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Momofuku Ko (Part 1)


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#511 Nathan

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Posted 23 May 2008 - 06:42 AM

oh sure, the final check price at Ko is pretty similar to some other three-star establishments (there are a few that are considerably more)

#512 oakapple

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Posted 23 May 2008 - 07:31 AM

Indeed, and I think an even more apt fine-dining comparison is EMP.  I still haven't been so I can't speak to the value from experience.  It does seem, however, that at the end of the night (with beverages included) Ko may not be as great a deal as some might have initially espoused, it is still entirely reasonable.  And if one places any value on exclusivity, then that takes up the value proposition significantly.

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I don't place any value on exclusivity. Although Ko is a very good restaurant, it doesn't become better just because it's harder to get in. One may feel psychologically predisposed towards enjoying the experience, after one has expended so much effort to score a reservation.

I think Ko is fairly priced. It's neither a bargain nor a rip-off. It is in line with other restaurants of its caliber.

Counting bread makes no sense to me unless you're comparing for some sort of fullness component.

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You have to bear in mind that Ko does have a "bread service": it's the English muffin they serve at the very beginning.

Edited by oakapple, 23 May 2008 - 07:32 AM.


#513 SobaAddict70

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Posted 23 May 2008 - 07:42 AM

Having been to Ko, it is indeed very, very good (which is as it should be given that the rezzie system is insane).

That said, I think I would be better served were I to return five months down the road once the hoopla has died down. The rezzies won't be any easier to obtain but at least the psychological feeling of failure will have been alleviated. :wink: The extended absence also allows for radical changes in menu composition.

#514 BryanZ

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Posted 23 May 2008 - 07:46 AM

Indeed, and I think an even more apt fine-dining comparison is EMP.  I still haven't been so I can't speak to the value from experience.  It does seem, however, that at the end of the night (with beverages included) Ko may not be as great a deal as some might have initially espoused, it is still entirely reasonable.  And if one places any value on exclusivity, then that takes up the value proposition significantly.

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I don't place any value on exclusivity. Although Ko is a very good restaurant, it doesn't become better just because it's harder to get in. One may feel psychologically predisposed towards enjoying the experience, after one has expended so much effort to score a reservation.


Again, speaking rationally, I'm leery of placing value on exclusivity when, as a food and restaurant lover, all I should care about is the food and service.

But with that philosophical principle said, I do feel as though many people, possibly myself included, get added value from exclusivity. For instance, if one was served a meal with identical food and service at the same price in similarly outfitted dining rooms where one seats 100 and one seats 5, I think that most people would value the latter experience more highly. From Rao's to L'Astrance, I think there are many examples of restaurants that are considered "better" than they actually are because they are difficult to get into. Hell, even Babbo and Per Se fit into this mold if you ask me to rate the objectively.

And of course, this is to say nothing of what Nathan calls the "Urban Daddy/Daily Candy Crowd" who likely value exclusivity more than the food itself.

Edited by BryanZ, 23 May 2008 - 07:47 AM.


#515 Fat Guy

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Posted 23 May 2008 - 08:20 AM

Of course exclusivity adds to the perceived value of a product. That's practically the definition of exclusivity.

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#516 BryanZ

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Posted 23 May 2008 - 08:29 AM

But SHOULD that exclusivity affect our impressions and subsequent evaluations of a restaurant? Marc, I believe, is saying they shouldn't, or don't for him. I'm saying I wish they wouldn't but probably do.

#517 flinflon28

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Posted 23 May 2008 - 09:01 AM

You have to bear in mind that Ko does have a "bread service": it's the English muffin they serve at the very beginning.


I don't know if I can get behind that. I'd consider it more of a course or an amuse.

I guess the litmus test would be if you asked for a second English Muffin during your meal.

Knowing some of the attitude of the organization I wouldn't be surprised if they said no.

#518 oakapple

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Posted 23 May 2008 - 10:03 AM

But SHOULD that exclusivity affect our impressions and subsequent evaluations of a restaurant?  Marc, I believe, is saying they shouldn't, or don't for him.  I'm saying I wish they wouldn't but probably do.

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Oh, I agree that they probably do—and I'm as impressionable as anybody. I'm just saying that the objective reality, to the extent we can discern it, ought to have nothing to do with the difficulty of getting in.

You have to bear in mind that Ko does have a "bread service": it's the English muffin they serve at the very beginning.

I don't know if I can get behind that. I'd consider it more of a course or an amuse.

I guess the litmus test would be if you asked for a second English Muffin during your meal.

Knowing some of the attitude of the organization I wouldn't be surprised if they said no.

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They probably would say no, but it doesn't change the fact that Ko's English muffin is the "functional equivalent" of a bread service, in that it's a bread-like substance served at the same point in the meal as bread is typically served. They do it with a twist, because they do everything with a twist at Ko. And you don't get a choice, because nobody gets a choice at Ko. But I've no doubt at all that when Chang and his band of merry men were designing their menu, the English muffin was their answer to the traditional bread service.

Edited by oakapple, 23 May 2008 - 10:04 AM.


#519 SobaAddict70

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Posted 23 May 2008 - 12:06 PM

Having been to Ko, it is indeed very, very good (which is as it should be given that the rezzie system is insane).

I may be in the minority here, but I actually like the Ko rezzie system.

That said, I think I would be better served were I to return five months down the road once the hoopla has died down.  The rezzies won't be any easier to obtain but at least the psychological feeling of failure will have been alleviated.

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At some point, rezzies are likely to be a lot easier. They're now open seven days, and lunch service is coming soon. Ko may be one of those rare restaurants where the demand won't subside in the foreseeable future, but at most places it eventually does.

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They're open seven days? Huh.

Lunch is impossible for me since I work in midtown. Weekends though....hmmm. :wink:

#520 oakapple

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Posted 23 May 2008 - 12:15 PM

They're open seven days?  Huh.

Tuesdays were only just added, with the first service on May 27th (source: Eater).

Lunch is impossible for me since I work in midtown.

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However, lunch service will make it easier for everybody, since those who can go at lunchtime will no longer be competing for dinner rezzies. I wouldn't be surprised, though, if lunch is offered only on weekends—at least initially.

Edited by oakapple, 23 May 2008 - 12:16 PM.


#521 ulterior epicure

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Posted 23 May 2008 - 12:26 PM

However, lunch service will make it easier for everybody, since those who can go at lunchtime will no longer be competing for dinner rezzies. I wouldn't be surprised, though, if lunch is offered only on weekends—at least initially.

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I know I'm late to this game, and apologies if this is something that has already been disclosed, but will the lunch menu be identical to the dinner one (e.g. per se before they instituted a separate lunch menu)?

Edited by ulterior epicure, 23 May 2008 - 12:26 PM.

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#522 oakapple

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Posted 23 May 2008 - 01:24 PM

I know I'm late to this game, and apologies if this is something that has already been disclosed, but will the lunch menu be identical to the dinner one (e.g. per se before they instituted a separate lunch menu)?

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There has been no official word from Team Ko.

#523 kathryn

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Posted 25 May 2008 - 11:07 AM

You're comparing pre-New Yorker/pre-Bruni/pre-Wall Street Journal/etc days with now, correct?

I have friends who live on the West Coast who aren't really foodies who are now interested in the restaurant thanks to the New Yorker piece.
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#524 ulterior epicure

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Posted 30 May 2008 - 08:18 AM

Did anyone on this forum happen to fetch the 9.45 four-top for next Thursday, June 5th? If so, I'd appreciate it if you could p.m. or email me.
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#525 Fat Guy

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Posted 09 June 2008 - 04:49 PM

Per Eater.com, the menu at Ko is now $100.

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#526 foodhunter

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Posted 09 June 2008 - 07:51 PM

Just returned from another meal at Ko, the last one was about a month ago. I have to say I was rather disappointed this time around. They've raised the price from $85 to $100 for a meal, and somehow it feels as if things have gone downhill since my last visit. The same dishes were served, but this time no differentation between my companion and I. And maybe it was due to overly lofty expectations, but Ko failed to deliver this time around. The chefs were even more morose and introverted than usual. The waitresses were their usual exuberant selves, but they couldn't make up for the dour faces manning the stoves. The food seemed a little less exciting, though I'm sure that the loss of novelty played a role in my assessment of this most recent visit. But I can't help but wonder ,what justified the $15 price increase? The price of oil? Perhaps. Hubris? More likely. It's a slippery slope towards overexposure and blatant commercialism. With the awards and accolades and reviews, this crew is certainly suspecitble to both. Which is, for me, quite sad.

#527 larrylee

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Posted 09 June 2008 - 09:12 PM

foodhunter,
Just had a meal there last week. I also noticed the dour faces behind the bar, quite a contrast from the waitstaff. There was differentiation in almost all of the dishes between my wife and I, with the exception of the amuse (home-made chicharron, and the English muffin) and... I believe the pasta. Every other course was different.

#528 oakapple

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Posted 10 June 2008 - 05:56 AM

Just returned from another meal at Ko, the last one was about a month ago.  I have to say I was rather disappointed this time around.  They've raised the price from $85 to $100 for a meal, and somehow it feels as if things have gone downhill since my last visit.  The same dishes were served, but this time no differentation between my companion and I.  And maybe it was due to overly lofty expectations, but Ko failed to deliver this time around.

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This is a common reaction when one returns to a restaurant where one has such fond recollections, especially if the menu hasn't changed all that much.

Also, if you went last night, probably half the staff had been up partying till 4:00 a.m. after Chang won the JB award. I'm not suggesting that your disappointing experience was defensible, especially at a $100 cost, but you probably didn't catch them at their best.

#529 JohnnyH

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Posted 10 June 2008 - 05:57 AM

...It's a slippery slope towards overexposure and blatant commercialism.  With the awards and accolades and reviews, this crew is certainly suspecitble to both.  Which is, for me, quite sad.

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This sure didn't take long.
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#530 Fat Guy

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Posted 10 June 2008 - 10:15 AM

But I can't help but wonder ,what justified the $15 price increase?  The price of oil?  Perhaps.  Hubris?  More likely. 

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Supply and demand.

There are a zillion people competing for those dozen seats. Without fail, even on Memorial Day, Momofuku Ko books solid within one minute of the reservations being offered online. But all Momofuku Ko needs to do to have every seat full is book solid within ten thousand minutes (aka one week). So there's quite a bit of leeway to raise prices even if it quiets demand somewhat. I imagine half or a quarter of the current level of demand could support $250 no problem. Maybe not forever, but for the foreseeable future.

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#531 oakapple

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Posted 10 June 2008 - 10:53 AM

Yet, Chang put out the not-quite-believable statement that this was simply due to food costs, and next month the price could go back down again.

The textbook profit-maximizing enterprise would go ahead and jack up the price to $250 right now, but for the fact that the PR backlash would be terrible, and it would be embarrassing to have to lower the price after the demand at that level is eventually exhausted.

But look at Per Se. The nine-course menu, originally priced at $150, is now $275. That includes gratuity and the original price did not, so the relevant comparison is about $150 to $230. You can expect prices at Ko to rise in similar proportion over time.

#532 jimk

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Posted 10 June 2008 - 01:01 PM

I'd like to hope the current menu reflects the price increase but I haven't been there recently enough to know if it does. Chang has implied he's serving more courses than when he first opened. If that's true and/or he's delivering more luxury ingredients than he was at the outset then I won't begrudge the extra $15 because it may actually be about food cost. He did change his mind on that extra half-turn he added to the dinner service and he still offers a really affordable corkage so it's not necessarily all about the bottom line. It will be interesting when they add lunch to see how that effects demand and how they price their lunch service.

I'll also agree that it's gotten a lot harder than it was pre-Bruni to get a reservation. I ate there three times in the initial weeks and helped a few friends with resys but have had no luck in the last month.

Edited by jimk, 10 June 2008 - 01:20 PM.


#533 Fat Guy

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Posted 10 June 2008 - 02:35 PM

Food cost may very well be a factor. But the laws of supply and demand are what allow Chang to raise his prices when other restaurants would get creamed for a $85-to-$100 hike. Many other restaurants, faced with the same food-cost issues, are keeping their prices level because price hikes would depress demand. Restaurants like Ko (and Per Se and a few others) don't have to worry about depressing demand because demand so radically exceeds supply anyway. So they can afford to say "We're going to serve more and better, and we're going to charge for it," while so many other restaurants need to serve less or otherwise find creative ways to cut costs in order to maintain current prices.

The Wall Street Journal just covered this issue and the Grub Street Blog picked it up. The Grub Street blog summarized it thus:

Masaharu Morimoto is all for cooking in big batches and then freezing it all away. “Bigger is better,” the big-box chef says, unsurprisingly. “Cook one time. Save gas, save energy.” Not everyone agreed with this Swanson program, however. Michael Psilakis, as one might expect, sung the praises of offal as a solution: “It's really a test of a true chef to take something that may not be the best part of an animal and make something beautiful with it.” David Chang, asked about the subject, doesn't give an inch: Let people pay more — they'll just appreciate the food more. “We'll have a better food culture … Just because [food is] more expensive, don't compromise and buy an inferior product.”


Some might say Chang's position represents a principled stance. Maybe so. But sometimes principles are what you can afford.

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#534 foodhunter

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Posted 10 June 2008 - 07:50 PM

Just returned from another meal at Ko, the last one was about a month ago.  I have to say I was rather disappointed this time around.  They've raised the price from $85 to $100 for a meal, and somehow it feels as if things have gone downhill since my last visit.  The same dishes were served, but this time no differentation between my companion and I.  And maybe it was due to overly lofty expectations, but Ko failed to deliver this time around.

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This is a common reaction when one returns to a restaurant where one has such fond recollections, especially if the menu hasn't changed all that much.

Also, if you went last night, probably half the staff had been up partying till 4:00 a.m. after Chang won the JB award. I'm not suggesting that your disappointing experience was defensible, especially at a $100 cost, but you probably didn't catch them at their best.

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actually i don't think i had particularly fond memories of my first visit either, i took ko for what it was. i enjoyed the dishes to the extent that i was able to eat those items that i couldn't get at ssam bar (or some approximation thereof). and i chose to return primarily for those dishes -- the fluke in buttermilk and the kimchee consomme in particular. the second visit was disappointing for a number of reasons.

- first, my dinner companion and i (and, it seemed, the entire restaurant) were no longer being given different dishes with certain courses. that happened to be something we valued. which leads to my second reason...

- it was somewhat fairly priced at $85, but i'm a seller at $100. i take another contributor's point to heart, that ko could raise prices to $250 and beyond and still pack the seats. but i won't be in one of them. $100 puts this menu in a different psychological category. it exceeds the cost of the basic prix fixe at a number of three and four star restaurants in the city. sure, ko serves far more dishes than your average 3 or 4 course meal. but...

- ko is also a highly uncomfortable restaurant to dine at. the blast of heat from the stoves over the course of a 2+ hour meal was an interesting experience a month ago, when it was much cooler in the city. but walking into the restaurant from 90 degree heat on this last visit, and being greeted by the same climate in the restaurant was not at all appealing. degustation just a few blocks away has the same setup but manages to keep patrons comfortable. and yes, those stools at ko really suck.

- finally, i get the whole argument behind chang's low opinion of waiters and waitresses. in fact i think i agreed with it when i read that new yorker piece and that alan richman interview. but it wasn't until i dined at ko that i realized why you have a front of the house staff in the first place. it's to insulate you from all the negative energy behind the counter at ko. once again, i have to draw the comparison to degustation -- wes genovart is there cooking every night for a full house but still manages to crack a smile once in a while. these guys were like angry stone gargoyles all night long. the food at ko is good, but not that good. the funny thing is, i actually like the wait staff at both ssam bar and ko. they're nice, friendly people. too bad they're marginalized at both places. i tried to tip well at ko, but also tried to forget the fact that i was probably tipping the wrong people.

i can't buy the excuse that my less than stellar experience that night was because the chang crew was out partying post james beard awards. that may be true (neither chang nor serpico were there cooking), but in the end it's a $100 meal. if you want to charge the big boy prices, you have to live up to them. if boulud was out till 4am doing tequila shots after getting the big prize, i don't think he would leave the C team to bang out the requisite number of covers the following day.

for the money, i'd rather go to ssam bar. food is on par in terms of creativity and execution if not the ingredients utilized. seating is more comfortable, and i can actually drink wine (the heat at ko makes it impossible to enjoy more than the first few sips of any wine, after which it gets too warm). of course, they will definitely continue to fill those seats even after the inevitable price increases that I'm sure are coming.

it's a pretty sweet gig actually, the three guys behind the counter served a full house on both our visits but never seemed to break a sweat. they spent as much time checking messages on their cellphones as they did cooking and serving customers. chang's definitely a commercial genius. he's found a way to take away the basic amenities of even the most generic restaurant experience while simultaneously charging as much or more than establishments that pride themselves on making those same customers happy. it's the food of course, and that's why i'll keep going to ssam. but here's one less person that'll be madly clicking at little check marks at 10am every morning.

#535 edo

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Posted 18 June 2008 - 03:05 PM

I went to Ko for the 2nd time Monday night, and I have to say, as much as I loved it the first time, this time was impressively even better, for several reasons.
First, I splurged on the new $150 wine pairing, and I thought all the pairings were exceptional, with some really excellent wines whose style I was familiar with, but also with a couple types I've never heard of, but were very interesting and fun.
Second, I chatted with the guys behind the counter a lot more than the first time. I suspect this was mostly because this time I was alone, while the first time I went soon after it opened I was with my wife, so I was more motivated to chat them up. And also because we could talk about the changes in the menu, but they did seem to be more comfortable with the interaction now that they've settled a bit.

The third and most important thing that made me like it more was the most impressive. Somehow, they kept all the dishes I loved and would have missed, and replaced the few I liked the least from the first time with some exceptional dishes (or in the case of the short rib, vastly improved it.) So I still got the fluke, the egg, and the foie, but also got the new (to me) pea soup with crawfish and morels, the snail lasagna, and an awesome halibut with spicy pepperoncini puree underneath and an offsetting slightly sweet mix of 4 types of something from the greenmarket on top. I loved these much more than I liked the oyster dish and the scallop dish from the first visit. I can't even remember what the 3rd dish they replaced is, or if there was a course added. As for the short rib, I enjoyed it the first time but was slightly disappointed after hearing about it, but this time they have switched to a different source for the meat, keeping the recipe the same, and the results were great.

Anyway, thoroughly excellent, and I enjoyed it even more than I was expecting to (and I was expecting a lot.) I look forward to going back hopefully in a few months to see what else new they come up with.


as an aside, it did seem that they have settled into more of a set menu and that everyone in every party was getting the same dishes, I think I recall them mixing it up a bit more the first time. Given how often one can go, I don't think this is a negative at all. It's one thing if it was likely that someone would go often enough that they'd want different stuff, but I imagine that doesn't happen too often. Although the guys next to me apparently had been recently enough that their menu was essentially the same...
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#536 Bobster

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Posted 19 June 2008 - 06:15 AM

Out of curiousity, what time were you there? Early, middle or late?

#537 oakapple

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Posted 19 June 2008 - 06:23 AM

As an aside, it did seem that they have settled into more of a set menu and that everyone in every party was getting the same dishes, I think I recall them mixing it up a bit more the first time.  Given how often one can go, I don't think this is a negative at all.

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It's clearly not a negative, but the advantage of mixed coursing is that a couple who share can, in effect, have a 14-course meal. That was the number of distinct items my girlfriend and I were served when we visited.

#538 ulterior epicure

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Posted 19 June 2008 - 06:28 AM

I have heard from friends who have dined at ko recently that they are now prohibiting photography inside the restuarant.
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#539 edo

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Posted 19 June 2008 - 06:43 AM

Out of curiousity, what time were you there?  Early, middle or late?

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8:30 reservation, but we weren't seated until 8:45. That also may have contributed to the increased interaction with the chefs, since by the end of my dinner service had been completed for at least several of the other seats. The first time I went was at 6:30. The later seating was another reason I liked the second visit more than the first.

Yeah, I did hear them mention that they have started asking people not to use cameras. Understandable, but I will miss seeing pics of the new stuff they develop in the future.
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#540 Nathan

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Posted 19 June 2008 - 07:12 AM

its always a dilemma for restaurants...especially small ones. flash photography can be extremely annoying. someone with a DSLR and a fast lense shooting at a high ISO can get excellent pics without disrupting anyone....but there aren't too many people carrying those into restaurants...