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Momofuku Ko (Part 2)


Fat Guy
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In a place where there are basically no servers, no linens, no forks, no backs to the chairs, and an online reservation system, you think it should be French 3 star service?

Yes, in a place there are no servers, no linens, no forks, no backs to the chairs, but STILL charges a 3-star price, I would expect 3-star service, wouldn’t you?? By the way, 2 servers for about 10 customers is not “basically no servers”! Also, being more friendly or making us feel we are customers (instead of someone begging them for their food) doesn’t cost them anything!

At any rate, I don't want to see another onigiri (or any other food for that matter) thrown away no matter what the reason is, especially if it is meant as a gift.

Haha, what do you mean? So if I give you an onigiri as a gift and say you don't like soaky nori and find it terrible, you will continue to eat it??! I wouldn’t force myself to eat it if I don't like it, let alone I paid for it indirectly from my $500 lunch and it is an onigiri from a high-end restaurant.

Fine Dining Explorer

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I have one simple question regarding KO. WHy is it so expensive: only two restaurants, MASA and Per Se have more expensive base menus. I understand that jean georges (or Per Se and Le Bernardin) is expensive not only because of the quality of the food used, but also because of the vast kitchen and FOH staff, large rents, and the other trappings associated with fine elegant dining. All of which is lacking at KO.

Edited by sethd (log)
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FDE: I mean just that, and let me say that I didn't mean to offend you in any way and that that post of mine is not directed at you. I wrote it for future diners at Ko.

I'd really appreciate it if someone could describe what the onigiri were like!

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Hiroyuki, I am probably not a fair person to ask about that onigiri because I tried it in my hotel room while writing that complaint letter!!! But basically, it was chewy seaweed with chicken meat in a strong teriyaki sauce and sesame. That’s all I could remember.

FDE: …. I think you may have misinterpeted a few service issues. I hope you feel better about your experience now that you know that you were not being treated curtly.

Thanks Ellenost and Bobster of providing possible explanations about the issues that I had, it is definitely better than KO’s “no reply” to my politely written complaint letter.

Thanks Sethd and Marc (Oakapple) of providing more info about “is it rude to present the bill before the customer asks for it”!

I guess Sethd summarized the fundamental issues here: “Why is KO so expensive?” Is it because they know they will be fully booked for the next 10 years so why not get more $$$ into David’s pocket?

We had dinner at SHO that night and then lunch at Eleven Madison the day after. It was really a pleasure to dine there after our KO experience. Great locations, beautiful dining rooms, nice cutleries, smooth service team, high quality dishes, AND both meals were cheaper than KO. That question above really jumped out a number of times during those meals!

Fine Dining Explorer

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I had dinner tonight at Momofuku Ko, and as usual, I had a wonderful dining experience. Here is a list of the dishes served tonight:

1) Amuse bouches:

Chicharonnes seasoned with todarashi and salt

Shigoku oyster served with kimchi gelee and black sesame

Compressed cucumber topped with black garlic, chili oil and pea tendrils

2) Salad made with mushrooms foraged from Maine, served with pickled red onions, rehydrated black trumpet mushrooms, white fungus and jalapeno puree

3) Beef carpaccio with radish greens, charred onions, rice cracker crisps, and horseradish sauce.

4) Uni from Maine, grilled eggplant, melon balls, bean sprouts and Tokyo turnips served in a chilled ham consomme

5) Smoked soft-cooked hen's egg from Knollcrest Farms, served with soubise onions, fingerling potato chips, hackleback caviar and sweet potato vinegar

6) Tortelloni filled with chili and sweated onions, served with lobster mushrooms, ginger-compressed watermelon and crispy veal sweetbreads. Dish is flavored with shiso and tumeric.

7) Grilled caper-brined trout, served with yuzu-pickled breakfast radish, summer bean salad, almonds and bacon puree

8) Shaved torchon of Hudson Valley foie gras with lychees, pine nut brittle and riesling gelee

9) Elysian Farms lamb ribs cooked sous vide and then roasted, served with pickled kohlrabi terrine and baby leeks filled with a puree of Greek yoghurt, chives and pickled ramps

10) Pre-dessert: Apricot sorbet topped with pie dough crumbs and bourbon molasses

11) Dessert: Pretzel panna cotta served with root beer sorbet, brown mustard gelee and dehydrated caraway bread crumbs

12) White chocolate dusted with pea and mint powder

Having eaten at Momofuku Ko more than three dozen times in the past two years, I may have a biased opinion regarding the service at Ko. I do agree that it has become a tad more expensive to eat at Ko these days compared to when it first opened two years ago, and for the price, people do expect better service and more amenities. However, I must say that I have enjoyed each and every meal I have had at Ko: the servers have treated me well, and the chefs take the time to discuss the dishes for the most part. I also prefer the more casual and intimate atmosphere at Ko compared to the more refined dining experiences of Per Se, Le Bernadin or EMP. The experiences of some of the previous posters may have been exceptions rather than the rule, but I recognize that the Ko experience is not for everyone.

Edited by The Food Doc (log)
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Yes, in a place there are no servers, no linens, no forks, no backs to the chairs, but STILL charges a 3-star price, I would expect 3-star service, wouldn’t you?? By the way, 2 servers for about 10 customers is not “basically no servers”! Also, being more friendly or making us feel we are customers (instead of someone begging them for their food) doesn’t cost them anything!

Seems to me that your complaint is that the meal was expensive, and you didn't like it. Which is totally reasonable, of course. I'm not exactly sure what "3-star price" is, though. You can easily spend more than a meal at Ko at a great sushi place like Yasuda, and no one would claim that is "3-star service", either. And the format of the meal at Ko is not altogether unlike that of a great sushi bar, where you interact primarily with the chef, and very little with the wait staff.

If you don't like the food, well, that's unfortunate (but it happens - my wife and I had a horrible, very expensive meal at Cello back when it was still open), but saying that just because a place is expensive means it must be trying to achieve Michelin 3-star everything across the board, to me, misses the point entirely. And I've always found the waitstaff very accommodating at all of the Momo establishments, even though they pretty much don't know me from a hole in the wall - they just lack formality and pretension, which to me, is a huge attraction to all of them.

I want pancakes! God, do you people understand every language except English? Yo quiero pancakes! Donnez moi pancakes! Click click bloody click pancakes!

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I had dinner tonight at Momofuku Ko, and as usual, I had a wonderful dining experience. Here is a list of the dishes served tonight:

1) Amuse bouches:

Chicharonnes seasoned with todarashi and salt

Shigoku oyster served with kimchi gelee and black sesame

Compressed cucumber topped with black garlic, chili oil and pea tendrils

2) Salad made with mushrooms foraged from Maine, served with pickled red onions, rehydrated black trumpet mushrooms, white fungus and jalapeno puree

3) Beef carpaccio with radish greens, charred onions, rice cracker crisps, and horseradish sauce.

4) Uni from Maine, grilled eggplant, melon balls, bean sprouts and Tokyo turnips served in a chilled ham consomme

5) Smoked soft-cooked hen's egg from Knollcrest Farms, served with soubise onions, fingerling potato chips, hackleback caviar and sweet potato vinegar

6) Tortelloni filled with chili and sweated onions, served with lobster mushrooms, ginger-compressed watermelon and crispy veal sweetbreads. Dish is flavored with shiso and tumeric.

7) Grilled caper-brined trout, served with yuzu-pickled breakfast radish, summer bean salad, almonds and bacon puree

8) Shaved torchon of Hudson Valley foie gras with lychees, pine nut brittle and riesling gelee

9) Elysian Farms lamb ribs cooked sous vide and then roasted, served with pickled kohlrabi terrine and baby leeks filled with a puree of Greek yoghurt, chives and pickled ramps

10) Pre-dessert: Apricot sorbet topped with pie dough crumbs and bourbon molasses

11) Dessert: Pretzel panna cotta served with root beer sorbet, brown mustard gelee and dehydrated caraway bread crumbs

12) White chocolate dusted with pea and mint powder

Having eaten at Momofuku Ko more than three dozen times in the past two years, I may have a biased opinion regarding the service at Ko. I do agree that it has become a tad more expensive to eat at Ko these days compared to when it first opened two years ago, and for the price, people do expect better service and more amenities. However, I must say that I have enjoyed each and every meal I have had at Ko: the servers have treated me well, and the chefs take the time to discuss the dishes for the most part. I also prefer the more casual and intimate atmosphere at Ko compared to the more refined dining experiences of Per Se, Le Bernadin or EMP. The experiences of some of the previous posters may have been exceptions rather than the rule, but I recognize that the Ko experience is not for everyone.

Thanks for a great recap of last night's delicious dinner. I was there too! I had an early reservation. I really loved the lamb dish. What I have always found great at Ko is that they can take things that I don't usually like (sweetbreads, trout, apricot) and do something so wonderfully creative that I enjoy things that normally I would never order; to me, that's the sign of great cooking. Since you must be their #1 patron (last year Sam told me that there was someone who had eaten at Ko more than 30 times), you should remember the "butter bomb" that had been served with the beef carpaccio at lunch. That was my favorite--I wish Peter would return it to the menu! I can reconfirm that service continues to be both professional and friendly. Have you had the lunch recently (within the past 2 months)? I'll try for another lunch reservation at the end of August/beginning of September (I try to space out my visits to see the evolution of the menu).

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Seems to me that your complaint is that the meal was expensive, and you didn't like it. Which is totally reasonable, of course. I'm not exactly sure what "3-star price" is, though. You can easily spend more than a meal at Ko at a great sushi place like Yasuda, and no one would claim that is "3-star service", either.

You can't easily spend more at Yasuda than at Ko; a "normal" omakase at Yasuda costs less Ko, and the service is better.

And the format of the meal at Ko is not altogether unlike that of a great sushi bar, where you interact primarily with the chef, and very little with the wait staff.

The sushi bar analogy also breaks down somewhat, because at a good sushi bar the meal evolves and is shaped by your preferences and interaction with the chef. Ko is, more or less, going to serve the same meal to everyone, no matter what you say or do.

Saying that just because a place is expensive means it must be trying to achieve Michelin 3-star everything across the board, to me, misses the point entirely.

Let me stipulate that I think Ko is very good. Having said that, if you are paying 3-star prices and getting less than 3-star service, it is certainly—in its way—a drawback.

And I've always found the waitstaff very accommodating at all of the Momo establishments, even though they pretty much don't know me from a hole in the wall - they just lack formality and pretension, which to me, is a huge attraction to all of them.

One of David Chang's enduring accomplishments has been to dumb down the dining experience, and then to make people feel privileged for getting what well run restaurants always provided. It is certainly not "pretentious" to provide those things; it's called great service. The correct way to look at it, I think, is to check off all the things that are missing at his places. One may nevertheless conclude, as many of us have, that they're still worth an occasional (or more-than-occasional) visit. But let's not kid ourselves: the Momo service model is one of subtraction, not of addition.

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I keep wondering about the onigiri. Judging from FDE's description of the onigiri, it sounds like a tori meshi onigiri (chicken rice ball).

Images of tori meshi onigiri

Note that not all onigiri are wrapped in nori. There are no strict rules, but onigiri made of plain rice are often wrapped in nori, while onigiri made of seasoned rice are often nori-less.

Onigiri can go bad fast, especially those made of seasoned rice, depending on how they are kept. So, I wonder if the staff tell you to consume the onigiri within, say, four hours.

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Once again we have proven that regular customers often get treated differently from first time guests at any fine-dining restaurant. I have never eaten at a Chang Restaurant because that "dumbing down" of the dining experience is the antithesis of what fine dining means for me. Gustibus non disputandum est.

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Once again we have proven that regular customers often get treated differently from first time guests at any fine-dining restaurant.

I've eaten there long enough to know that at least a third to a half of all the diners are first-timers, even to this day. I have observed how they treat first-timers compared to a regular like me, and other than the familiarity factor, there is no discernable difference in the treatment first-timers get compared to me. I have noticed that there are first timers who, despite being asked during the reservation process online if they have food allergies, will come to dinner with a list of food items that they cannot eat. The chefs at Ko try their best to accomodate these diners, but making changes in the menu at such short notice can be irritating to anyone, not just the staff at Ko.

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I think it defies belief that Ko does this because they are doing you any kind of favor. In that teensy space, no one could ever worry about not being able to find a server. Ko has tables to turn.

And so does per se, the only other "high end" NYC restaurant identified as having this practice. Seems pretty clear to me.

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Where I have always differed from Oakapple's analysis of the service at Chang places is that Oakapple sometimes seems to be failing to acknowledge that some people PREFER the things that Chang subtracts to be subtracted. They're happy not to deal with those things while still getting superb food -- and generally agree with Chang's decisions as to what's left in.

I think it also bears noting, in connection with recent discussion in this thread, that one of the things that were most disappointing about Ko out of the box was the lack of interaction with the chefs. I'm happy to hear it's better at lunch.

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
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One of David Chang's enduring accomplishments has been to dumb down the dining experience, and then to make people feel privileged for getting what well run restaurants always provided. It is certainly not "pretentious" to provide those things; it's called great service. The correct way to look at it, I think, is to check off all the things that are missing at his places. One may nevertheless conclude, as many of us have, that they're still worth an occasional (or more-than-occasional) visit. But let's not kid ourselves: the Momo service model is one of subtraction, not of addition.

I don't understand what "dumb[ing] down the dining experience" means. Chang's restaurants are not Daniel or Jean-Georges and are not trying to be. Why is that a negative? I consider it an absolute plus to be able to casually walk into a neighborhood restaurant that has excellent food at really good prices. {Obviously Ko is an outlier.) I've eaten at his restaurants a gazillion times (although sporadically enough that while some of the staff says hi with a glimmer of recognition, I am not "known" and am definitely not comped) and have never found the service to be anything but friendly and knowledgeable. And yes, laid-back - which I find welcoming and refreshing. At Noodle Bar just this Sunday I had to ask questions about gluten in the food - which I've never had to do - and the waitstaff could not possibly have been nicer about going to the kitchen and asking the questions and relaying the info back to me. White tablecloths, polished silverware and hovering French waiters have a place in dining, but not for me every day, thank you.

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Where I have always differed from Oakapple's analysis of the service at Chang places is that Oakapple sometimes seems to be failing to acknowledge that some people PREFER the things that Chang subtracts to be subtracted. They're happy not to deal with those things while still getting superb food -- and generally agree with Chang's decisions as to what's left in.

I think it also bears noting, in connection with recent discussion in this thread, that one of the things that were most disappointing about Ko out of the box was the lack of interaction with the chefs. I'm happy to hear it's better at lunch.

We cross posted, but once again, I agree wholeheartedly with what SE says here. STRONGLY prefer.

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Or maybe it isn't even "subtracting." I think that when the food at Ssam Bar started to go haute, most of us viewed it as a tremendous increase in the quality and ambition of food you could get at a casual food counter -- not as a decrease in the level of service you could expect at a high-end restaurant.

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is the food at ko so wonderful, so delicious, so unlike anything else in new york, that it worth tolerating those

subtractions" Another quesition is what makes for a fine dining experience. For me and many others, it isn't just about the food.

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...Chang's restaurants are not Daniel or Jean-Georges and are not trying to be. Why is that a negative? I consider it an absolute plus to be able to casually walk into a neighborhood restaurant that has excellent food at really good prices. {Obviously Ko is an outlier.)

My original posting was talking about KO only. I did say I love the Ssam Bar and the Noodle Bar. Those two places, I felt I got more than what I paid for.

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www.finediningexplorer.com

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… but saying that just because a place is expensive means it must be trying to achieve Michelin 3-star everything across the board, to me, misses the point entirely.

Fine, not necessary top-notch VVIP service, but paying $$$, I am sure you would expect good decent service right? And for the case of KO, I was just asking for a basic friendly service, which doesn’t cost them anything.

As you mentioned earlier too, basically no servers, no linens, no forks, no backs to the chairs, no nice dining room, no good location, so where did my money go?

KO: 15 tiny courses for $175

Again, it goes back to what Sethd has pointed out, why is KO so expensive? Here is the price of our other meals:

SHO: 11-course dinner for $120 (69% of KO)

Eleven Madison: 8-course lunch $78 (45% of KO)

Both SHO and Eleven Madison had superb service, proper linens, high-end cutleries, comfortable chairs, nice dining room, and great location, but much cheaper than KO. Again, I am not saying all $$$ restaurant must have all those fancy aspects in placed, but where did my money go?

Don’t tell me the food I had at KO (or the thinking-process of creating those courses at KO) cost multiple times of other top restaurants in NYC. If it is, they must be inefficiently spending their revenue from customers.

My conclusion is that David (or the owner) is making a deep profit from KO. Which is great, he created a product that people are willing to pay the extra premium for. Many of you are willing to pay that extra thick premium just for the food AND even to reduce other aspects of a dining experience, but many others like me, don’t think the food is that special to a level that worth the extra thick premium AND a reduction in other aspects of a dining experience! That’s it.

In any case, providing a friendly service doesn’t cost them anything.

Onigiri can go bad fast, especially those made of seasoned rice, depending on how they are kept. So, I wonder if the staff tell you to consume the onigiri within, say, four hours.

No, they just put the onigiri on the table right after I paid, they didn’t say anything at all! I assume it is for me to take home… oh, maybe they want me to eat it right away?! Anyway, right after the left KO, I took the taxi back to hotel. The more I think about it during my taxi ride, the more I felt like I got rip-off. Back in the hotel, started writing my 1st ever complaint letter, it was near the end, I calmed down a bit after writing it all out, then I saw that onigiri again resting on the table, so I unwrapped it and had a try, while reviewing that letter. Sure I am not a right person to ask about the quality of that onigiri with that complaint letter in front of me. But it must be within 2 hours max.

There was a 3-week period that I almost had one onigiri per day in Japan. That’s what I am comparing that “tori meshi onigiri” to.

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I don't understand what "dumb[ing] down the dining experience" means. Chang's restaurants are not Daniel or Jean-Georges and are not trying to be. Why is that a negative?

I was referring more to Ko—the subject of this thread. Whatever Chang was trying to do there, he is clearly charging similar prices to Daniel and JG. His other restaurants clearly don't purport to be on that level, but prices have risen to the point where they aren't cheap eats any more (assuming you have a full meal), and one might reasonably compare them to other restaurants at similar price points.

In a more general way, I frequently read (in the various Momo threads), "I thought it was great that they did ______ for me," and it's just an ordinary thing that good non-Momo restaurants do all the time. And I wonder: why would anyone be impressed, when Chang does something that good restaurants elsewhere would have done routinely?

It's hard for me to answer that. Perhaps, because Chang has subtracted so much, people are now conditioned to be surprised to find ordinary comforts and courtesies that existed at other comparably priced restaurants, long before there ever was a Momofuku.

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Speaking for myself, I consider Ko to be not entirely successful, because the food is not consistently at the empyrean level it should be for the concept to work. (On the other hand, I haven't been there in more than a year.) (On the third hand, it's telling that I don't feel compelled to keep going.)

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I think SHO's prices are freakishly low. We can speculate as to their lease or other aspects of their relationship with the developer of the condo they're in that permit them to charge so little. But I don't think you can fairly compare other restaurants to SHO. Something is clearly going on there.

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I think SHO's prices are freakishly low. We can speculate as to their lease or other aspects of their relationship with the developer of the condo they're in that permit them to charge so little. But I don't think you can fairly compare other restaurants to SHO. Something is clearly going on there.

I agree with you. The Eleven Madison Park analogy might be the better one.

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No, they just put the onigiri on the table right after I paid, they didn’t say anything at all! I assume it is for me to take home… oh, maybe they want me to eat it right away?! Anyway, right after the left KO, I took the taxi back to hotel. The more I think about it during my taxi ride, the more I felt like I got rip-off. Back in the hotel, started writing my 1st ever complaint letter, it was near the end, I calmed down a bit after writing it all out, then I saw that onigiri again resting on the table, so I unwrapped it and had a try, while reviewing that letter. Sure I am not a right person to ask about the quality of that onigiri with that complaint letter in front of me. But it must be within 2 hours max.

There was a 3-week period that I almost had one onigiri per day in Japan. That’s what I am comparing that “tori meshi onigiri” to.

No words from the staff, and seemingly no expiration date indicated on each onigiri?

Now I really wonder about the attitude of the staff and that of the management, who are supposed to train them. I'm almost speechless!

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