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Momofuku Ko (Part 1)


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#571 weinoo

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Posted 02 July 2008 - 05:55 AM

My chef interaction may have been atypical, because David Chang was working the line tonight and was at the station in front of me. I'd never met him before. He was utterly charming and engaging, in the way cooks need to be if they're going to act as servers. I also watched the other cooks interact with the customers farther down the counter and it seemed there was a lot more of an upbeat, positive dynamic than what I saw before.

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Did you actually intorduce yourself to Chang, as in Shaw from eGullet?
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#572 Fat Guy

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Posted 02 July 2008 - 06:03 AM

No. We didn't "meet" in that sense. The reservation was in my name, however it's not clear that he knew or cared. He did recognize and acknowledge the person I was dining with (somebody in the industry), but that didn't seem to affect anything as far as I could tell.

(Edited to add: for a few minutes we watched Chang compose two orders of the egg-and-caviar dish, and he was so incredibly meticulous that I thought, oh, he's definitely trying to impress us or at least my guest; then that order got picked up and taken to two other customers; later, our egg-and-caviar order came down the line -- I think from one of the other cooks because I didn't notice Chang preparing it -- and was recognizably less well put together.)

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#573 ulterior epicure

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Posted 02 July 2008 - 06:11 AM

No. We didn't "meet" in that sense. The reservation was in my name, however it's not clear that he knew or cared. He did recognize and acknowledge the person I was dining with (somebody in the industry), but that didn't seem to affect anything as far as I could tell.

(Edited to add: for a few minutes we watched Chang compose two orders of the egg-and-caviar dish, and he was so incredibly meticulous that I thought, oh, he's definitely trying to impress us or at least my guest; then that order got picked up and taken to two other customers; later, our egg-and-caviar order came down the line -- I think from one of the other cooks because I didn't notice Chang preparing it -- and was recognizably less well put together.)

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I don't mean to suggest anything by asking, but I'm just curious: were either you or your industry friend comped? It's not clear from your earlier post.
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#574 Fat Guy

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Posted 02 July 2008 - 06:15 AM

If we'd been comped I'd have said so.

The bill came to $325.13 with tax (2 x $100 + 2 x $50 + tax), before tip.

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#575 kreed

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Posted 08 July 2008 - 11:10 AM

If we'd been comped I'd have said so.

The bill came to $325.13 with tax (2 x $100 + 2 x $50 + tax), before tip.

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I really enjoy your commentary. Thank you.

#576 Fat Guy

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Posted 12 July 2008 - 01:50 AM

The Saturday of the July 4th weekend was a good day to try for Ko reservations for seven days hence, at least for me it was. I don't have a lot to add to my previous comments. The restaurant continues to blossom. Tonight the kitchen and service teams were totally at ease, gregarious and having fun. Neither Chang nor Serpico was there. A fellow named Sam, who served me on my first visit, was leading the service. He was a transformed individual tonight compared to that first night. I think the pressure of the opening combined with the now-abandoned anti-service opening concept were just too much for the cooks to handle.

There were two new savory dishes in the sequence:

Replacing the deconstructed lasagna dish I didn't like was a corn ravioli dish I liked a lot better but still thought was flawed in that it was cloying. It's three small ravioli filled with a reduced corn essence and some sour-cream-like cheese topped with bits of sweet sausage, corn and some fresh white Mexican cheese. Apparently there was fresh lime in there too. That would have been a good place to start fixing the dish: it could have used more lime or some other acid component. The other thing is it could have used a spicy sausage or some other source of heat, again to balance that sweetness.

Replacing the fried short rib was a presentation of Muscovy duck from Grimaud Farms in California. The breast was seared rare and the leg was cooked sous vide to something approaching confit but not quite as broken down in texture as confit. As is typical of duck there was a flavor/toughness tradeoff with the breast (it was very flavorful, but tough). The short rib dish is better. If the goal is to phase out the short rib then perhaps inspiration should be taken from some of the more successful meat dishes at the other Momofukus such as the Noodle Bar tri tip (or the smoked Hudson Valley duck for that matter).

The dessert pattern repeated itself: an outstanding sorbet ("Arnold Palmer" sorbet, as in lemonade and iced tea, with "mint julep crumble," which is bits of dehydrated mint tea cake) followed by a lackluster dessert finale (rhubarb and "pea soil," an unappetizing name for crushed dehydrated peas, with yellow-cake-batter ice cream -- the ice cream was pretty tasty although, if you've ever tried the cake-batter flavor of Tasti-D-Lite you know this isn't an original concept). This had the effect, again, of bookending an overall fantastic meal with unremarkable amuses and an unremarkable dessert. Again this is an area where they could draw inspiration from the other Momofukus. There have been some stronger desserts out of Ssam Bar (especially the PB&J), and there are plenty of excellent concepts at both of the other Momofukus that could generate great amuses.

Here's the full list of courses as best as I can recall without camera or notes:

-3 amuses: Greenmarket cherry tomatoes in a Chinese soup spoon, a
single pork rind, mini English muffin topped w/ whipped lard

-Sliced raw fluke (Long Island) with buttermilk-poppyseed dressing

-Tofu-skin-wrapped morels and Louisiana crayfish tails with spring pea soup (apparently the season for this dish, which is superb, will come to an end in a week or so)

-Sweet corn ravioli with white Mexican cheese

-"Smoked" egg and hackleback caviar with soubise onions, mini potato
chips and sweet-potato vinegar

-Rainbow trout (Eden Brook Farms, New York) with bacon puree

-Frozen, Microplaned foie gras torchon with lychees and Riesling gelee

-Seared rare duck breast and pseudo-confit leg (Grimaud Farms, California)

-Arnold Palmer sorbet w/ mint julep crumbs (dehydrated mint tea cake)

-Rhubarb with "pea soil" and "yellow-cake ice cream"

With the exception of a Sherry I thought was pretty lame and not all that flattering to the dessert, I thought all the other beverage pairings (we did the $50 pairing -- I'm a cheapskate) were spot on and interesting. Beverage service was very professional.

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#577 oakapple

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Posted 12 July 2008 - 05:47 AM

I think the pressure of the opening combined with the now-abandoned anti-service opening concept were just too much for the cooks to handle.

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What about the early program has been abandoned?

#578 Fat Guy

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Posted 12 July 2008 - 06:09 AM

The original theory, as I understood it, was "We don't believe in service, but we're going to tolerate a couple of floor staff because our cooks are too busy to pour wine." It's inevitable that such an organizing principle will be echoed as a poor customer experience. Now the restaurant seems to be operating more along the lines of a normal participant in the hospitality industry, training its floor staff to be warm and professional, etc. Combined with the cooks being more engaging -- like a sushi bar as opposed to a prison commissary -- it makes for a totally different service experience.

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#579 Sneakeater

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Posted 14 July 2008 - 08:23 AM

Right. The second time I was there, the floor staff was operating like (gasp) normal wait staff.

#580 oakapple

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Posted 15 July 2008 - 05:26 AM

I don't think Chang ever deliberately set out to open a restaurant where service sucked. He was trying to re-think the model for this type of restaurant. Anytime you do that, you're going to make some mistakes.

At Ssam Bar, he has been credited (in approving tones) with "shattering" the model for the traditional restaurant. I always thought that was a bit of an exaggeration. But in any case, if you're going to have a business model that thrives on experimentation, you can't expect all the experiments to be instant successes.

#581 raji

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Posted 15 July 2008 - 06:50 AM

I don't consider it experimentation - he's testing the waters with things he observed in Japan, where quite every possible permutation exists, but stateside, with varying success, as Japanese service (or lack thereof) succeeds because there are obsessive compulsive Japanese PEOPLE behind it

#582 Jesikka

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Posted 16 July 2008 - 07:59 AM

I don't think Chang ever deliberately set out to open a restaurant where service sucked. He was trying to re-think the model for this type of restaurant. Anytime you do that, you're going to make some mistakes.

At Ssam Bar, he has been credited (in approving tones) with "shattering" the model for the traditional restaurant. I always thought that was a bit of an exaggeration. But in any case, if you're going to have a business model that thrives on experimentation, you can't expect all the experiments to be instant successes.

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Especially considering that Chang makes a habit of his experiments being instant failures that he converts to huge successes over time.

#583 Fat Guy

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Posted 19 July 2008 - 10:06 PM

There was one brand-new dish in the tasting tonight and it was not fabulous: dashi broth with turnips and slices of Australian black truffle. The Australian black truffle seemed promising: it had an amazing aroma. But on the palate it was relatively flavorless. The dashi itself was very well made and certainly could be the foundation for any number of dishes better than this one (seafood -- like scallops or shrimp -- comes to mind).

Two dishes I wasn't wild about last time have been improved. The corn ravioli, which was too sweet before, now has more acid and spice and it's great. The duck, which has a lot of components, has changed but I wasn't able to keep track of all the ingredients last time or this time. It's a better dish now, though, and somehow the breast meat was more tender this time around.

These changes indicate a pattern: dishes are tinkered with and improved after they come on the menu.

Also, I had the first Ko dessert that I thought was an unqualified success: tri-star strawberries (you may remember these from the shortcake dessert last year at Ssam Bar) with "yellow-cake ice cream" and crumbled peanut and sesame (I think). The pre-dessert sorbet course was cantaloupe sorbet (my favorite of all the Ko sorbets I've tried, though all have been excellent) with cashew praline.

My guest and I ordered one of the $150 beverage pairings and one of the $50 pairings and tasted both offerings with every course. Certainly, the $150 pairing is better. For serious connoisseurs it might be worth the premium. But the $50 pairing gives great value and is plenty good enough for me.

I still think the amuses are a distraction and don't show the restaurant at its best. I was thinking back to the tomatoes from my previous two visits and also thinking about the English muffin (which is the best of the amuses). I wonder if a combined amuse (a riff on a BLT, perhaps) wouldn't be better than the three amuses they go with now.

 

 

 

 

[Moderator note: This topic continues here, Momofuku Ko (Part 2)]


Edited by Mjx, 27 April 2014 - 11:37 AM.
Moderator note added.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)