As restaurants squeak out profits while labor costs and food prices soar, yet another semi-accessible splurge has morphed into a strikingly expensive luxury. At David Chang’s Momofuku Ssam Bar — a seminal venue that helped pivot New York dining away from stodgier and pricier trends in the mid-aughts — the bo ssam has nearly tripled in price since before the pandemic.
The fatty wonder — critic Alan Richman called it the “centerpiece” of Ssam Bar’s evening menu in a 2007 missive — commanded $250 in 2019, or $322 after tax and tip. That set price got six or more people a giant pork shoulder slathered in a sugary glaze, lettuce wraps, sauces, and chilled raw oysters. Ssam Bar didn’t initially offer the large format item after it relocated to a more slick and expensive space at the Seaport last year, but now, it costs a whopping $90 per person, for at least eight people.
Translation: The bo ssam will now cost about $928 after tax and tip. Add on drinks and you’re easily over $1,000.
The format of the meal has changed along with the pricing: Ssam Bar now serves the hefty cut of meat as part of a longer menu that involves a crudo dish, country hams, a composed warm plate, sides, and dessert. A spokesperson for Momofuku adds that costs for specialty Duroc pork have risen dramatically over the past three years — standing in contrast to general consumer prices for assorted pork roasts, which are up only 1.5 percent over the past 12 months. Momofuku’s labor costs are up too. And the bo ssam’s new price, while higher, is in line with the overall check average for customers who participated in the old bo ssam format, after additional dishes were ordered, per Momofuku. “For years we’ve gotten questions about how to build a meal around the Bo so we took the guesswork out of it,” the representative said.
Patrons who end up splitting the bill afterwards will end up spending about $160 per person after two cocktails per person, tax, and tip. That’s still a fairly reasonable sum by modern tasting menu standards — it’s also about what you’ll end up paying for set tabletop grilling menus at Ssam Bar — but indeed the changeover means patrons no longer have the option to construct the bo ssam meal more affordably, or with fewer than eight people. The Momofuku ethos of the aughts was that even with the indulgent bo ssam, you could go all out on that one dish, or you could build a longer meal. Either way, it was your choice, versus a chef locking you into a prix fixe.
The new bo ssam format, along with the steep price of other dishes, marks another chapter in the restaurant’s striking evolution. What was once a raffish, affordable, late-night hangout — a fatty, spicy, freewheeling counterpart to Midtown power palaces — continues to morph into a luxe corporate venue funded in part by a real estate giant with eye-popping prices and a final seating time at 10 p.m.
Ssam Bar broke ground, and rustled a few feathers, in its decision to charge for bread and butter service ($8) in the early aughts. The menu now lists bing flatbread with whipped ricotta, black truffle, and chile crunch as the entry-level offering in that regard — for $18. Ssam Bar also charges no less than $24 for sliced country ham plates — much higher than one might pay for luxury charcuterie elsewhere. And it serves what’s unquestionably one of the city’s most expensive fried chicken sandwiches, priced at $28. Single diners who remember the days of sub-$20 duck ssam dishes might wince at that dish reverting to a larger format, starting at $275 for a whole bird that feeds four to six.
Here are two bits of good news, however. For those seeking a more affordable bo ssam experience, but who don’t mind enjoying it at home, Momofuku now offers a smaller version of the shoulder for $200 via Goldbelly. It comes with kimchi and King’s Hawaiian rolls and fried rice (sorry, no oysters), and requires about an hour of warming up in the oven and a bit of self-glazing. Once upon a time, this is what you’d pay, before tax and tip, to have someone cook it for you at Ssam Bar, but hey, that’s inflation!
Secondly, on an unrelated note: One of the tougher changes at the new Ssam Bar was the temporary absence of the old spicy pork rice cakes, a nourishing one plate meal. In their stead, Momofuku offered a $62 cacio e pepe version with truffles. Well, the old rice cake preparation has returned for $28, and is available as an off-the-menu special. Keep in mind that the restaurant currently uses Impossible Meat in place of pork ragu.