Durango and late night Momofuku

Thursday, November 9th, 2006 | All Things, Arts, Eats, Events, Friends

Left the Financial District at lunchtime to meet SYB at the Public Theater box office — my second time there in just under a week. As part of a special promotion, the theatre was offering same-day tickets to their new production of Julia Cho’s Durango for just $10 on Thursdays. The play officially opens on November 20.

Public Theatre Lobby

It was a brilliantly sunny day, and after picking up our three tickets for later tonight, we scored a table just outside the entrance to Cooper Union’s Engineering Building (where my crochet class was held this summer) and broke into the pulled pork tacos SYB had brought with him from the Vendley brothers “Calexico” cart in SoHo.

I felt like a woman of leisure, lounging at an outdoor table in the mid-afternoon, watching the world pass by. I continued the illusion by taking a brief post-lunch stroll along St. Mark’s Place, recalling all the while the street’s much grittier past.

Case in point: a new CBGB store “comin soon”? Sharing space with — no lie — a Chipotle? (Last month, a new BCBG store opened up a block from my apartment — very different, for the dyslexic/careless readers among you.) Does the slide from punk legend to sell-out — complete with a possible move to Vegas — really take only one month? Just further evidence of the East Village’s degeneration into the amusement park version of itself. Good grief.

CBGB Store

Farther down on St. Mark’s, we popped into Bamn — the Japanese take on 1950’s automats. Trippy, to be sure, and one senses that Bamn’s target diner is not an office worker on her lunch break: hot pink plastic and too bright lights, with a dancebeat soundtrack piped in. There is no seating, and the retro-futuristic space is dominated by a coin-operated vending wall with heated, see-through compartments, behind which sits a working kitchen. There’s also a fry-station, this afternoon manned by a real live, disaffected-looking Japanese hipster. Menu items slant toward American fast food classics with a Japanese twist, and cost only $1.50-$2.50. The selection, though, is pause (and possibly indigestion)-inducing: Teri burgers, hot dogs, PB & J and grilled cheese sandwiches, fried chicken, Spam musubi-teriyaki, pizza dumplings, chicken pot pie croquettes. I couldn’t resist sampling the mac and cheese croquettes… because I was still a little hungry, and a lot curious. Not terrible… for $2.00, that is.

Bamn is open “25 hours a day.” Rightly so.


After work, we reconvened in SoHo for the Nancy Koltes at Home re-opening reception. The shop, which deals in high-end bedding, bath products, entertaining accessories and loungewear, recently expanded into the adjacent storefront. I examined the wares while indulging in some prettily dainty bites with elegant sparkling drinks, sprinkled with edible gold-leaf.

SYB, I think, found the environs a bit too effete (or perhaps the wafting scents within, a bit too overpowering) — so we collected our scented soap-stuffed gift bags before decamping across the street for the decidedly less rarified airs of Lombardi’s.

Nancy Koltes at Home

Despite a few transportation snafus, CS just made it to the theater just in time for Durango curtain time. We sat back and watched the story unfold of a widowed father who embarks on a spontaneous family road trip through the Southwest with his two sons. Along the way, there are flashbacks, fights and life-shattering secrets. The conceit is familiar, and according to SYB, so was the portrayal of some Korean-American family dynamics: the mixture of pride and shame, the guilt, the blame, the screaming recrimations. He spent a good part of the play muttering, “Just like my Sunday nights.” There wasn’t much for me to say in response.

The talented cast of five featured James Saito as the father, James Yaegashi and Jon Norman Schneider as his sons, and Ross Bickell and Jay Sullivan in smaller roles.

After the play, our trio took a leisurely stroll over to sample the late night menu at Momofuku Ssäm Bar. I’d been to the restaurant when it first opened — also after a performance at the Public — and had enjoyed the pork buns and ssäms then, but in its review two months later, the New York Times alerted me to the newly added, and now not-so-secret special late night menu:

Five nights a week, after the ssam bar closes, a spirited cast of chefs — Mr. [David] Chang, Mr. [Joaquin] Baca, Tien Ho, formerly of Cafe Boulud, and Joshua McFadden, late of Lupa — run a restaurant in a restaurant that goes far to explain the venture.

Most chefs working the witching hour offer abbreviated menus. Here, that equation is flipped with diverse, carefully crafted dishes, from fried cauliflower chat ($9) to spicy tripe stew ($11), emerging late. The restaurant’s transformation, which includes table service, a thumping kitchen and some well-paired beer and sparkling wine options, is as intriguing as watching a strait-laced wallflower reveal an inner wild child.

You knew we were going to have to check this out.

Momofuku Ssam

The late night menu, which starts at 10:30PM, already seems to have developed its own following. We arrived about 15 minutes early to find a short queue already forming on Second Avenue outside the closed restaurant door. At promptly half past, the doors opened and we were seated.

This time, it was an altogether different dining experience than the last. There was the attentive table service for starters, and a more varied menu this time around: those wonderful pork buns made the cut (but not the ssäm), plus a raw bar and a tempting list of small plates for sharing, with selections ranging from local produce and artisinal cheeses to spicy tripe, grilled sweetbreads and veal head.

We were somewhat less adventurous this evening, but were still served well by our selections. There was the simply titled “Bread & Butter” to start: fresh toasted bread with Vermont salted and English goat’s butters. The “Steamed Buns,” of course. And here, the “Seasonal Pickles”…

Seasonal Pickles

…the ‘Mutsu and Macoun Apple Kimchi” with crispy pork jowl and arugula…

Apple Kimchi

…the “Roasted Hanger Steak,” accompanied by arugula and cubes of hash-brown-like “rice fries”…

Hangar Steak

… and one of three platters of paper-thin sliced ham, served with toasted bread and apple butter — offered under the menu heading of “Pork.” What a delightful end to a full day.

Chef Chang was in the kitchen this night, as he was the last time — which makes me wonder just how much time he spends at his Noodle Bar.

There are 3 Comments ... Durango and late night Momofuku

November 19, 2006

Seeing these pics makes me want to go back.

December 19, 2006

When are we going back?

January 19, 2007

New menu! New Hours! at Momofuku.

Go for it ...