What do you get when you combine liquid nitrogen cocktails and Momofuku pork buns? One of the best cocktail bars in the city. At a first glance, the snack menu is concise and the cocktail list seems relatively straight forward. But like all things David Chang touches, not everything is what it seems. After all, this is the man who created cereal milk ice cream.
Chang handed over the reins to Dave Arnold, who pushes the boundaries when it comes to drinks. Manhattans are perfect every single time having been made several hours in advance, bottled and chilled to avoid the use of ice. Everything has been perfected to a science, literally.
Rachel and I made our way inside, avoiding waits at Momofuku Ssäm Bar around the corner. We walked inside to the dimly lit restaurant, grabbing a seat at one of the communal tables since the coveted bar seats were already taken. Booker & Dax fills up as the night goes on, attracting the later bar crowd with hours until 2am during the week, and 3am on the weekends.
We quickly decided our food options, since there only nine types of items, including pickles, sliced country ham and expensive caviar. Like most New Yorkers, I have a strong affinity for the Momofuku Pork Buns, decided to order those and also try the vegetarian version, Shiitake Buns. We also ordered the Kimchi Deviled Eggs.
While you know the food will be outstanding, the real reason for choosing Booker & Dax over the four other Momofuku branded restaurants are the cocktails. Divided into five seemingly innocent categories, Stirred, On The Rock, Bubbles, Shaken and Shaved Ice, each of the drinks has a life of its own. After having tried and loved the Manhattan during my last trip, I decided to try something a little bit different, ordering the Laurel and Hardy, a Rye and Cognac based drink. Rachel selected a Martini, which was far from conventional. They bottle the martini five days before serving to allow for the liquor to be infused with pure olive flavor.
The drinks are made with a lot of care and precision, often causing the food to arrive before cocktails. Considering how the majority of the drinks are pure liquor, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to have a little food in your stomach. The shiitake buns were the first dish out of the kitchen.
Vegetarians and meat lovers alike can agree on the awesomeness of these steamed buns. The thinly sliced mushrooms are cooked until soft and infused with the plum flavor of the hoisin sauce. It’s slightly tangy and sweet, with the crunch of the pickle adding texture to the soft bun and mushrooms. The hoisin stands out as the key ingredient lingering on the palate, but actually elevates the flavor of the mushrooms and steamed bun, as they absorb the sticky, sweet plum sauce. Shiitake buns are phenomenal, making you hardly notice the lack of meat.
Next, it was time for Momofuku’s famous Pork Buns.
Fatty Pork Belly, how I love thee. The pork is the star, cooked down to the point where the fattiness contributes to the moistness of the bun. The preparation mimics that of Peking Duck creating a crackling exterior adding texture, along with the lightly pickled cucumber. A thin layer of hoisin sauce gives a sweet, tanginess to the pork and light, fluffy steamed bun.
Finally, the drinks arrived, just in time to wash down the savory pork and shiitake buns.
For whisky lovers, this cocktail seems like its made just for you. The chilled glass keeps the whiskey potent and smokey, with the other elements taming the sometimes harsh liquor. The sweet maraschino and mole bitters rounds out the cocktail, making it similar in flavor to a manhattan, but with cognac. Don’t let the pink color fool you, because it’s not a girlie, fruit drink.
Rachel opted to order the Martini which is created and bottled for five days, allowing for the olive flavor to seep into the liquor. It’s served in a slightly smaller glass with the bottle on the side to refill the cocktail.
Pure liquor mellowed out by the olive juices, which makes this martini extra dirty. The bartender is more then happy to add a little bit more olive juice to make it slightly less alcoholic. This will be one of the better martinis you can come across, but a little less specialized to your liking, so be sure to ask for additional ingredients if you aren’t fully satisfied.
Finally, the last dish of the evening arrived, kimchi deviled eggs.
Asian Deviled Eggs might easily be some of the best, lighter version of this whipped treat. The yolks are mixed with kimchi, which is a spicy blend of fermented vegetables. In this preparation, the kimchi is blended into a puree and then whipped until the egg yolks are fluffy and light. The cooked egg whites serve as a vessel to hold the yolk mixture, which is topped with tobiko that bursts with juicy flavor. Small pieces of chives gives a bitter and acidic element that stops the deviled eggs from being overly heavy. Two or three little bites and each one of these devilish delights are gone.
For every New Yorker that loves Momofuku restaurants, you need to check out Booker and Dax. The cocktails are incredible, and while expensive, they are incredibly potent. Not once throughout the evening do you feel as if you are getting ripped off. The food is delicious, and while many people wait hours for pork buns, you can get them in an instant here. It’s the best of both, and definitely a fun spot to grab a drink with your best friend or end the night with someone special, or someone that’s just perfect for the night.
Booker and Dax – 207 2nd Avenue (entrance on 13th Street) – New York, NY
Booker and Dax
Location: East Village, NY
Type: Drinks, Snacks
Perfect For: Date Night, Girls Night Out, Drinks, Late Night
Reservations: Not Accepted
Favorite Dishes: Pork Buns, Shiitake Buns