Monday, October 19, 2009

Hungry Caterpillar

Remember Eric Carle's book The Very Hungry Caterpillar? You know, the one where the caterpillar eats through a watermelon, a sausage, a slice of Swiss cheese, and various other tasty finds, only to lead himself to a fierce tummy ache and metamorphosis? Well, I had an Eric Carle moment, sans metamorphosis. It went something like this:

I agreed to go to an early evening movie in the City and suggested a "snack" first. This was initially supposed to be a slice, probably from Artichoke, but somehow we decided that we were going to have pork buns as a snack. Only pork buns. You can get said buns at Momofuku Milk Bar, but you have to stand while you eat them. Instead, we opted for Ssam next door. Presented with a full menu, we did what any normal snackers would do. We ordered two sets of pork buns, a ham plate with red-eye gravy (mayonnaise and coffee, for the uninformed), a pickle plate, and a heaping portion of ground sausage with deep-fried rice cakes. The Edward's ham was not as rich and fatty as I remembered, though the mayonnaise would have hidden any flaw. I found the rice cakes to be overcooked and the pork buns, though still tasty, a bit heavy on the pork fat this time around. Is Ssam Bar slipping after their *** rating? Time will tell.

I skipped popcorn at the movies, which was a wise move, since dinner time (9pm, only a scant three hours after our "snack") found us at Daniel Boulud's new haunt, DBGB. I wore sweatpants out and hardly expected to end up at a scene-y downtown bistro. I knew that I would run into people I knew (we saw two, a waiter we knew from another restaurant, and a chef whom we had loved and lost to San Francisco) and that this familiarity would spiral into the vortex of free stuff. End tally of comps: three glasses of dessert wine, two desserts, one cheese plate, roughly $100 worth of bad-for-you goodness.

It really is appalling to think about what we ate last night, so I suppose I shouldn't have been so surprised at my own tummy's reaction. We began with veal tongue and gribiche, along with a thick and fatty chicken/pork liver pate. The pate came with too little bread, my main complaint, though I was happy to see that all the bread before us fell into the whole-wheat category. The cornichons and pickled pearl onions, though scarce, were, as always, the perfect counterpoint for good pate.

Whole-wheat bread could not prevent the descent into gluttony that came next. A very long and very deep-fried pig trotter came with some kind of mayonnaise dipping sauce. Bone marrow, sliced the long way, was topped with black mustard seeds and arrived with toast points and house-cured pastrami. Our sausages were supposed to be the highlight of the evening--the restaurant serves over ten--but I found them slightly disappointing. The Berliner, a boudin blanc served with an under-cured sauerkraut, was a touch more sweet than savory. The Vermont was nicely blistered, but I'm a little freaked out by the concept of cheese in my pork sausage. Must be a Jewish thing.

For dessert, we kept right on ordering. First, baked Alaska, since I'd never had it. It arrived with a cup of absinthe that the server poured over the meringue before setting the whole thing on fire with a blowtorch. But the server left before the fire hit the whole dessert and the fire went out before releasing all of the alcohol. What was left was a very strong absinthe dessert that happened to be filled with meringue, almond cake, vanilla ice-cream, verbena ice-cream, and raspberry sorbet. A "pear" ice-cream sandwich fell short, lacking either the proper cookie texture or the right ice-creaminess. The pear element was actually sorbet and the plating encouraged the use of a knife and fork rather than one's hands. How very un-ice-cream sandwich-like. A mocha sundae was reminiscent of the one once served at BLT Prime. There was a lot of ice-cream, brownie bits, and whipped cream. The desserts, as a whole, remained rooted in, well, ice-cream, more of a one-trick pony than anything else.

A pear sidecar left us underwhelmed, though I was happy to see the Raffault Chinon by the glass, one of my favorite, less expensive Old World reds. I was also happy to see a 750ml bottle of my favorite trappist ale, Westmalle Dubbel, for a staggeringly low $28, dark beer being the perfect companion to a festival of offal.

Our complimentary cheese plate--replete with such cliches as Humboldt Fog--was just cheese and bread, along with a paltry sprinkling of nuts. I longed for something more elaborate, like the composed plates that used to appear at Casellula, before the fromager defected. Oh, well. I shouldn't have looked a gift horse in the mouth. At three in the morning, I was regretting the cheese regardless, along with the horse it rode in on.

Momofuku Ssam Bar
207 2nd Avenue
New York, NY 10003

DBGB Kitchen and Bar
299 Bowery
New York, NY 10003