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Momofuku Ko (Part 2)


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I imagine the reason, like many other decisions made in the Momofuku empire, just comes down to, "We really don't feel like dealing with this, and our restaurant is always full anyway so we really don't care if customers don't like it."

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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Certainly the staff isn't limited:  two hostesses and three cooks for 12 diners.

Somewhat of a non sequitur, but don't forget the guys and girls downstairs. It's more like six chefs/cooks (or seven, if you count Chang occasionally bumbling around) for twelve diners.

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Another potential reason is that both space and staff are limited.

No, that can't be a good excuse. Certainly the staff isn't limited: two hostesses and three cooks for 12 diners. The hostesses during our meal had very little to do. The cooks were working hard, of course, but none of them were ever in the weeds. Any of those 5 could have taken 30 seconds to drop a dish into a doggy bag at any point.

I couldn't imagine a restaurant that would not allow you to bag extras if you insisted ...

Ko probably doesn't suggest it because it is a silly restaurant to ask for your extras. Very few of the courses are more than 5-6 bites - what are you going to do, put a tablespoon of risotto into a small dixie cup? Once you allow a customer to do that you will have them walking out of the restaurant with 7 different absurdly tiny doggy bags. Probably half of the dishes are ones that have raw components or temperature-trickies like the frozen foie gras, ice cream which are impossible to bag, then others like risotto and sweetbreads which are as mentioned above questionable baggers for reasons of quality.

Actually, it was the whole lamb chop that I had wanted to take home. I'm sure the chefs would have given me proper instructions as to how to reheat it.

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Certainly the staff isn't limited:  two hostesses and three cooks for 12 diners.

Somewhat of a non sequitur, but don't forget the guys and girls downstairs. It's more like six chefs/cooks (or seven, if you count Chang occasionally bumbling around) for twelve diners.

My understanding was that the downstairs chefs were prepping for the next meal. A crew of three arrives around 8am for lunch, the dinner crew arrives in the early afternoon - three each, mostly (not entirely) prepping for their upcoming service, not the current one. Then a dish guy thrown in there somewhere as well.

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  • 2 weeks later...
They don't let you take leftovers to go? Why not??!

I've never been, but other restaurants have given me the following reasons for not allowing take-away:

The food suffers when not eaten right away (Frontera Grill).

They don't have take-away containers (most places in Japan).

They're worried about food safety (places in Japan during the O-157 scare, and a place in Dubai that made us sign a release before they'd let us take our food).

With Momofuku Ko, I would guess the primary reason is the first one.

it's called "take-out" on this side of the pond.

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Take out containers are also an added expense, as well as the bags, that cut into the thin profit margin. The nice ones, any nice container is much more expensive than the stryofoam boxes, which cheapen any place of merit.

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Do high-end restaurants have thin profit margins?

absolutely!! but i think you're sarcastic, no? some make no profit at all. (see fleur de sel, fiamma).

i'm a little bit torn on momofuku ko not doing to-go bags. they have 2 michelin stars. on the other hand, they didn't want or ask for 2 michelin stars.

i tend to agree with the fact that most of these dishes are so small and so few bites and so temperature sensitive that packing them to go is ridiculous. there is the issue of presentation as well. a lamb chop just cooked served on slate or bernardaud or raynaud is much more fabulous than your microwaved lamb chop at home....

anyway, going for lunch tomorrow. will do full report!

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Do high-end restaurants have thin profit margins?

absolutely!! but i think you're sarcastic, no? some make no profit at all. (see fleur de sel, fiamma).

I think you have to confine the question to places that are open. After all, you could have a failed hot-dog stand that doesn't make a profit. Among high-end restaurants that remain open, I've no reason to think their profit margin is thinner than any other kind of restaurant, except for those being operated as loss leaders.
i'm a little bit torn on momofuku ko not doing to-go bags. they have 2 michelin stars. on the other hand, they didn't want or ask for 2 michelin stars.
Who knows what they wanted? Edited by oakapple (log)
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Do high-end restaurants have thin profit margins?

absolutely!! but i think you're sarcastic, no? some make no profit at all. (see fleur de sel, fiamma).[...]

No sarcasm here. As oakapple said, obviously, some restaurants fail. That doesn't prove that high-end restaurants generally have thin profit margins. Maybe I should specifically ask the question about a place like Ko. As currently constituted, what would tend to cut into their profit margin, as opposed to padding it? Obviously, they pay rent and insurance. Their food expenses are presumably lower than the charge for their dishes, right? They undoubtedly make money on drinks. They pay out to the people in the kitchen and can only serve a limited number of covers per day. Where do you think the profit/loss margin would end up, with everything considered?

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Restaurants tend to have narrow profit margins, and the fancier they are the narrower their margins. A quick-service place might see 7% on average. Full-service restaurants average more like 4%. Fancy restaurants can be more like 2%, though of course some do better and worse than that. And that 2% can be on a higher gross. A restaurant like Daniel, with a lot of covers each night paying a lot of money each, can have a good revenue stream even on a small percentage of gross. Steakhouses too -- they have very high operating costs but they gross very high. Ko is on a different business model, though: unusually low operating costs (especially for labor) and probably low gross too. Although, I doubt any of this has anything to do with Ko's refusal to allow takeout. As I mentioned before, this is simply the sort of thing Ko says no to. If the demand for reservations there ever eases up, they may get more into the "customer is king" mindset. Not for now, though.

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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Went tonight for dinner, 9:20 slot. Most of what we had tonight was right on with other recent posts but there were a few differences --

- Spanish mackerel (raw) with mustard oil, meyer lemon, puffed rice

- Seared halibut with TN truffle, artichoke puree, cauliflower milk

- Black sesame ice cream with coconut and lemon cream and very large funnel cake

The funnel cake dessert was totally unexpected and really great. I grew up in MD and have many a memory of walking on the boardwalk with a funnel cake. Haven't had one in more than a decade. It was very cool that it turned up tonight.

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My fiancee and I went to Ko last Saturday for lunch service. It was a very similar menu to that described on the previous page. It would be sort of pointless to list all the dishes here but suffice it to say that there were a few standouts and a couple of clunkers, like any tasting menu.

I didn't feel like it was a transcendent meal. And the privilege of interacting with the chefs seems kind of overrated to me - there's a certain amount of magic and theater in a top restaurant that happens behind the scenes, and a great amount of drama in the sequencing and presentation. If you truly want to go behind the curtain you can generally get a peek. But this felt like a play where you could see the director - an interesting device but ultimately a distraction. Also, it's not like you can see the real prep behind anything - all you can really see is assembly.

One thing truly bothered me: at the end of service I got an espresso. They charged me $4 for it. After dropping over $600 on tasting menus with wine I figured they wouldn't nickel and dime us. Other restaurants with similarly luxurious aspirations can afford to give you a cup of free coffee. We will not be returning.

Edited by tkassum (log)
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  • 1 month later...

How is it that I've seen six two-tops available at Momofuku-ko two times after midnight this week? They eventually get taken, but there's a lot of second thinking going on.

I didn't have the time to post anything after my visit four weeks ago, but there were two very good dishes and the rest were a poke in the eye of real gastronomy. Chang has his gifts; too bad they get wasted in a place that feels more like a tight-fisted business plan than a real restaurant.

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I've got a reservation for 9:30 tomorrow. I've been checking the web site to see if something earlier might open up. There have been 9:30 slots open all weekend for Monday and Wednesday. I guess that 9:30 is rather late in the evening for a weeknight - even if it's a "hot" reservation.

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How is it that I've seen six two-tops available at Momofuku-ko two times after midnight this week? They eventually get taken, but there's a lot of second thinking going on.
I think it merely shows that Momofuku Ko, like all expensive restaurants, is not recession-proof. They are still selling every seat, which is more than most restaurants can say.
I didn't have the time to post anything after my visit four weeks ago, but there were two very good dishes and the rest were a poke in the eye of real gastronomy. Chang has his gifts; too bad they get wasted in a place that feels more like a tight-fisted business plan than a real restaurant.

The general consensus has been that food of this quality would cost at least 50% more in a "real restaurant." If you thought the food wasn't that good anyway, then it means in a "real restaurant" you would feel even more cheated than you already were.

To me, Momofuku Ko seems consistent with the business plan of all the other Chang restaurants. (And if you want to make money, you do need to have a plan, don't you?) Chang has been wildly successful at it, so I don't expect him to change.

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And the privilege of interacting with the chefs seems kind of overrated to me - there's a certain amount of magic and theater in a top restaurant that happens behind the scenes, and a great amount of drama in the sequencing and presentation. If you truly want to go behind the curtain you can generally get a peek. But this felt like a play where you could see the director - an interesting device but ultimately a distraction. Also, it's not like you can see the real prep behind anything - all you can really see is assembly.

One thing truly bothered me: at the end of service I got an espresso. They charged me $4 for it. After dropping over $600 on tasting menus with wine I figured they wouldn't nickel and dime us. Other restaurants with similarly luxurious aspirations can afford to give you a cup of free coffee. We will not be returning.

A couple of points to be made here. I don't have the impression that the format of the restaurant attempts to use the "privilege of interacting with the chefs" as a major benefit or selling point. Rather, it's one of the ways Chang uses to keep the costs down and the atmosphere informal. And his aspirations aren't luxurious...quite the contrary.

As for the displeasure at being charged for an espresso, I'm not sure where you've been dining, but I can't think of many high-end restaurants in New York offhand (or anywhere in the US for that matter) that comp their coffee service. I'm pretty sure all the restaurants at this level, as well as those that aim even higher (Jean Georges, Daniel, Adour, Le Bernardin, etc.) charge for coffee...and most charge more than $4. Do you always get upset at them, too?

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  • 2 weeks later...

weird; ko's reservations system has been down all morning, can't get on to try and make a reservation.

(EDIT: 10:20 - the site reservations.momofuku.com is actually down now)

(EDIT: up, a couple spots left)

Edited by bobg01 (log)
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  • 2 weeks later...

I have a reservation for dinner next Saturday and am excited, but concerned about the wine pairings, review of which seem to be all over the map. Corkage has gone up to $45 from the original $15, which clearly indicates Chang would prefer people to not bring their own. At 15, I might bring a nice riesling or vouvray to have with the majority of courses, and then order something fuller for the red meat dish(es).

Does anyone recall how extensive and expensive their wine by the glass list is? If I do the pairings, we are most certainly going to get the $50 match, and my real concern is that some have said that they don't pair a wine with each course. This in and of itself is not a problem as long as they give you a decent pour, and let you know in advance that a glass should last for 2 or 3 courses. What were your experiences?

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My experiences were:

More than enough wine, and they told me when the glass would be used with more than one course.

(Although now that you mention it, it would be a good idea to ask them at the outset to give you that information as they go along, in case it isn't always SOP.)

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I have a reservation for dinner next Saturday and  am excited, but concerned about the wine pairings, review of which seem to be all over the map. Corkage has gone up to $45 from the original $15, which clearly indicates Chang would prefer people to not bring their own. At 15, I might bring a nice riesling or vouvray to have with the majority of courses, and then order something fuller for the red meat dish(es).

Does anyone recall how extensive and expensive their wine by the glass list is? If I do the pairings, we are most certainly going to get the $50 match, and my real concern is that some have said that they don't pair a wine with each course. This in and of itself is not a problem as long as they give you a decent pour, and let you know in advance that a glass should last for 2 or 3 courses. What were your experiences?

Sorry to inform you, but unfortunately Ko doesn't have wines by the glass. They used to have some nice offerings in the half bottle range, but I was there yesterday for lunch, and my half bottle choices (Prum Riesling and a Gerwertz) have been eliminated. I ordered a full bottle of Riesling and drank what I wanted (still less than the $95 pairing).

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I have a reservation for dinner next Saturday and  am excited, but concerned about the wine pairings, review of which seem to be all over the map. Corkage has gone up to $45 from the original $15, which clearly indicates Chang would prefer people to not bring their own. At 15, I might bring a nice riesling or vouvray to have with the majority of courses, and then order something fuller for the red meat dish(es).

Does anyone recall how extensive and expensive their wine by the glass list is? If I do the pairings, we are most certainly going to get the $50 match, and my real concern is that some have said that they don't pair a wine with each course. This in and of itself is not a problem as long as they give you a decent pour, and let you know in advance that a glass should last for 2 or 3 courses. What were your experiences?

Based on my single experience, the wine pours are generous compared to general tasting menu pours (e.g. Babbo). They did pair each course with a different wine except the oloroso sherry accompanied to last 2 dessert courses. I didn't think wine pairings were overly impressive (in $50 pairing) but quantity wise they were more than a decent pour.

Edited by gatilgan (log)
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  • 2 weeks later...

I'm a long time Pro Chef and restaurant owner traveling to NYC for biz/pleasure. I was told to go to this place. I had no idea what a task it is to get in. Well to make a long story short there was some confusion on my reservation attempt and I e-mailed them to clarify. What are the odds I get an answer? How good are they at confirming reservations? Do they? Is the place worth the headache?

Any suggestions on solo dining in the Tribeca area? Price no issue.

www.saltyskitchen.com

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