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Momofuku Ko (Part 2)


Fat Guy
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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.

The place is worth the headache. And they've just won Best New Restaurant at the James Beard Awards. Can't necessarily say how good they are at confirming - have you heard back?

As for suggestions in Tribeca, we've started a new topic - click here.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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Now it will be more difficult to obtain a reservation.

:laugh:

Let's hope it doesn't go to Chang's head...

My e-mails were not answered but I finally received an e-mail confirming my reservation. I ended up scoring one on Sat.

www.saltyskitchen.com

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Just for your information, the Asian head chef was almost certainly not Chang (who rarely cooks at Ko), but probably Peter Serpico, Ko's chef de cuisine (who, despite his name, is Asian).

Thanks, I made note.

Review below:

If you’re not a New Yorker or a hardcore foodie you may not have heard of the hottest restaurant in New York City. Momofuko Ko, the latest James Beard award winner for Best New Restaurant in the United States and the most coveted reservation to be had in the city. Not only because Chef and co-owner David Chang is one of the hottest chefs going right now but also because the restaurant only seats 14 guests. In a metropolitan area of almost 19 million people you can imagine it can be tough to get in.

To understand “Ko” you have to understand it’s truly a chef’s restaurant. Everything is focused on the food and those who make it happen. The 14 seats are at a raised counter that surrounds the cooking line. The line is the typical sized line you’d see in thousands of restaurants. Instead of preparing the food and placing it in the “pass” for the servers to pick up it goes directly to the customer. The cooks prepare, serve and explain each dish. The “servers” clear, pour wine and take care of the bill. Two servers, three cooks, 14 customers. Like I said, it’s a chef’s kitchen. The walls are plywood, no art no fancy finish. . The music is loud and alternative, the cooks control the selection and volume. Again, it’s a chef’s kitchen. It’s almost anti customer. It’s like Chang’s revenge. “His rage against the machine” and the scary New York dining scene. A fucking jungle.

The night I was there I was seated near the chef I assumed to be Chang but to be honest I can’t be sure. (Edit: I’ve since been informed it was most likely Chef de Cuisine, Peter Serpico.) I don’t follow the chef scene and am not familiar with most of the “star” chefs. He was Asian and in charge. Who ever it was his mood was best described as brooding. All the cooks were silent and emotionless. They’re weren’t quiet because they’re in deep thought, christ, the Red Hot Chili Peppers were blaring over the speakers. I think it’s because they simply don’t want to talk to the “fish”. To break the ice I asked Asian dude what kind of yanagi he was using and he replied, “What? Do you mean what brand”? I said “yes”. “I don’t know”. Huh? The tattooed boy in the middle had a western handled Misono sujihiki and the boss is using a traditional Japanese knife used for sushi and he doesn’t know who made it? I don’t know a single cook who owns a yanagi and doesn’t know who made it. He just didn’t want to talk. I didn’t detect a smile the entire time I was there. If you’re going to remove barriers why not take advantage and interact with your customers? Especially if you have the time to do it. There was no “rush” in this restaurant. The pace was slow and easy. Quite frankly too slow and easy. It would drive me crazy. When I noticed the cooks familiarity with the menu I asked how often it changed. “Seasonally”. No wonder they looked board. They’ve been cooking the same menu for weeks and at an agonizingly slow pace. If you’re expecting to see sparks and razzle and dazzle in this kitchen forget it. If you thought you’d chat up the cooks forget it. If you didn’t know what to look for the show could be boring. For most I’m sure it is. Some folks I noticed were intently watching the cooks and others could care less. I was watching. Closely.

The Food: (I elected to have each course paired with wine)

I didn’t take notes and there is no printed menu. So my recollections may not be perfect.

Amuse

Grilled octopus with miso aioli and asparagus. Black pepper biscuit and salted pork rind. (Although they called it cicerones?)

The octopus was grilled perfectly, good flavor and tender. I thought the miso aioli was a bit tame. The black pepper biscuit was killer. No shortage of butter I’m guessing. Moist and flavorful.

Prosseco

First:

Long Island Fluke sashimi style with whipped buttermilk, poppy seeds, chives and white soy sauce.

The fluke was excellent, super fresh but I have to question if anything caught off Long Island is kosher raw? The whipped buttermilk was a match I’m not sure about. I guess it’s a kin to pickled herring in cream sauce. A classic here in the Midwest and probably most likely in the Big Apple as well. Very heavy on the poppy seeds as well. I’m not a fan of poppy seeds.

A nice German white, a Gavertz I think.

Second:

Santa Barbara uni (sea urchin), English peas, some kind of seaweed in chilled dashi broth.

Nice flavor in the dashi, not too strong, uni freaks me out a little but was the best I’ve had.

Sake

Third:

Snail sausage, mounted butter sauce, hand torn Pecorino, chives

This one was right up my alley. Excellent pasta, and I really enjoyed the sausage. He used chicken and pork fat for the base. Nice mild flavor. Probably why they paired it with a sauvignon blanc. I didn’t care for it but I’m not a SB guy.

Fourth:

Lightly smoked soft boiled chicken egg, American Sturgeon caviar, onion soubise, mini potato chips

One of the best dishes of the night, I didn’t detect much smoke in the egg but it was cooked perfectly, the yolk oozed out and was covered with the black caviar. (Which was surprisingly good) The onion soubise just tied everything together. Man, the soubise was good! I watched him make it and mounted it with a shit load of butter. (Not a bad thing in my book) Oh, and the potato chips added the texture, an integral part of the concept. Simply excellent!

A kick ass New Zealand Chardonnay

Fifth:

Lychee gelee (jelly), shredded torchon of foie gras and pine nut brittle.

A sleeper. The pretty bowls couldn’t disguise this unattractive but delicious dish. At first I had my doubts but once you combined the three ingredients it was excellent. The rich buttery foie with the cool sweet jelly and then the crunch and sweet pop from the brittle. Yeah, it was good.

A sweet German, A Riesling I think.

Sixth:

Soft hell crab, fresh heart of palm, celery, lemon juice, Old Bay seasoning.

Nice balance in this dish. I loved the straight forward approach. It hit damn near every taste bud in the mouth. I watched as middle guy thinly sliced the palm heart but unfortunately they prepped the celery ahead of time. It was sliced super thin the length of the stalk. Mandolin my guess. Both were tossed simply with fresh lemon and a lttle Old bay. Beautiful crisp salad served beneath the crab. My only problem was with the texture of the crab. The sauté the crab but they use the technique of tilting the pan at a 45 degree and cascading the hot oil over the crab collecting in the bottom of the pan and repeating rapidly. I think it doesn’t get the crab as crisp as a traditional sauté but that might just be me.

An excellent sake

Seventh:

Fried boneless Short ribs, grilled ramps, spring “alum”(?) and veal reduction.

They sous vided the short ribs for 48 hours and then chilled them. At service they take an 8 ounce chunk and throw it into the deep fryer for about four minutes. Then they slice it serve it with the ramps and a funky green sauce (Spring alum?) and nap some veal reduction over the top. Woah! It may have been the best tasting beef I’ve ever had. Incredibly flavorful and tender as hell and still medium rare to medium. Man, it was good.

A very nice Zinfandel.

Eighth:

Cream cheese encased guava sorbet.

I’ll be borrowing this one. They wrapped the excellent sorbet in cream cheese. It was a great look and a nice contrast.

A sweet white

Ninth:

Poppy seed ice cream with lemon curd.

As I said before I’m not a poppy seed fan. I will admit it was interesting paired up with the lemon curd. Again a nice contrast.

A sherry I think.

All in all a great dinner. I enjoyed it greatly. A rare chance to see into the one of the hottest kitchens in America. I wish the cooks would have been more approachable but I admit I’m a little jealous of the fact that they don’t have to talk if they don’t want to. Kinda like “don’t poke the monkeys in the cage”. I felt the value was good as well. Essentially 10 courses for $100. The wine pairing was $85 and excellent. I love the fact that it’s casual. I also like Chang’s straight forward style. I love the atmosphere and will try and return. If I do I’m going to be poking the monkeys.

There is no doubt that it’s a chef’s restaurant.

www.saltyskitchen.com

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There was no “rush” in this restaurant. The pace was slow and easy. Quite frankly too slow and easy. It would drive me crazy. When I noticed the cooks familiarity with the menu I asked how often it changed. “Seasonally”. No wonder they looked bored. They’ve been cooking the same menu for weeks and at an agonizingly slow pace.

It's actually a bit worse than that: some of these dishes have been on the menu from the beginning, month after month. with only minor variations.

Of course, this attitude towards customers is not unique to Ko. I recall that when Momofuku Noodle Bar was still new, a customer asked David Chang (who was still behind the counter in those days) if he were the chef, and Chang curtly replied, "No." Obviously if that is the owner's attitude, it will spill over to the employees.

Edited by oakapple (log)
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While there are a couple (as in two) signature items that have remained on the menu consistently (the egg with caviar, and the shaved foie gras) the pace of change on the other menu items is quite rapid -- even if you go twice in the same month you'll notice several changes both at the whole-dish level and at the component level. Of course, it's basically a restaurant without regulars -- most customers only eat there once -- so it's not clear that menu changes are all that important from the customer-interest perspective.

I've never experienced a dinner at Ko that lasted more than about two hours, unless it was the late sitting and I voluntarily lingered after dessert. But the actual meal service is pretty much two hours no matter what. For 10 courses, it's hard to imagine two hours (12 minutes per course) being considered a slow pace.

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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While there are a couple (as in two) signature items that have remained on the menu consistently (the egg with caviar, and the shaved foie gras) the pace of change on the other menu items is quite rapid -- even if you go twice in the same month you'll notice several changes both at the whole-dish level and at the component level. Of course, it's basically a restaurant without regulars -- most customers only eat there once -- so it's not clear that menu changes are all that important from the customer-interest perspective.

I've never experienced a dinner at Ko that lasted more than about two hours, unless it was the late sitting and I voluntarily lingered after dessert. But the actual meal service is pretty much two hours no matter what. For 10 courses, it's hard to imagine two hours (12 minutes per course) being considered a slow pace.

The food wasn't served at a slow pace the cooks pace was slow. In the real world cooks move much, much faster. There is no need at Ko. Hell, half the fun is the mad rush.

www.saltyskitchen.com

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I ate at Ko this Sunday and had the 16 course menu. It was a great meal. Next to me sat somebody who it was claimed had eaten at Ko about 30 times. The chefs knew him and he knew the food. Thus, I was interested to see that, when an (apparently) new meat course was introduced, he was as impressed as I was. The course in question was duck. It was marvelous, crispy skinned, and under the skin was placed a thin layer of duck sausage, right above the actual flesh. It came together in jus which had a smoky, almost bbq flavor to it. This remarkable invention was so good, so sophisticated, and so complex, that I (and my companion) turned to each other and congratulated ourselves on our luck. It may seem maudlin, but perhaps a few diners know what I mean when I say that even a tear came into mine eye at this moment. As I now know for myself, Ko can deliver big time.

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oakapple linked to this in the Per Se thread, but eater is speculating on the odds of who gets a fourth star from Bruni before he departs:

here

They list Ko at 298-1, which seems insane to me:

a) Ssam Bar got three stars from Bruni

b) Ssam Bar got ranked 31st in the world recently

c) Ko is better and more "high end" than SSam Bar

Are any of these three points debatable? What about the 3 points above makes Ko a 298-1 dog to get a 4th star? If there was ever a critic, and a time period, where sitting at a bar can be essentially ignored if the food on the plate is at a 4 star level, I would think this is the critic and this is the time no? Plus we know the Bruni has quite the fondness for the Chang.

That's not to say that Del Posto and Aureole (under Chris Lee and in it's new establishment) aren't better bets, but I'll put some action at 298-1 against Ko any day of the week.

Am I wrong?

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Are any of these three points debatable?  What about the 3 points above makes Ko a 298-1 dog to get a 4th star?  If there was ever a critic, and a time period, where sitting at a bar can be essentially ignored if the food on the plate is at a 4 star level, I would think this is the critic and this is the time no?  Plus we know the Bruni has quite the fondness for the Chang.

Am I wrong?

I think so. It would be an astonishgly short time since the review, and as far as I know there hasn't been a significant change in the kitchen.

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In my view (blog post here), Ko is the best shot to get four stars in the three months Bruni has left to him. Ulterior Epicure asked, "What has changed?" The main thing is that Chang introduced a new lunch menu that (by all reports) is much more ambitious than the dinner menu that Bruni reviewed. If Chang has cleaned up the inconsistency that Bruni complained of in his original review, that could be justification sufficient to bump Ko up to four stars. There certainly are precedents for re-reviewing a restaurant this soon.

I think Leventhal's premise is correct. The current gap between new four-star restaurants—4½ years and counting—is by far the longest in NYT history. Awarding four stars is a signature moment for a critic, and one that he has largely been denied. He's got to be itching to pull the trigger, though I think he has enough integrity to hold his fire unless he really finds a place that is deserving. (Otherwise, he could have just given four stars to Del Posto or Bouley, and have been done with it.)

For now, I think Eleven Madison and Del Posto are out of the running, because he had a blog post about them in December, and strongly suggested that neither one is four-star material. I believe the new Aureole won't be open till June, which means Bruni probably won't have time to fully assess it—even if it would otherwise be a candidate. It is worth noting that the current incarnation of Aureole carries only two stars.

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It was very good but I've had better. I've had better locally. You also can't ignore the crappy stemware and arrogance of the cooks. If they want to play the "bad boy" image let'em. Let'em know it should cost them as well. Just like the real world.

www.saltyskitchen.com

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I think Marea has the best chance. Four star restaurants have great food, great service, and great design; Ko has no chance of ever getting four stars under any circumstances. Right now Marea is attempting to create something on the level of Le Bernardin. They've got a shot, in any case. Bruni gave Convivio three stars, and Marea is much better in every way. as is Alto. But Marea is the only place right now that has a chance at four, unless he decides to re-review Per Se or something like that.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I just had another fabulous dinner at Ko last night. Finally I had the famous deep fried short ribs--they were marvelous and deserve their fame. I've never had short ribs that were so soft and flavorful. Usually the short ribs that I've had tend to be stringy, chewy and overdone. Not the short ribs at Ko: they were rosy and was nicely marbled with a bit of fat to give it the great taste. I was sitting where the chef was slicing all of the short ribs, and they all looked gorgeous. They were truly melt in your mouth good. I think someone has posted that the short ribs are first cooked sous vide before the deep frying. I'm tempted to try to get another reservation soon in hopes of trying them again.

Good news on the wine front: Ko is now serving wines by the glass. They have a good selection covering sparkling, whites and reds. I had a 2 glasses of a delicious German Riesling that went very well with all of the courses. Ko now is offering only one wine pairing at dinner; I think the price is $95. I've had the wine pairings, and while the choices are excellent, it is too much wine for me. I like the idea that I can choose wines by the glass. I might actually branch out and try wines other than Riesling and Champagne.

All of the other courses were wonderful too. A few favorites of mine remain: the shaved foie gras torchon with the pinenut brittle, lychee and Riesling gelee; the soft boiled egg with Hackleback caviar, mini potato chips and onion; the fluke with the buttermilk and poppyseeds; the cream cheese coated guava sorbet; and the funnel cake with the black sesame ice cream (although I do wish they would change the ice cream--they had awhile back a wonderful apple sorbet). A few new dishes included a cold broth (sorry that I can't remember -- mirin(?)) with the sweetest peas and uni; soft shell crabs (and I normally don't even like soft shell crabs); tempura fried shrimp; and a nice scallop dish.

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I just had another fabulous dinner at Ko last night.  Finally I had the famous deep fried short ribs--they were marvelous and deserve their fame.  I've never had short ribs that were so soft and flavorful.  Usually the short ribs that I've had tend to be stringy, chewy and overdone.  Not the short ribs at Ko: they were rosy and was nicely marbled with a bit of fat to give it the great taste.  I was sitting where  the chef was slicing all of the short ribs, and they all looked gorgeous.  They were truly melt in your mouth good.  I think someone has posted that the short ribs are first cooked sous vide before the deep frying.  I'm tempted to try to get another reservation soon in hopes of trying them again.

Good news on the wine front:  Ko is now serving wines by the glass.  They have a good selection covering sparkling, whites and reds.  I had a 2 glasses of a delicious German Riesling that went very well with all of the courses.  Ko now is offering only one wine pairing at dinner; I think the price is $95.  I've had the wine pairings, and while the choices are excellent, it is too much wine for me.  I like the idea that I can choose wines by the glass.  I might actually branch out and try wines other than Riesling and Champagne.

All of the other courses were wonderful too.  A few favorites of mine remain:  the shaved foie gras torchon with the pinenut brittle, lychee and Riesling gelee; the soft boiled egg with Hackleback caviar, mini potato chips and onion; the fluke with the buttermilk and poppyseeds; the cream cheese coated guava sorbet; and the funnel cake with the black sesame ice cream (although I do wish they would change the ice cream--they had awhile back a wonderful apple sorbet).  A few new dishes included a cold broth (sorry that I can't remember -- mirin(?)) with the sweetest peas and uni; soft shell crabs (and I normally don't even like soft shell crabs); tempura fried shrimp; and a nice scallop dish.

Correction: the cold broth was dashi.

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  • 4 weeks later...
went on line a few minutes ago and got tomorrow night at 6:50 for 2.  They also had a slot later and one tomorrow.

What a score.

Looking forward to it.

So what does this tell you.......maybe the hype is OVER!!

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I think it's safe to say that Ko's popularity has declined such that:

1. While Ko used to book up in 10 seconds each day at 10am it now books up in 20 seconds.

2. Where availability due to cancellation used to be rare, it is now a little less rare.

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 think it's safe to say that Ko's popularity has declined such that:

1. While Ko used to book up in 10 seconds each day at 10am it now books up in 20 seconds.

2. Where availability due to cancellation used to be rare, it is now a little less rare.

The later is the case: I tired every day last week and failed and have from time to time just pinged the site to see if there was a lucky cancellation. Only today was there any success.

Regardless: I have hoped to eat here for the food, hype tends not to have much mouth feel

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I think it's safe to say that Ko's popularity has declined such that:

1. While Ko used to book up in 10 seconds each day at 10am it now books up in 20 seconds.

2. Where availability due to cancellation used to be rare, it is now a little less rare.

The later is the case: I tired every day last week and failed and have from time to time just pinged the site to see if there was a lucky cancellation. Only today was there any success.

I agree. I went a couple of weeks ago after trying for a week straight and failing every time. Finally hit a next-day cancellation. Very glad I did. I loved it.

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  • 3 weeks later...
I just had another fabulous dinner at Ko last night.  Finally I had the famous deep fried short ribs--they were marvelous and deserve their fame.  I've never had short ribs that were so soft and flavorful.  Usually the short ribs that I've had tend to be stringy, chewy and overdone.  Not the short ribs at Ko: they were rosy and was nicely marbled with a bit of fat to give it the great taste.  I was sitting where  the chef was slicing all of the short ribs, and they all looked gorgeous.  They were truly melt in your mouth good.  I think someone has posted that the short ribs are first cooked sous vide before the deep frying.  I'm tempted to try to get another reservation soon in hopes of trying them again.

I managed to get out of them that the short ribs are cooked SV for about 48 hours at around 140 F. What was most amazing about them to me, though, wasn't the texture or the perfect level of doneness, but the flavor -- there was almost a cheesiness, in fact, the sort of flavor that usually comes from long dry-aging. But I was told that it was wet-aged, not dry-aged. Go figure. In any case, it was delicious.

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