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Momofuku Ko (Part 1)


BryanZ
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point retracted.

but a special is not normally referred to as an "off-menu" dish...at least on these threads...where others use it to refer to a free dish.

I think an off-menu dish means a dish that is being offered in special or is not yet on the menu. There's not really much of a distinction at Ssam or Noodle Bar, where they will use the same terminology in either situation. Sometimes you are offered a special, sometimes an off menu dish. Sometimes everyone is offered the same, sometimes not. There's no magic or science to this. I think most of us say "the kitchen sent out" or "I tried an off-menu dish" or "they had this special" fairly interchangeably. You're probably reading too much in.

Also, I think you fail to understand that people who are occasionally recognized or VIP-ed have a pretty accurate idea of what the service is like because they've generally been eating at the restaurants for a long time, are not blind/deaf/dumb, and there are a lot of people who work at the restaurants and they do not all know every "regular".

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Just another thought on the idea of what there is out there that's similar to Ko ... I had a meal last year in Hong Kong that was similar in some ways. The chef - a former big wheel celeb chef at a major hotel there - now just consults for one of the big casinos in Maco and does private dinners at his apartment. He and his wife do all the cooking and all the serving. There's max 8 or 10 guests. The night my wife and I dined it was just the two of us washing down 10 or 11 courses of amazing food with cheap beer in this couple's miniscule living room with the tv on and a fish tank in the corner ... Outstanding ...

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I actually happen to agree with you that I'd love to have more interaction with the chefs at Ko, but I think you're wrong about how much David Chang values servers.  The context of that quote was that it's not fair for servers to make more than chefs who work equally as hard, if not more so.

If that's what he meant, he could have said that. Instead, he said servers are "greedy bastards." I'm not sure how anybody can interpret that comment to be respectful of servers. And that's not a one-off comment either. Chang also told GQ:

I know nobody expects to make money as a cook, but cooks have to live, and they can’t live on $300 to $400 a week. It makes me mad that cooks are treated like shit and servers say, ‘Well, you choose your profession.’ Whatever you guys say, you don’t work as hard as cooks, so go fuck yourselves
People like Cory (and many others at Momofuku) have lots of choice about who to work for.  Something tells me working for Chang is a lot better than he makes it sound.  It can't all be about pride in the cooking.

Given that servers are "greedy bastards," perhaps it's about money. The Momofuku restaurants have been very successful. They turn tables like crazy and customers spend a ton of money. So the servers are most likely raking it in. That's at Ssam Bar and Noodle Bar, where the service is good (I'd say despite Chang's rotten attitude) but, at least in the case of Ssam Bar, slipping now that Cory is no longer on the floor regularly.

But at ko, the proffer is basically "Screw the greedy bastard servers; we cooks don't need them; we cooks can do it without them." And so far ko has not delivered on that. The service provided by the cooks is weak. Perhaps it will improve, but there's no indication that anybody is trying to make that happen.

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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If you start compare Ko to the restaurants in its price range, its limitations become more apparent.

I don't think that other restaurants at Ko's price point are useful points of comparison either. Just because they share a price point they're good comparitors? What the other restaurants (Del Posto, Gramercy Tavern, Le Bernardin, etc.) aim to be and what Ko aims to be are so enormously different. All they have in common is a price point and the notion of "high end" ... that's not nearly enough in my book to treat them as apples and apples, especially when Chang's vision is clearly to not be an apple. If Per Se is an apple and Gramercy Tavern is a peach, then Ko is a durian.

I haven't a clue what Ko "aspires to be," and I doubt anyone else does either. Chang's own comments are worse than the Oracle of Delphi: you can interpret him any way you please.

But it's unavoidable that when you dine at any restaurant, you compare it to other experiences you've had. How could you not? And I do think price is a factor. When you pay eighty-five bucks for dinner, you compare it to other places where you paid eighty-five bucks—if there are any. There are probably other comparisons you could make, but price is the one that's most easily measurable. And at the end of the day, Ko's customers need to decide whether Chang should get their $85, or if someone else should.

I also think there's a problem with the suggestion that "Del Posto, Gramercy Tavern, Le Bernardin, etc." are all one thing, and Ko is another thing. All of those places have significant differences. The one thing they have in common is that they're competing against each other for a share of the dining wallet.

Edited by oakapple (log)
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I actually happen to agree with you that I'd love to have more interaction with the chefs at Ko, but I think you're wrong about how much David Chang values servers.  The context of that quote was that it's not fair for servers to make more than chefs who work equally as hard, if not more so.

If that's what he meant, he could have said that. Instead, he said servers are "greedy bastards." I'm not sure how anybody can interpret that comment to be respectful of servers. And that's not a one-off comment either. Chang also told GQ:

I know nobody expects to make money as a cook, but cooks have to live, and they can’t live on $300 to $400 a week. It makes me mad that cooks are treated like shit and servers say, ‘Well, you choose your profession.’ Whatever you guys say, you don’t work as hard as cooks, so go fuck yourselves
People like Cory (and many others at Momofuku) have lots of choice about who to work for.  Something tells me working for Chang is a lot better than he makes it sound.  It can't all be about pride in the cooking.

Given that servers are "greedy bastards," perhaps it's about money. The Momofuku restaurants have been very successful. They turn tables like crazy and customers spend a ton of money. So the servers are most likely raking it in. That's at Ssam Bar and Noodle Bar, where the service is good (I'd say despite Chang's rotten attitude) but, at least in the case of Ssam Bar, slipping now that Cory is no longer on the floor regularly.

But at ko, the proffer is basically "Screw the greedy bastard servers; we cooks don't need them; we cooks can do it without them." And so far ko has not delivered on that. The service provided by the cooks is weak. Perhaps it will improve, but there's no indication that anybody is trying to make that happen.

I think Chang gives good sound bite and is generally miffed to see servers earn so much more than chefs and irritated that he as a restaurant owner doesn't have the discretion to cut his cooks into the tipping pool under NY law. I also think his bark is worse than his bite. I think when you do 24 covers a night total and you price your menu at $85 (and use some luxury ingredients) something has to give. I'm sure there are folks out there who are as good at working a room as they are at executing haute cuisine but I doubt there are many of them and I bet they're expensive. If I have to trade the shmoozing for the quality of the food then that's good. And honestly I didn't go into Ko my first time with the expectation of anything other than that the chefs would be chefs.

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I think most of us say "the kitchen sent out" or "I tried an off-menu dish" or "they had this special" fairly interchangeably. 

Which was my point. (at least one person on this thread is on the record as stating that "the kitchen sent out" means "I was comped")

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my experiences with the service at Ko have all been good.  some of the cooks can be a little taciturn, yes, but I'm not there to banter.

They also loosen up and relax quite a bit as the night progresses, in my experience. Especially when they were doing the extra half-turn, I know that the first seating took all their attention just to keep the pace.

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I actually happen to agree with you that I'd love to have more interaction with the chefs at Ko, but I think you're wrong about how much David Chang values servers.  The context of that quote was that it's not fair for servers to make more than chefs who work equally as hard, if not more so.

If that's what he meant, he could have said that. Instead, he said servers are "greedy bastards." I'm not sure how anybody can interpret that comment to be respectful of servers. And that's not a one-off comment either. Chang also told GQ:

I know nobody expects to make money as a cook, but cooks have to live, and they can’t live on $300 to $400 a week. It makes me mad that cooks are treated like shit and servers say, ‘Well, you choose your profession.’ Whatever you guys say, you don’t work as hard as cooks, so go fuck yourselves
People like Cory (and many others at Momofuku) have lots of choice about who to work for.  Something tells me working for Chang is a lot better than he makes it sound.  It can't all be about pride in the cooking.

Given that servers are "greedy bastards," perhaps it's about money. The Momofuku restaurants have been very successful. They turn tables like crazy and customers spend a ton of money. So the servers are most likely raking it in. That's at Ssam Bar and Noodle Bar, where the service is good (I'd say despite Chang's rotten attitude) but, at least in the case of Ssam Bar, slipping now that Cory is no longer on the floor regularly.

But at ko, the proffer is basically "Screw the greedy bastard servers; we cooks don't need them; we cooks can do it without them." And so far ko has not delivered on that. The service provided by the cooks is weak. Perhaps it will improve, but there's no indication that anybody is trying to make that happen.

Ok, I finally see what you mean by your last point. It's not obvious to me whether or not there is an effort to change that at Ko, but we all know that one of the things that has made Chang and his team so successful is that they're extremely good at responding to feedback from their customers (Hi Cory! Hi Dave!). On a related point, Cory is back on the floor at Ssam regularly.

I think Chang is actually responding to how poorly chefs get paid and treated. There is clearly a deep-seeded resentment about the disparity between chefs and servers, but I don't think Chang is talking about his own servers when he says stuff like that. He's talking about the service/chef model and how unfair it is to chefs. It's the same reason that Per Se changed their tip distribution. I'm not arguing that he couldn't put it more delicately, but that's what I mean by Chang's "media persona". I agree that it fails to acknowledge how hard servers work, especially in his empire, but I do think that the context of "servers vs. chefs" is important.

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It reads as if it was a grudgingly given three stars.

Not that it matters.

Grudgingly given in which direction?

I just got the sense that he really wanted to give it two but couldn't.

There were more negative comments about the inconsistency of the food than one usually finds in a three-star review. But he was hemmed in by the two stars he gave Ssam Bar and the two stars he gave Degustation, which is the most similar non-Chang restaurant I can think of. Ko is better than both of them.

It's also possible that, in light of Platt's review, he felt compelled to explain why he was not awarding four stars.

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It reads as if it was a grudgingly given three stars.

Not that it matters.

Grudgingly given in which direction?

I just got the sense that he really wanted to give it two but couldn't.

*shrug*

Like I said, it doesn't matter.

That was just completely not my read on it. In my read he liked it quite a lot but found it a touch inconsistent. Regardless, I think he got it (the description, the stars, everything) exactly right.

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I actually read the review as an explanation as to why it wasn't four stars.

I read it as saying that considering the price, the lack of formal trappings didn't matter...rather the issue was with a set menu with no options......every single course would have to be flawless and thrilling....and that some courses were while others weren't. thus the three stars.

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I believe two paragraphs of the review touch indirectly on the question of stars, while the rest is just a restaurant review without an apparent agenda. The key language on the rating is:

Under those terms there’s a promise of unwavering transcendence, and Ko in its early months serves a few dishes that merely intrigue along with others that utterly enrapture. It also falls prey to some inconsistency.

The notion of transcendence/rapture/thrill is Bruni's standard for a four-star restaurant. Ko doesn't consistently meet that standard. Therefore no fourth star. Not because the stools have no backs. Because, overall, the food isn't good enough.

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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  • 2 weeks later...

Had dinner here last night. All the same dishes, with variations, as the rest of you, all very good, but one note for now I'm not sure anyone commented upon. Did people not think the food was overbearingly heavy? I realize that's not a great metric for rating a restaurant, but it almost seems to me that part of designing a menu is making the whole plausibly digestible if one eats everything enthusiastically. Pork rind, muffin with pork, foie gras, bacon puree, deep fried rib, pork belly. I mean, I would very happily have done without the foie gras any day of the week. Oh, and I know good restaurant cooking is often very heavy, but this was a level beyond in my experience.

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Did people not think the food was overbearingly heavy?  I realize that's not a great metric for rating a restaurant, but it almost seems to me that part of designing a menu is making the whole plausibly digestible if one eats everything enthusiastically.  Pork rind, muffin with pork, foie gras, bacon puree, deep fried rib, pork belly.  I mean, I would very happily have done without the foie gras any day of the week.  Oh, and I know good restaurant cooking is often very heavy, but this was a level beyond in my experience.

Compared to other long tasting menus I've had, Ko did not seem unreasonably heavy. But there is a lack of variety here, and it speaks to Chang's limitations as a chef.
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I thought there was as much variety as one could possibly expect while still being able to attribute a definable style to the cuisine. I also thought the creativity quotient was substantially higher than at just about any restaurant outside of the molecular-gastronomy subset.

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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I thought there was as much variety as one could possibly expect while still being able to attribute a definable style to the cuisine. I also thought the creativity quotient was substantially higher than at just about any restaurant outside of the molecular-gastronomy subset.

I think that if pork came up over & over again in a long tasting menu at any other 3 or 4-star restaurant, as it does at Ko, it would probably be considered a weakness.
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