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On the House: BruniWaiting

On the House is our regular column written by the owners and operators of the great food and beverage establishments of New York. Today, your proprietor is Mr. David Chang of Momofuku and Momofuku Ssam Bar, the latter of which is getting reviewed by Frank Bruni tomorrow.

2006_09_onethehouseA.jpgLast Thursday, we found out that Ssam Bar was getting reviewed by Frank Bruni this week. In related news, Quino and I ended our bourbon sabbatical the same day.

Getting reviewed sucks. It’s incredibly stressful. And what is odd and utterly nerve racking is that Dana Bowen wrote a pleasant review of Ssam Bar in the Times not more than four months ago. Nobody should have to go through two Times reviews in four months. It’s bad for the heart. And the liver.

After the first time we spotted him at Ssam Bar, I actually dreamed of refusing to feed him. I did not want to deal with the life-altering stress of being critiqued by Mr. Bruni. (The bourbon helps, but not much.) Unfortunately, I have neither the balls nor the talent of a Marco Pierre-White, so it was on.

The problem with guessing what he’d make of the restaurant is the problem that makes Ssam Bar good in my opinion: It is run by a bunch of cooks in dire need of Ritalin who cannot keep the restaurant focused. If it seems like a good idea to us, we try it. You can't sort out why there’s a ten-pound pork shoulder on the menu next to a $9 Korean burrito. We just cook.

In the end, I guess it’s an honor that he has decided to review us?good or bad. Maybe Mr. Bruni wants to comment that Ssam Bar is completely insane and the food is overhyped and overrated. Or that we are doing something interesting and the food is good? And honestly, that’s really all we care about: Is the food tasty? We think and hope so and we try to make sure that’s the case, every night. Does Mr. Bruni think so? Is he going to make us or break us? Is there a bottle of bourbon around here somewhere?

So, in the spirit BruniBetting, here’s what our reaction will be when Frank Bruni reveals his feelings about Ssam Bar tonight:

No star (poor to satisfactory): We’d join the prestigious ranks of Lonesome Dove, Ninja and Kobe Club. It’s our nightmare. Both Momofukus would close; the entire staff would be tarred & feathered.

Quino would take a job at Whole Foods, work for ten years, score some nice benefits and gradually work his way up to assistant manager. Hey, he’s getting married, he needs the steady work.

I would try crack, black tar heroin and crystal meth for the first time, possibly all three at once. Anything that would take me to a happy place. After rehab, I’d get my GED and start working for the man.

One Star: Prune has one star – and that places rocks. This is where my money is: a review that says the restaurant is good enough, but not transcendent – a nice one-star. Some witty insights about the food, some finger wagging about the music being too loud, and a summation about how there are certain elements that prevent the restaurant from being great, but those imperfections are what make the place endearing.

Unfortunately, in the case of a One Star review, Tien Ho will probably off himself, since Michael Hyun got two-stars for Mai House. (It’s a competitive Vietnamese thing. Don’t ask me.)

If it’s a bad one-star, please see above comment for the goose egg.

Two Stars: Two stars would be a reach. And would be the cause for much celebration, considering that Ssam Bar?“feels like two restaurants fused into one—a Korean Chipotle, and a self-aware joint that serves designer ham and $180 platters.”(courtesy of Randall Lane in Time Out New York).

If Bruni really enjoyed his meals here, we might have a shot at two-stars. He did give Spicy & Tasty a two review and that place is a dump. (A dump with really spicy and tasty food.)

If it’s a good two-star, expect to see amazing acts of drunken buffoonery on Tuesday night. Wednesday will not be the best time to eat at either Momofuku as both kitchen crews will be nursing major hangovers. Major.

Three Stars: No chance. It would be embarrassing for every other restaurant that actually deserves three stars to have some one-trick pony like us in the mix. For fuck’s sake we don’t even have silverware and we use paper napkins. Our bathroom has a hand dryer.

Four Stars: An impossibility. If it happened, I’d give one to Hearth and another to WD-50, so they would have as many stars as they should, and two more to Paul Liebrandt, let’s hope he won’t be as critically misunderstood in the next kitchen he works in as he was at Gilt.

Bottoms up, guys. Here’s to whatever happens.

—D. Chang

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