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Momofuku Ko (Part 1)


BryanZ
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And I agree with docsconz or whomever that you can't say Salieri actually is better than Mozart ... by extension, you also can't say Salieri is objectively worse as a factual matter.

Yes, actually you can say that. Not that there was anything wrong with Salieri, mind you. But the strength of a classical tradition is that there is some basis for making more, if not entirely objective comparisons. More to the point, however, is the fact that no one with any real basis for understanding the arguments one would make in demonstrating the inspirational and musical superiority of Mozart's compositions over Salieri's would make the counter-argument. So it's a debate that would never happen.

I would say that fine-dining is perhaps a quasi-classical tradition. As Steven points out, there are certain commonly-accepted criteria for what constitutes excellence in a fine dining experience. And while those criteria do evolve over time, they do so within the context and against the backdrop of the history of the tradition that has come before. What does this mean? It means that, while one may of course prefer, say, Balthazar (or even Dinosaur Barbeque) over Per Se -- it is still possible to say that Per Se is an objectively superior restaurant within the tradition of fine dining. I would also suggest that, in comparing Per Se to Momofuku Ko, the anologue in classical music is not Mozart and Salieri, both of whom were clearly operating within the tradition. Rather one might compare, say, the orchestral compositions of Benjamin Britten to those of Paul McCartney. Paul McCartney is a brilliant musician, and turns out very good music. But his music is simply inferior to Brittens when considered within the context of the classical tradition. Not that I think McCartney cares one whit. He's bringing his popular style into the orchestral concert hall and blending it with the classical tradition. But I think it was always meant to be what was ultimately popular music elevated to the classical concert arena. In a sense, that is what Chang et al are doing with Momofuku Ko. I don't think it makes sense to think of their work there as fine dining that has been "casualed-down" so much as it is their street-haute fusion food that has been "fine-dininged-up." Chang himself, I believe, has said that it's ridiculous to assert that Ko is better than Per Se. And I am quite sure that Sir Paul would say that it's ridiculous to assert that Ecce Cor Meum is superior to the War Requiem.

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And I agree with docsconz or whomever that you can't say Salieri actually is better than Mozart ... by extension, you also can't say Salieri is objectively worse as a factual matter.

I think you certainly can! it's sort of a college-freshman relativism to say that objective statements about aesthetics aren't possible...

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His argument seems to be that had Platt tried harder and waited he could have gone a second time. Yes, and again . . . so what?

Somebody please explain to me what's wrong with the actual review. Does anybody disagree that it's a well-done review?

You are entirely correct. It is a well-done review.

I am just saying that if your standards are that you pay multiple visits before writing a review, then you don't relax those standards for just one restaurant—especially one so important that you've given it four stars.

I am also saying that the reason he gives for relaxing his standards (difficulty of getting in) is pretty lame, given that his review appeared faster than NYM's reviews usually do.

Of course, if what you say is true, then he knows perfectly well that this wasn't the real reason for compromising his standards: "He wanted to be the first major-media critic to review the place."

Agree, agree, agree.

"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

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actually, the menu seems to change somewhat automatically for second-time visitors.

I was getting different courses than the people next to me.

That's pretty remarkable. Did you have any say in that before the meal started?

I'll be pretty chapped next week if I don't get the foie dish I had on my first visit but it's being offered to first timers.

I had the same experience - on our second visit they greeted us with a "welcome back" and said they'd chatted during the afternoon to make sure we got some different stuff. We got a variation on the foie dish, with pickled grapes and cashew.

I've been to Ko four times and, in my experience, they are very aware of repeat diners. (On at least three of my visits, other diners there were also repeat visitors.)

This is what I have observed about menu variations. It appears that there are no alternatives (and only minimal variation) for the already-classic dishes -- the egg and caviar, the shaved foie gras, the deep-fried short-ribs. For a couple of the other courses, there appear to be standard alternatives. Although the staff will try to give repeat diners alternates they have not previously had, the alternates are not limited to repeat diners. Often, for a couple, one person will get one dish and the second person the other.

More specifically--

With respect the amuses, if they have something special, it may be offered as a third amuse, but it is offered to everyone there -- not just repeat diners.

Of the six main savory courses, there appear to be standard alternates for two courses and a variant on a third.

1) The standard fluke with buttermilk alternates with a dish of shrimp and grated, frozen avocado.

2) The kimichi consomme/pork belly/oyster alternates with a spring pea soup containing a tofu canelloni filled with trumpet mushrooms and, at times, topped with either lobster or crayfish.

3) As noted above, the shaved foie gras is sometimes prepared with grapes and cashew brittle, instead of the standard lychee and pine nut brittle.

The "palate cleanser" of miso soup/pickled vegetables/grilled rice cake remains constant.

The pre-dessert is one of an assortment of sorbets.

The dessert is either the deep fried apple pie or the cereal milk panna cotta, although on one occasion I was served a deep-fried strawberry rhubarb pie.

the spring pea soup was topped with a grilled langoustine when I had it...but that's pretty much what I've seen.

there's also more than one scallop dish floating around.

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And I agree with docsconz or whomever that you can't say Salieri actually is better than Mozart ... by extension, you also can't say Salieri is objectively worse as a factual matter.

Rather one might compare, say, the orchestral compositions of Benjamin Britten to those of Paul McCartney. Paul McCartney is a brilliant musician, and turns out very good music. But his music is simply inferior to Brittens when considered within the context of the classical tradition. Not that I think McCartney cares one whit. He's bringing his popular style into the orchestral concert hall and blending it with the classical tradition. But I think it was always meant to be what was ultimately popular music elevated to the classical concert arena. In a sense, that is what Chang et al are doing with Momofuku Ko. I don't think it makes sense to think of their work there as fine dining that has been "casualed-down" so much as it is their street-haute fusion food that has been "fine-dininged-up." Chang himself, I believe, has said that it's ridiculous to assert that Ko is better than Per Se. And I am quite sure that Sir Paul would say that it's ridiculous to assert that Ecce Cor Meum is superior to the War Requiem.

what's tougher would be a classical/jazz comparison...as opposed to classical/pop.

considering that Masa has four stars...it's clear that sushi has become jazz to continental dining's classical....accepted (at least by many) as an equal player. my question is....aren't sushi bars a more appropriate comparison for Ko than Per Se?

Edited by Nathan (log)
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Sushi bars are a relevant comparison, and I think Ko shows weakly there as well. As I mentioned above, compared to great sushi chefs the chefs at Ko are profoundly unengaging. Comparing the service at Ko to the service at any great restaurant -- whether it's a sushi bar or Per Se -- is like comparing community theater to Broadway. It's just not in the same league, no matter how much we enjoy a particular, perhaps charming, community theater production. The only thing that's world-class about Ko -- the only thing that's even first-class by local standards -- is the food.

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)

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Sushi bars are a relevant comparison, and I think Ko shows weakly there as well. As I mentioned above, compared to great sushi chefs the chefs at Ko are profoundly unengaging.

Give those Ko chefs some love - and some time...after all, the great sushi masters have been at it for a long time.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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Platt has it equal with Per Se at four stars.

I prefer Ko to Per Se ... told Chang as much and he strenuously disagreed.

It's all a matter of personal choice but Chang himself may offer the accurate comparison.

I'm willing to bet Chang is viewing it through the glasses of one in the industry and not a customer. That said he does not have twenty cooks in his kitchen making mise en place as close to perfect as humanly possible. He has not the history of building relationships with purveyors over years. Kitchen equipment, space, etc etc.

So each taste may be subjective. But Chang himself knows what it takes to produce food at that level regardless if it is exciting or not.

Robert R

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Ko doesn't have 20 cooks but Ko doesn't do 100 covers, doesn't have private dining rooms, doesn't bake bread, doesn't serve a half-dozen elaborate dessert courses, doesn't have as many dishes available, etc. When you break it down, there's quite a lot of labor -- even compared to Per Se -- reflected in each plate that goes out at Ko.

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)

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Ko doesn't have 20 cooks but Ko doesn't do 100 covers, doesn't have private dining rooms, doesn't bake bread, doesn't serve a half-dozen elaborate dessert courses, doesn't have as many dishes available, etc. When you break it down, there's quite a lot of labor -- even compared to Per Se -- reflected in each plate that goes out at Ko.

Good point. Yet I tend to believe he would hesitate before comparing his operation to the level of Per Se's.

Robert R

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Well, Chang recently did tell the New Yorker: "Just because we're not Per Se, just because we're not Daniel, just because we're not a four-star restaurant, why can't we have the same fucking standards?"

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)

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Four stars out of five for Ko - Per Se is four stars out of four.

No, Per Se's New York Magazine rating -- given to it by the same critic who gave Ko four stars out of five -- is four out of five.

I think Platt switched to his 5-star system after he rated Per Se...

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Standards should be the norm in any professional kitchen but the ability to execute equally differs.

Example. See link below. Anyone think Chang's shaved foie gras requires more preparation then the foie in the photo? Understand I am not saying which may be better. Chang's very well may be. I'm just stating how a chef would likely perceive it.

http://images.search.yahoo.com/images/view...ki/&no=17&tt=49

Robert R

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I think Platt switched to his 5-star system after he rated Per Se...

Yeah, but he introduced his rating system by doing a list of the "Top 101" restaurants in New York where he retroactively gave them stars.

Yes, and Per Se was one of those retroactively rated. When he reviewed Per Se originally, New York did not have a star system. Edited by oakapple (log)
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ate here again with a friend last night.

new dishes (to me anyway) included:

sea urchin over couscous....lots of butter and stock creating something very like a rich risotto.

a rhubarb variation on the fried apple pie.

an "Arnold Palmer" sorbet....very clever idea.

a kiwi sorbet.

this time the foie dish had (pickled?) grapes instead of the lychees. I liked this even more. third time I've had the foie. I really do think it's the best restaurant dish I've had in NY.

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Looks like they tweaked the reservation system a bit, in the morning before new reservations are released there is now a "begin" button with a timestamp and instructions to hit the button at exactly 10:00:00 AM. Each time you hit the "begin" button the timestamp updates immediately until 10 at which point you are allowed into the system (whereas before once you entered your name/pword you were effectively in the system and were allowed to choose the number of diners regardless of whether it was 10am yet or if there were any open spots).

Once in the system you can choose the number of diners and then you are taken to the calendar page. It's much easier in that it actually doesn't let you "in" until 10 AM Momofuku time -- you don't have to set your watch, you don't have to countdown in your head, all you have to do is hit the button, watch the timestamp update, hit the button, etc..

After grabbing a checkmark I was taken to the countdown screen which had a statement in bold red typeface I don't recall seeing before stating that only 2 reservations may be made in any given week (including cancellations).

When I made a reservation earlier in the week I didn't notice the statement, perhaps it's something they added or something that generates if you've already booked a reservation for the week in question.

I relinquished the spot as I'm going on Sunday but it was interesting to see the changes. I wonder if it's a result of all the bad press the system is getting (Bruni et,al.).

Edited by Scotttos (log)
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ate here again with a friend last night.

new dishes (to me anyway) included:

sea urchin over couscous....lots of butter and stock creating something very like a rich risotto.

a rhubarb variation on the fried apple pie.

an "Arnold Palmer" sorbet....very clever idea.

a kiwi sorbet.

this time the foie dish had (pickled?) grapes instead of the lychees.  I liked this even more.  third time I've had the foie.  I really do think it's the best restaurant dish I've had in NY.

Yeah - definitely a great idea :smile: . Here's my post from Sept. 1, 2007...

Yesterday I made two highly successful (imo) sorbets.

The first I'm calling the Arnold Palmer...

gallery_6902_4825_43091.jpg

The Arnold Palmer was made with a strongly brewed tea simple syrup, lemon juice and zest and a full cup of sugar - just right and delicious!

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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Looks like they tweaked the reservation system a bit.... I wonder if it's a result of all the bad press the system is getting (Bruni et,al.).

Seems like just the normal tweaks that any new system goes thru. I don't really interpret Bruni's comments as "bad press".

Fair enough : )

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actually, the menu seems to change somewhat automatically for second-time visitors.

I was getting different courses than the people next to me.

That's pretty remarkable. Did you have any say in that before the meal started?

I'll be pretty chapped next week if I don't get the foie dish I had on my first visit but it's being offered to first timers.

I had the same experience - on our second visit they greeted us with a "welcome back" and said they'd chatted during the afternoon to make sure we got some different stuff. We got a variation on the foie dish, with pickled grapes and cashew.

I've been to Ko four times and, in my experience, they are very aware of repeat diners. (On at least three of my visits, other diners there were also repeat visitors.)

This is what I have observed about menu variations. It appears that there are no alternatives (and only minimal variation) for the already-classic dishes -- the egg and caviar, the shaved foie gras, the deep-fried short-ribs. For a couple of the other courses, there appear to be standard alternatives. Although the staff will try to give repeat diners alternates they have not previously had, the alternates are not limited to repeat diners. Often, for a couple, one person will get one dish and the second person the other.

More specifically--

With respect the amuses, if they have something special, it may be offered as a third amuse, but it is offered to everyone there -- not just repeat diners.

Of the six main savory courses, there appear to be standard alternates for two courses and a variant on a third.

1) The standard fluke with buttermilk alternates with a dish of shrimp and grated, frozen avocado.

2) The kimichi consomme/pork belly/oyster alternates with a spring pea soup containing a tofu canelloni filled with trumpet mushrooms and, at times, topped with either lobster or crayfish.

3) As noted above, the shaved foie gras is sometimes prepared with grapes and cashew brittle, instead of the standard lychee and pine nut brittle.

The "palate cleanser" of miso soup/pickled vegetables/grilled rice cake remains constant.

The pre-dessert is one of an assortment of sorbets.

The dessert is either the deep fried apple pie or the cereal milk panna cotta, although on one occasion I was served a deep-fried strawberry rhubarb pie.

the spring pea soup was topped with a grilled langoustine when I had it...but that's pretty much what I've seen.

there's also more than one scallop dish floating around.

I was there last night (for the first time) and my girlfriend and I received a few interesting variations.

While I was served the oyster/pork belly with kimchi consommé she was served the pea soup topped with crayfish -- separate wine pairings. Following this we both were served what the chef said was "an extra course." Earlier in the evening Chang showed up with some ham he was excited about, all the chefs tasted enthusiastically, when he left the chefs starting talking about a "ramp dish" and said if they were going to do it they should do it now when the place was empty (our reservation was for 6:15 it was just us and another party of 2 until close to 6:45).

The chef told the server they were going to do an extra dish, the server asked if she should pair it with anything, they said no just to serve it with chopsticks. It was a few stewed morrells and ramps over two pieces of the above mentioned ham with a small amount of a clear oil-like sauce. It was delicious. The morrells were ridiculous, I have no idea what they were cooked in but they were buttery and dense with flavor. The combination was fantastic.

After this it was the scallop dish but it was what nathan referred to as the other one floating around. Scallops with bacon puree, shallots, peanuts (actually probably not peanuts, I have no idea what kind of nut), and breakfast radishes paired with a white ale. The scallops were insane and the smokiness from the bacon puree was obviously great; the beer pairing was a nice touch.

The rest of the meal was consistent with what others have mentioned. We were given different sorbets, I had the arnold palmer (the brittle or whatever it was the sorbet was served on top of was soaked in a "mint julep solution") to my companion's lychee (which was pink); for the main dessert I had the apple pie/sour cream ice cream and she had the cereal milk pana cotta paired with different carbonated wines, I was given a dark house made carbonated sherry but I'm unsure what the other beverage was.

The service was great, the pacing was on the money, and our server in particular was wonderful. Initially we didn't want to go for the wine pairing and as we were discussing the alternatives (which included picking a few half bottles) the server told us she would do her best to pick something for us but if we wanted alcohol with the meal the wine pairing really was the way to go, in her words "if you're going to do it you should just go for it." She was 100% correct. We were happy with all the pairings and it was great to get a few glasses of sake, the beer, and the carbonated sherry at the end -- all of which we would have missed out on. Halfway through the meal she asked us how the pairing was going and we expressed our delight, she then told us if we had gone the other route it would have undoubtedly been more expensive and not nearly as satisfying which I thought was a pretty candid admission.

As we left I was filled with a feeling of overwhelming joy, my girlfriend likened it to "being in love." The rest of the evening I kept running the meal through my head, it took a while to get to sleep.

Full disclosure: I'm a total food novice. I haven't eaten at any of the 4-stars and I've just recently taken the leap into serious dining. I'm 29, I work everyday, I'm not rich (lol), I came to this city from the suburbs of Baltimore -- which is about as close to a food wasteland as there is -- and I still feel mostly intimidated when I sit down at a nice place to eat.

Momofuku has provided more of a food education than I thought possible, and they do it in a language I can relate to. I was a little wary of how it would go down at Ko but my worry was misplaced. I can trust these guys. The atmosphere is so relaxed, and everyone there from the chefs to the servers are so clearly excited and having a good time you can just sit back and focus on the experience. I could go on about the music too, but that would be another huge post, and this one has already gone on forever : )

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Initially we didn't want to go for the wine pairing and as we were discussing the alternatives (which included picking a few half bottles) the server told us she would do her best to pick something for us but if we wanted alcohol with the meal the wine pairing really was the way to go, in her words "if you're going to do it you should just go for it."  She was 100% correct.  We were happy with all the pairings and it was great to get a few glasses of sake, the beer, and the carbonated sherry at the end -- all of which we would have missed out on.  Halfway through the meal she asked us how the pairing was going and we expressed our delight, she then told us if we had gone the other route it would have undoubtedly been more expensive and not nearly as satisfying which I thought was a pretty candid admission.

We had the wine pairings too (the $85 version) and thought they were terrific. I am not so sure about the last statement, however. There are plenty of boottles on the list below $50, and tons below $100. Since the cheapest wine pairing is $50 per head, I can't see how ordering individual bottles would "undoubtedly" be more expensive.

I do agree that the pairings are better, especially as the staff here are doing such a good job with them. But a pairing is undoubtedly more expensive, not less.

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