Momofuku Ssam Bar Duck Lunch
207 Second Avenue, New York NY 10003 (on 13th Street; map); 212-254-3500; momofuku.com
Service: Efficient counter service
Setting: The former home of Milk Bar: high tables in a simple, light-filled space
Must-Haves: Rotisserie duck over rice, duck bun
Cost: Mains $12-16
Grade: B+. Several extraordinary things, several we wouldn't order again.
Here's our CliffsNotes version of Momofuku Ssäm Bar's new duck lunch:
Go. Bring a friend. Order the duck bun and the rotisserie duck over rice, with the pancakes, and share those two plates. If you're of hearty appetite, add a side of broccoli (if you're down with fishy-creamy dressing; we are) or potatoes (if you like your potatoes soaked in rotisserie drippings; we do). You will leave full of duck and very happy.
There's more to say, of course; but really. Duck bun. Rotisserie duck. Remember those two things.
After David Chang moved wildly popular bakery Momofuku Milk Bar out of its space attached to Momofuku Ssäm Bar, and into a location across the street, the former Milk Bar transformed into a counter-service lunch spot with rotisserie ducks spinning and an almost all-duck menu: duck over rice, duck buns in the style of his pork buns, a duck sandwich, duck dumpling soup. It's a good use of the space—high tables appropriately laid-back for a counter-service restaurant, but comfortable enough to enjoy your meal; floor-to-ceiling windows letting light pour in. Elevated casual, essentially; just like the food.
Which, for the most part, is excellent.
Here's a look at what we had.
What To Get
We do love Momofuku's pork buns, but the duck bun ($7) might outclass them. Tender, fatty duck meat seared on the plancha such that its skin develops an incredible crunch, delicate but substantial, the kind that yields under the teeth to dissolve into duckiness. It's fatty enough to make your lips sticky; it's everything that makes duck so worthy of a meal devoted to it. The buns are soft and gently springy, the plum sauce adds a complex sweetness that doesn't overpower the meat at all—it's a good package, but all about the duck, just as it should be.
Still, if you only order one dish, it should be the rotisserie duck over rice ($14, pictured at top); its skin is similarly extraordinary, the uniformly rosy meat with a tender chew, the crisp of the skin irresistible. While you can never truly judge until you've tasted, it really is possible to just look at this dish and know how good that duck will be. It's a sizable meal over a bed of rice, but spring the extra $2 for the chive pancakes—excessive in a good way, salty and flaky and everything you want from fried dough.
The two best duck dishes, by far, were the ones that showcased the bird most strongly; though the non-ducky sides were worth an order, too.
Potatoes ($5) hang out under the rotisserie, ending up deliciously fatty and, with the help of a chili-black bean sacue, more than a little spicy. We enjoyed them quite a bit, though it'd be a tough call between them and the broccoli ($5)—what looks like a mayonnaisey dressing tastes strongly of smoked eel, in the way anchovies can permeate a Caesar dressing; we loved it, but beware, it's pungent.
What We Didn't Like As Much
Where there was duck in the duck dumpling soup ($12)—the loose, juicy dumpling filling—we loved it; other elements, unfortunately, like the slightly tough skins, brought it down. The thin broth lacked body or flavor, reminding us of a weak tea. Similarly, the sandwich ($12) was less than the sum of its parts. There were elements we truly appreciated, namely, the bird itself—particularly the smooth duck liver mousse spread on good, crisp bread. We like the bread, we like the three different duck incarnations, we even like the spicy mayonnaise—unfortunately, though, on our sandwich, the mayo-laden iceberg dominated the sandwich such that the duck was actually hard to taste, except for a funky, liver-y undertone. We bet it'd be a fine sandwich if the mayo factor were scaled back. In fact, we might come back and order it naked; three kinds of duck plus bread equals a fantastic sandwich in our book.
While we liked some items more than others, it's a new service, after all; the menu may still be in flux, and even the dishes we didn't love could easily be improved. That said, we're already pleased enough with anything coming off of that rotisserie that we'd happily return. $16 for a lunch bowl may not be an everyday event; but if you want to treat yourself to duck, this is a fine, fine way to do it.