably unnecessary, as the bib bim bap is easily 2,000 calories and awful filling by itself.

Bib Bim Bap II: Let the oozing destruction begin!

For all the hype surrounding the Momofuku mini-empire, it's nice to know that they still turn out a good product. The bib bim bap is only available during lunch, and is a (relative) bargain at $14. And while the Chang-sanctioned version of this Korean standby is by no means traditional, it still maintains the basic values of the dish: simple, hearty and delicious.

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