I was in New York this past weekend for the purpose of taking a Google test. I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to talk about that, plus it’s not very interesting, so I’ll just leave it at that.
Anyway, whenever you travel to New York, it’s important to choose your restaurants and bars with care. There are so many great places that you don’t want to waste a single meal with a less-than-phenomenal selection. I had two dinners in New York and they were at two amazing places: the Spotted Pig
. The former is a New York institution and served me one of the best burgers I’ve ever had. The latter is one of global restaurateur and chef extraordinaire, Mario Batali’s places and the appetizers, entree and dessert were all just terrific; I don’t even know which part I enjoyed most!
What’s amazing, though, is that my best experience wasn’t at either of these places! That title goes to Momofuku Ssäm
, where my buddy, John, his brother, Michael, and I went for drinks and a late night snack after dinner. Our waiter was a nice, young gentleman of Korean descent by the name of Don Lee and he seemed to be the most knowledgeable waiter I had ever had. For example, I asked him why they had several drinks called “Old Fashioned
” despite the fact that they weren’t bourbon or whiskey-based drinks. Don proceeded to explain the entire etymological history of the term “Old Fashioned” and it blew my mind as well as answered my question perfectly. The three of us each ordered different Old Fashioneds right away. The second surprise that Don had up his sleeve was that he was not only our waiter but our bartender to boot! We watched him work and it was immediately obvious that he knew what he was doing.
The drinks arrived and John and Michael each had a single 2″ x 2″ super-clear ice cube in theirs; that’s generally a telltale sign that a place respects the art of mixology because the water in the cube is probably extra pure and the size means that the ice will not water down a drink as quickly. All three drinks were outstanding. Michael had to leave to go to another party but John and I stayed and order two more drinks each over the next couple of hours. Of course, we tried to talk to Don as much as possible as well. He seemed to know everything not only about mixology but also about food and restaurants in both New York and
Los Angeles. He even gave me a list of places to check out when I got back to LA**. Oh, and before I forget, we each got one of the pork belly steamed bun sandwiches and they were truly outstanding. As it turns out, Momofuku is just as good at preparing food as drinks.
When we settled the bill, Don let us know that the last round was on him. No reason, he’s just the greatest! As we were leaving and aiming a chorus of thanks at Don, I added, “By the way. Not only was this phenomenal but I noticed that although you only carry four Scotches, each one is an outstanding choice. I see Asayla and Peat Monster from Compass Box (the best blender of Scotch in my opinion), Laphroaig Cask Strength (you almost never
see this gem in bars) and Glenlivet 12 (a classic). I just think that’s awesome because I love Scotch and if I had to choose four to carry in my bar, these would all be finalists.” Don then asked me if I had ever tried the leading Japanese “Scotch equivalent” called Yamazaki. No sooner had I responded with “no,” and there was a dram poured in front of me. I tasted it and passed it to John so that he could try it. Not bad! We thanked Don and were about to leave before he stopped us and said, “Wait, I’ve got one more for you.”
Don reached under the bar and pulled out a drink I had never heard of called Tyrconnell
Irish Whiskey. He claimed it was the only true single malt from Ireland. “Wait,” I countered, “I have a bottle of Bushmill’s 10-year single malt at my house.” For a moment, I thought I had bested the master but Don responded, “Oh yeah, well, that’s not really a single malt in the true sense.” He went on to explain that Bushmill’s used a single type of malted barely, however, the barley was taken from multiple harvests. This is sort of against the rules when labeling a whisk(e)y as a single malt. For the umpteenth time that night, Don was right. No worries though, he poured me a dram of Tyrconnell to try. It was delicious and, even though I didn’t want to, I passed the rest to John who agreed.
Let’s take a moment to recap: John and I each got five drinks over the course of the night; Don paid for three of them. Not only that but these were some of the best cocktails that I’ve ever had. In fact, my second drink was a Manhattan and it was easily the best one I’ve ever gotten and I order a Manhattan at almost every decent bar I visit (it’s my “litmus test” cocktail). By the way, if you order one and it’s served up–like a martini–don’t get your hopes up; Manhattan’s are meant to be served in a tumbler and that’s how Don prepared mine. As John and I paid Don our final compliments and made our way out the door, John said to me, “Man, I can’t wait until Don opens his own place. It will probably be even better than this
one!” I agreed; Don seemed pretty young, so it was only a matter of time before he had his own restaurant.
When I got back to LA, John sent me this link
, revealing that although Don did indeed seem young, he does, in fact, pretty much run the place! So, as it turns out, I won’t need to send an email to Momofuku’s management letting them know that they are the lucky employers of the greatest waiter and bartender in New York; seems like they probably already knows that!
So, if you’re ever in New York, do everything in your power to go to Momofuku Ssäm. And while you’re there, if you run into Don, do yourself a favor and get to know this guy. Some day, if there’s any justice in this world, he’s going to the biggest name in food an drink in New York. Trust me, that’s a guy you want on your side!
**The places that Don recommended in LA were: The Varnish
, Seven Grand
, Tar Pit
and Copa D’Oro
. If Don says they’re good, they are most certainly great!