Wednesday, April 23, 2014
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Pork buns at 2 a.m.? Momofuku Ssam Bar pops up at Zahav

The meal was a homecoming for the Rittenhouse Square-bred Matt Rudofker, who is 26 and graduated from Friends Select in 2005.

Pork buns at 2 a.m.? Momofuku Ssam Bar pops up at Zahav

Pop-up dinners - where a chef does a one-nighter at another restaurant - tend to fall into a routine, says Matthew "Rudy" Rudofker, chef de cuisine at New York's Momofuku Ssäm Bar.

They're relatively expensive, too.

That's why when he and and Zahav co-owner/chef Michael Solomonov began tossing around the idea of mutual pop-ups, they decided to lay new ground rules.

"We just wanted to cover our costs," said Rudofker. "And we decided to do them at off-hours, so we wouldn't tie up our dining rooms and staff [during regular service]."

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A few months ago, Solomonov and staff popped up at Ssäm Bar for a late-night affair. Its 11:45 p.m. starting time  would not raise an eyebrow in Manhattan.

Apparently not in Philadelphia, either. So much for the city whose sidewalks supposedly roll up at 9.

Two minutes after they went online, about 150 tickets (at a relatively modest $85 a head, including food, alcohol, tax and tip) were snapped up for Tuesday night's Ssäm pop-up at Zahav, in Society Hill Towers.

The dining room was sprinkled with industry people coming in after work, including Zeppoli chef/owner Joey Baldino, Sbraga GM Ben Fileccia, Federal Donuts co-owner Tom Henneman, and Percy Street GM Justin Hughes.

Many did not roll out of there till 3 a.m. (I bailed as popcorn cake was served for dessert at 2:30 because I knew my kids would be up shortly after I got home.)

The meal was a homecoming for the Rittenhouse Square-bred Rudofker, who is 26 and graduated from Friends Select in 2005. While a high school senior, Rudofker apprenticed at Vetri, where he met Solomonov, then sous chef. Rudofker went on to work at the Stephen Starr-owned Striped Bass (under Christopher Lee) before heading to New York.

The feast started with sliced striped bass, segued into a salad of heirloom tomatoes topped with uni, watermelon and shiso, moved into a rich smoked duck liver mousse. Dishes of ham were offered, alongside various pickled vegetables and fruits (cantalope!).

Then came a surprise: platters of Ssäm's steamed pork buns, which were snarfed as quickly as they hit the tables.

The main course - Bo Ssäm - was a whole pork butt served to each table with butter lettuce, various sauces, oysters and rice. You picked up tongs to scoop hunks of pork for DIY lettuce wraps.

Incidentally, Zahav's menu might be Israeli, but the restaurant most definitely is not kosher.

No matter that the pork butt was paired with Goldstar lager, an Israeli beer.


Michael Klein Philly.com
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About this blog
Michael Klein, the editor/producer of philly.com/Food, writes about the local restaurant scene in his Inquirer column "Table Talk." Have a question? Email it! See his Inquirer work here. Reach Michael at mklein@philly.com.

Michael Klein Philly.com
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