By Phoebe Kamber
Growing up in New York City, I am constantly exposed to amazing theater, dance, music, museums, and beautiful scenery. The part of New York City that continues to be the most exciting, however, is the food. With its high culinary standards and cultural diversity, the city’s food scene is constantly being improved with ideas for new, innovative restaurants. Even though I live just a 20-minute subway ride away from some of the trendiest of these restaurants, I find it nearly impossible as a high school student with a coffee addiction and no job to afford more than my local bagel store — unless, of course, my parents are willing to pay.
That is why when my Mom asked me where to go for my Dad’s birthday dinner, I wasted no time telling her: “MOMOFUKU!” When she told me the next week that this was, indeed, where we were going to celebrate, a smile alone didn’t satisfy my excitement. I looked up their menu so that I could see pictures of the delicious meals they serve and plan my order. Having voiced my intense craving for the scrumptious, steamy noodles that popped up on the restaurant’s site, you can imagine my disappointment when my Mom pointed over my shoulder and said, “Not that one. That one.” I clicked nervously on the spot where she pointed. The link brought me to a completely different looking Momofuku restaurant. This one was not a Milk Bar with the delicious birthday cake and “crack pie” that gets endless recognition on Instagram food accounts, nor was it the Noodle Bar with their “melt-in-your-mouth” fatty noodles and “heavenly” dumplings. This was the Ssäm Bar whose menu consisted mainly of fish with names that were unidentifiable to both me and my sister.
Let me start by saying that the food at Momofuku Ssäm Bar, while expensive, was the inventive, high-quality food that you deserve if you spend that much. The restaurant paired things like a ham vinaigrette with roasted cauliflower, spiced fish with a tangy porridge, and sweet apricots with foie gras. While these may sound intimidating, complicated and maybe even unappetizing, you will be glad you gave the dinner a chance as soon as the sweet aroma reaches your nose and you dare to try a cheese whose name you can’t even pronounce.
One of my favorite dishes from the night was grilled corn on the cob with ricotta cheese and squid ink. This plate came out with mini pieces of grilled corn that were somehow kept on the cob so that you could get the perfect bite of corn mixed with the dips, while still enjoying it as a finger food with all the flavors out of cob. Also important to mention is the impeccable service that my family received from the staff. Most waiters would find it hard to keep up with such a crowded restaurant and a table that keeps emptying the huge bottle of tap water in front of them, but not those at Momofuku. These waiters were constantly refilling my glass before it was even empty, and new waiters never hesitated to reach over and clear out empty plates—signaling to our main waiter to wipe the table and bring our next course.
While I realize that many cannot afford to eat this trendy food often, I urge my fellow New Yorkers to take advantage of the amazing cuisine the city has to offer as frequently as possible, even if that means skipping the daily coffee and saving that $2.75 (it adds up to more than we realize). Keep in mind that taking full advantage means that you experiment and are willing to try food, even if it seems gross at first, that you have never heard or seen before. You never know when you’re going to find a new favorite place.