Entries in Large Format Meals (4)


The Whole Hog at DBGB

Many restaurants offer whole-animal “feasts”, or what’s called “large format” in the trade. Recently, a group of friends gathered for the Whole Hog at DBGB, Daniel Boulud’s charcuterie and burger-centric restaurant on the Bowery. 

The feast is offered on at least 72 hours’ notice, and costs $495 for “up to 8 guests.” (The advance notice shouldn’t be an issue: rounding up such a large party took weeks.) Anyhow, you get starters of salad and pig’s head terrine, the pig itself, and Baked Alaska for dessert. All the beer you can drink is an extra $200, but we ordered beverages à la carte and spent less than that. The full bill came to $636 before tax and tip.

Although not stated on the website, extra guests are $60 each, and if I did it again, I’d highly recommend bringing at least 10. The eight of us went home full, and there was still a ton of food left over.

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The Lamb Feast at Resto


Note: Resto closed in August 2016. From the Eater.com story, it seems that the closure is just a re-branding. The space will re-open as Cannibal Liquor House, with the same executive chef as its successful sibling next door, The Cannibal. The two restaurants were always similar, but Resto was the slightly—and I do mean slightly—more formal of the pair. They will now, probably, be a lot more similar.


Restaurants, unlike cats, usually don’t usually have nine lives. So it is remarkable that Resto, now on its third executive chef, is not just alive, but better than it was in 2007, when Frank Bruni of The Times gave it two stars.

The decision to open with Ryan Skeen, the peripatetic chef who seldom spends more than fifteen minutes at any restaurant, ought to have killed Resto if nothing else did. We visited in 2008, after Skeen’s departure, finding entrées that were pedestrian and poorly executed. But a visit late last year to the sister restaurant next door, The Cannibal, made us wonder if Resto was worth another look.

Oddly enough, we decided to visit on New Year’s Eve—a risky day at any restaurant. We paid a shade under $200 per person (tax and tip included), including wines, which the restaurant poured generously. The portions were enormous, and there wasn’t a dud among them. The couple seated next to us—strangers at the time—suggested we might like to try one of Resto’s whole animal feasts. We exchanged email addresses, and gradually assembled a party of 10 (the minimum is 8, the maximum 20). Five options are offered (beef, pig, goat, lamb, or fish), and at least one week’s notice is required.

We settled on the lamb, our New Year’s Eve server’s recommendation. The menus on the website describe them as four-course meals, but “endless” is a more apt description.


The first course was a quartet of lamb appetizers (above left): merguez sausage, lamb rillette and chives on grilled bread; lamb tartare with aioli and quail egg; and curried lamb meatball on a skewer.

A kale salad (above right) was strewn with feta, scallion, cucumber, dill, and luscious strips of lamb.


Excellent lamb ribs (above left) were served in an ancho chili with caramelized garlic. Rack of lamb (above right) didn’t really work for me, as the small lamb pieces were too chewy.


By the time roasted leg of lamb (above left) and confit lamb shoulder (above right) came out, the momentum was flagging at our table, and neither platter was finished. I thought both were quite good, but there were some whispers of dissent.


Most people took a pass on buttered lamb brains (above left), as it can be difficult to get past the fact that it’s a lamb cranium, sawed in two, with the teeth and tongue clearly visible. Once the kitchen is done roasting it, there isn’t much left of the brain, which tastes like a creamy pâté. The tongue, however, was not very good: the server explained that the high heat required to cook the brain leaves the tongue nearly inedible. There were no complaints about the vegetables (above right), roasted Brussels sprouts and crisp fingerling potatoes.

Dessert was a first-rate apple cobbler (right), like what Mom makes at home, which is Resto’s usual way of ending one of these feasts.

The price was $85 per person before tax and tip, which these days is a bargain for that much food. Beverage pairings are available, but we decided to order à la carte from the wine list, which has grown over the years, and is much improved over the rather perfunctory list offered in 2008. There is also an excellent beer selection.

Naturally, one of these large feasts gets plenty of attention from the serving staff, who are knowledgeable and enthuisiastic. But it took the bar quite a while to fill a cocktail order, and there was a long pause before the final entrée course came out. The meal ended on a slightly sour note, when one of our party was refused an order of coffee, because our 2½-hour time slot was up, and they needed the table for another feast.

If Resto’s various incarnations have one thing in common, it’s owner Christian Pappanicholas’s commitment to carnivory. With the new chef Preston Clark and ex-Momofuku service whiz Cory Lane at the front-of-house, he’s finally got the right team.

Resto (111 E. 29th Street between Park & Lexington Avenues, Gramercy)

Food: Belgian for carnivores
Service: Much improved over the years, with the occasional off-note
Ambiance: Casual, and a bit noisy as the dining room fills up



Momofuku Ssäm Bar

momofuku_card.jpgIs it possible to be more hyped than David Chang? Where should we start? In 2007, he was the James Beard Rising Star Chef of the Year. Both Bon Appétit and GQ named him Chef of the Year. Frank Bruni awarded two stars to Momofuku Ssäm Bar, then named it Best New Restaurant of 2007, despite the little detail that it opened in 2006.

On eGullet.com, a crowd of adoring admirers has all-but canonized him. They said that Ssäm Bar was at the vanguard of a “New Paradigm” of “haute cheap” restaurant dining. Discussion board regulars criticised me, not because I disliked Momofuku Ssäm Bar (which I don’t) but because I failed to exhibit the required paroxysm of rapture. In truth, on two previous visits I found the food at Ssäm Bar very good indeed, though the ambiance leaves a lot to be desired.

That’s the backdrop to the very generous offer I received last week from eGullet regular Nathan, to join him for a Bo Ssäm, the one remaining item at Momofuku Ssäm Bar that I was really dying to try.

The Bo Ssäm is a 10-pound Berkshire pork butt (the shoulder, actually), braised for seven hours. Ssäm Bar serves two of them a night. A Bo Ssäm pre-order is the only way to get a reservation—6:00 p.m. or 10:00 p.m. (11:00 on weekends). It requires a big group, which I’m not quite enterprising enough to put together myself, so I was grateful that Nathan did all of the organizing: he’s so fond of the Bo Ssäm that this is the third time he’s ordered it. And he’ll probably do it again.

Current Menu (click to expand)

Prices at Momofuku Ssäm Bar are gradually inching upward, with many items a dollar or two higher than they were last year. The Bo Ssäm, which was $165 just fifteen months ago, is now $200. There are now two tasting menus ($45 and $75). The wine list has expanded a bit, though I don’t find any of the choices particularly impressive, and most bottles are over $50.

Nathan ordered the appetizers, and our party of nine was able to sample a good deal of the Ssäm Bar menu.

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Diver Sea Scallops — lychee, yuzu, watercress (left); Seasonal Pickles (right)

We started with Diver Sea Scallops ($16), which I enjoyed, although Ssäm Bar regulars said that an earlier version of the dish was better. Seasonal Pickles ($10) offer plenty of taste contrasts.

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Fuji Apple Kimchi — Burgers’ smoked jowl, maple labne, arugula (left); Steamed Pork Buns (right)

Fuji Apple Kimchi ($13) is one of the regulars’ current favorites, and it can’t be denied that the apple and bacon combination works beautifully. Steamed Buns ($10) with juicy pork belly is a dish that can’t miss.

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Fried Brussels Sprouts — chilies, mint, fish sauce (left); Spicy Tripe Salad — poached egg, frisee (right)

I remembered the Fried Brussels Sprouts ($12) from my first visit. They’re terrific, so it’s no surprise they’ve remained on the menu. I was not especially fond of the Spicy Tripe Salad ($15).

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Pork Sausage & Rice Cakes — Chinese broccoli, crispy shallots (left); Grilled Veal Sweetbreads (right)

I don’t have a particular recollection of Spicy Pork Sausage & Rice Cakes ($18), but I loved Grilled Veal Sweetbreads ($15)—usually, they’re served fried, breaded or sautéed, but when simply grilled they stand up beautifully on their own.

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Santa Barbara Sea Urchin — tapioca, whipped tofu, scallions (left); One dozen oysters (right)

The Santa Barbara Sea Urchin ($16) with tapioca and whipped tofu is a much celebrated dish. I certainly respect the creativity that went into it, but I wasn’t all that enamored with it.

At this point, I felt like I’d already had a full meal, and the pièce de résistance (accompanied by a dozen oysters), hadn’t even been served yet.

The Bo Ssäm in all its Glory

The Bo Ssäm could almost be called liquid pork: it is braised to a point of such tenderness that the meat practically collapses at the touch. It comes with leaves of lettuce; you are supposed to put the pork inside, add sauce, wrap it up, and eat it like a burrito—that’s what the “Ssäm” in the restuarant’s name actually means. I tried this once, but from then on I was content to just eat the pork itself. It is so luscious that one can hardly be bothered to interrupt the appointed journey from plate to mouth. This must be one of the top ten dishes in New York.

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Cheddar Shortcake — apples, ham cream (left); Hazelnut Torte — parsnip buttercream, grapefruit (right)

Desserts, which could so easily be an afterthought at such a restaurant, were first-rate. I especially liked the Amish Cheddar Shortcake ($9), with an almost wickedly clever “ham cream.” Hazelnut Torte ($9) wasn’t bad either.

With nine certified foodies at the table, it’s no surprise that the State of the Momofuku Empire was a topic of conversation. One of my companions admitted that he had expected to see Momofuku clones springing up; so far, it hasn’t happened. My own view is that Ssäm Bar is sui generis. Impressive as the food may be, it lacks almost every other amenity that a good restaurant should have—a place to hang up your coat, for instance. As prices continue to rise, and Chang is distracted by other projects, I wonder if Ssäm Bar’s charms may start to fade as diners come to grips with its limitations.

There are signs that Chang’s act is starting to wear a little thin. Over on Grub Street, Cutlets suggested that Chang, “earnest and talented as he is…needs to be reassessed.” Over on Eater.com, a contributor complained that the very dish that Momofuku Ssäm Bar was named for—the $10 Momofuku Ssäm—is no longer offered at dinner.

What on earth is Chang up to? Another of my dining companions, a Ssäm Bar regular, conceded that “I’ve never seen him here.” Two weeks ago, Chang announced that “it’s clear some of us need to step aside and let the real talent shine,” naming new chef–partners for his two current East Village restaurants, as well as the still-unopened Momofuku Ko.

You have to wonder if all of the accolades are going to his head. If Thomas Keller—who has more restaurants than Chang—is in the kitchen at The French Laundry on most evenings, then why is Chang “stepping off to work on new restaurant projects” when, less than two years ago, all he had was a noodle bar? As Cutlets notes, “Ko will have to be phenomenal (and, let’s be honest, it very well could be) to shield him from what could be some backlash against the flood of praise bestowed upon the young chef in the past year.”

I don’t think Chang is the certified genius that some people say, but you have to give him credit for the remarkable phenomenon that is Momofuku Ssäm Bar. No one knows where it will go from here, but it certainly won’t be boring.

Momofuku Ssäm Bar (207 Second Avenue at 13th Street, East Village)

Food: **
Service: *
Ambiance: Burrito Bar
Overall: **


Daisy May's BBQ

Note: Click here for a later visit to Daisy May’s BBQ.

In 2003, Adam Perry Lang—who had previously cooked at such haute cuisine temples as Daniel, Le Cirque, and Chanterelle—decided to open a barbecue joint. He chose practically the most inhospitable and least accessible location in town: the corner of 46th Street and 11th Avenue, a solid fifteen minutes’ walk from the nearest subway station, and in a rather dingy neighborhood. Nevertheless, ’cue hounds flocked to Daisy May in the belief that no one else in Manhattan had come close to getting it right.

This spring, Daisy May added a small cafeteria-style dining room (it was previously just counter service, take-out or delivery), and they enhanced their menu, with rack-of-lamb for two ($95), half-a-pig or a whole pork butt for six ($200), or the whole pig for twelve ($400). All of these items have to be ordered a couple of days in advance, with a credit card to guarantee the reservation.

In the Times, Peter Meehan warned that it’s a ton of food, although he was in pig-heaven nonetheless. I didn’t have half-a-dozen companions to bring with me, so my friend and I pre-ordered the lamb. It cooks over a low heat for about two hours, and it’s fall-off-the-bone tender by the time it’s served. The rack was higher in fat content than what most restaurants serve, which is what allows it to cook for so long without drying out. Two or three ribs is quite typical for a lamb entrée, so with four between us the portion was ample. Yet, it was so good I was sad to see it gone. It came with homemade barbecue sauce (made partly with lamb gravy) that was out-of-this world.

The dish comes with huge helpings of cole slaw, watermelon, “Texas toast,” and two additional side orders from a menu of about eight choices—I picked the Peaches Bourbon and Cream of Spinach. The sides came in large serving dishes and could easily have accommodated five or six people. We didn’t touch the spinach, and we left behind great quantities of all the others. It is a sinful amount of food, and we felt rather guilty at leaving so much behind (when children are starving in Africa, yada, yada, yada).

The Times warned that service is pretty “bare-bones”, but the bones were barer than I’d imagined. The food is served with paper plates and plastic utensils. They not only lack a liquor license, but even so much as cups or a corkscrew. Unless you’ve pre-ordered one of these massive cuts of meat, service is strictly cafeteria-style, with canned soda all that’s available to drink. Then there’s the very long walk to 11th Avenue. This may well be the best barbecue in town, but I’m not sure how often I’ll walk that far to get it.

Still, on this occasion it was more than worth it.

Daisy May’s BBQ USA (623 11th Avenue at 46th Street, Hell’s Kitchen)

Food: **
Service: Fair
Ambiance: Fair
Overall: *½