Not sure that Iíve got much to add here (others in the momofuku ko thread seem to have a pretty firm lock on originality/eloquence), but hereís my two cents regardless:
I had my first ko lunch experience this past friday (9/17/10), and it was amazing. I found it to be of a significantly higher order of quality than my ko dinner experience earlier that week, which was itself excellent (and drove me to snag the lunch reservation two days later when it fortuitously opened up).
The selection that I enjoyed was quite similar to the one that The Food Doc described in far greater detail above
(unsurprising, given that we lunched 2 days apart). While some of the items were completely identical, like the lamb rib bento box concept, #8 on Food Docís list (or at least the description that I heard matches the posted description perfectly); basically the same -- like a British Columbia oyster (Iím assuming due to daily freshness/availability) in place of the Kumamoto oyster in the oyster stout amuse; or else a signature item (the shaved foie gras/lychee/Riesling gelee/pine nut crunch) that I couldnít get enough of; it looks like there was a decent amount of tweaking over just those two days (and/or adjustments for market availability).1.Service comments:
I personally didnít find service/ambiance at ko to be an issue, but I enjoy a variety of different service styles. For instance, at the other end of the spectrum, Iím fond of Eleven Madison Park and greatly enjoy the service there (and donít much mind fancying up when I dine there).
In contrast, going by what Iíve heard about ko and my experiences in other parts of the momofuku empire, I took full advantage of the casual/eclectic atmosphere Ė I specifically changed into a comfy short sleeved shirt, drawstring pants (expansion potential!), and flip flops for lunch, and also brought a viscoelastic foam pad that I folded over repeatedly to pad my stool during the 3 hour gorgefest (I think in the real world, people use them as bath mats or college dorm mini-dťcor). If I had one of those portable ďseatsĒ that unfold to provide instant back support, I would have brought that too/instead.
At the same time, I can also see why people, especially those coming in with perfectly reasonable expectations of what a two star Michelin restaurant experience usually is, may be unpleasantly surprised, or get an indifference/condescension vibe (which I personally didnít). I also suspect that this is much more likely at dinner; the degree of interaction/energy level was far higher at lunch vs dinner, and there was definitely a casual warmth factor that was strongly and actively present at lunch. Somewhat obnoxious patrons were jokingly humored, etc etc.
People who asked questions at dinner definitely werenít ignored or insulted (as some have claimed), but unless you actively engaged the chefs with questions, there was a much greater degree of brusqueness and ďend of a long dayĒ vibe. Itís not an issue of A-team vs B-team (at least when I went) Ė the set of people there for dinner and lunch were almost entirely the same Ė they just seemed less time-pressured and generally less tired (as most people would be at noon vs close to midnight). Another dinner patron, when asked for food allergies/preferences, stated that he didnít want any eggs (and obv had not stated this during the reservation process) Ė this was handled with aplomb, as far as I could tell.2.Food comments:
-Thereís very little overlap between dinner and lunch (besides the foie); the only thing I can think of was the lamb rib, but these were parts of drastically different preparations and presentations.
-Overall, the creativity factor seemed sig higher at lunch vs dinner, even after adjustments for more time/room to play around; there were a few items at dinner that were ďmeh,Ē but not really any at lunch
-One exception to the lunch >> dinner rule -- I think the lamb rib at dinner was really outstanding. As part of the (necessarily) smaller, bento-box concept at lunch, I think it lacked the same degree of tastiness and fattiness (but again, this probably 1.worked better in the context of the more restrained bento box theme and 2.was an inherent limitation due to the need for smaller, and (thus?) less fatty lamb rib(lets?))
-I found a few of the sashimi-ish fish preparations less exciting, but not by any stretch of the imagination bad; this is probably a personal taste issue [eg, Sushi of Gari (more creativity) >> Sushi Yasuda (more purity of ingredients/subtle quality) for me]
-My main source of sadness would be the lesser emphasis on (and obviously, limited facilities for) pastry/dessert vs more conventional high-end restaurants. This is unlikely to trouble other diners, but I also have an immense appetite* (especially for sweets). When dining out at a new/promising restaurant (or a seasonal adjustment to a restaurant I really love), I will frequently consume 3-5 desserts to start (all the interesting ones on the dessert menu**), followed by the tasting menu (w/a few a la carte savory items tacked on), and then the tasting menu dessert(s), assuming they donít overlap w/the regular desserts.
-Non alcoholic drink options are _really_ limited (sparkling water, Q Tonic, and coffee Ė no dr pepper, even), but thatís something Iím pretty used to Ė there are only a few restaurants that have the interest/wherewithal/service-levels to do really interesting non-alcoholic beverage pairings for me (custom non-alcoholic cocktails, etc). Most people dining at Ko probably wonít be affected at all by this issue.Bottom line:
I can now see why some people choose to dine at Ko dozens of times a year. Iím not quite at that point (yet), but Iíve booked another lunch reservation for 2 weeks out, and would have booked one for this week had I been faster. If there were a full seasonal menu change, lunch at ko would rank higher than anyplace else in NY in my book.
As a inevitably flawed, apples and oranges comparison, I probably enjoyed my ko lunch more than my extended tasting at Per Se, even if the ko experience was severely less luxe, and there were more misfires. Iím trying to adjust for the huge service/ambiance differences; as I mentioned before, I like both ends of the spectrum, and more importantly, both experiences are similarly lengthy tasting menu driven meals. That being said, I think itís also a fairer comparison for me personally, because the dessert menu selection at Per Se is also compressed (though not nearly as much Ė I was able to snag the additional desserts off the vegetarian menu, and an extra dessert off the standard tasting menu, and the mignardise selection is insane). This is also w/cost insensitivity Ė were one to tack on the bang for the buck card, ko would place even more favorably.
*-When my dining 2nd flaked out on me and I had trouble lining up a replacement, my (rejected) counterproposal to ko to avoid the partial cancel fee, was for me to pay for and consume 2x the tasting menu.
**-Cafť Boulud is a challenge.