Momofuku Ssam Bar, which helped launch a fine dining revolution by serving ambitious small plates in a loud, stripped-down, no substitutions, no reservations setting, with everyone waiting for bar seats in the same cramped quarters, now accepts bookings for those willing to pay a charity markup.
This is the first time that Ssam Bar is taking reservations for a la carte dining since opening in 2006. Bookings can be made for lunch, brunch, and dinner.
The policy change represents an expansion of Momofuku's partnership with Reserve, a mobile payment and concierge app that lets users book tables at tough-to-get-into restaurants; in some cases that process is facilitated by prospective diners bidding to pay more than the publicly listed menu prices.* For example, gourmands looking to visit Major Food Group's Carbone in the West Village will encounter bids at 30 percent above market, which means that $400 worth of food will end up costing $520 before tax and tip, if the bid is accepted.
Momofuku already holds two nightly seats at Momofuku Ko, its tasting menu-only space, for booking through Reserve, and it also sells a table, Mondays through Thursdays, at Noodle Bar, for its family-size fried chicken dinners. Booking is also available, as of today, at Ma Peche too. Thing is, Ma Peche has long accepted a la carte bookings, while Ssam Bar reservations have only been for large format meals, like the $225 pork shoulder, or the $140 rotisserie duck.
For booking through Reserve, suggested default bids at Ssam Bar and across the Momofuku empire start at 30 percent, with all of the above-market proceeds going to charity. Momofuku, which also runs Seiobo in Sydney, as well as Shoto, Daisho and Noodle Bar in Toronto, seeks to raise $100,000 for its philanthropic partners in it first year with Reserve. Those partners change every four months, with the current one being Edible Schoolyard NYC, an organization that helps students adopt better eating habits by integrating gardening, cooking, and real food into schools. Subsequent partners will include The Food Bank for NYC, Donors Choose, and One Percent for the Planet.
As this critic has argued before, Momofuku's charity approach to VIP dining is a smart one: The auction component gives high-spending patrons an above-the-table option for snagging seats at booked-up venues, while the charity component, in addition to doing something good for humanity, helps shield the restaurant from criticism over employing a two-tiered reservation system.
A representative for Momofuku said the number of tables booked under Reserve would vary nightly per availability. Anyone booking through the app will be seated at one of Ssam Bar's tables, as opposed to the counter.
*After publication, a representative for Reserve told Eater that less than 2 percent of bookings made through the app involve a markup.