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Momofuku Ko (Part 2)


Fat Guy
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  • 2 months later...

I went through the postings from the last 12 months and I am surprised that only two had commented on Momofuku Ko’s poor service.

Ko seems a fairly questionable value now at $125, especially given the lack of amenities.

(decor, service & environment at very least - all of which I'd rate as "poor" at Ko).

We had a great experience at the Ssäm Bar the night before, but we had one of the most depressing meals in our life at Ko the next day. Instead of giving us a warm welcome once we arrived, all this guy asked us was to show him our booking! He then just pointed us to the first 2 seats right in front and we never heard a single word from him again. Then came the lady who never learnt how to smile and two of them showed us the coldest service ever!

It was extremely difficult to get a reservation here and I guess that's why they were extremely arrogant! I mean, providing a friendly service doesn't cost them anything. What’s wrong with them?!

We spent a few days in NYC. The service was superb everywhere from coffee shop, to convenience store, to the guy selling hot dog across the street. It's hard to believe we got the most bitter service at the most expensive meal of the trip ($175 per head food only).

Yes, everyone there had to go through a challenge to get a seat, but it doesn't mean that we are here BEGGING you for food!

Other than the service, the plating was very rough as my quenelle was half falling apart, drops of sauce at the side, etc. etc. etc. Food alone, we loved the quail dish and the shaved foie gras, but the rest 13 courses were really average!

Also, I know that David wants to keep his restaurant simple, but shouldn't customers deserve what they pay for? Not only was it uncomfortable to sit on a bar stool for 4 hours, most courses were eaten using the same pair of cheap Chinese take-away chopsticks. I don't understand why people go through the trouble of getting a reservation and pay through the roof for such a dining experience... Well, I guess I am one of those victims!

So, is it because Asian flavours are new here? No, it's New York City with one of the most diverse food cultures. Is it because not many places in town offer multi-course tasting menu? No, it's New York City with countless haute cuisine, where you can sit comfortably with friendly service, and even cheaper price! So why is this place so special? I think it is all because of the difficulty of getting a reservation!

If you don't know what "cooking without heart and soul" means, Momofuku Ko will give you a full understanding -- go in, prove to them you got a reservation, watch the robotic chefs assemble your food, eat and pay $500 for two, then get out!

Many chefs in Japan run a tiny 8 counter-seat restaurant because they treat the small kitchen as their home and each customer as their dear guests. But this spirit, once might have been existed at Ko, must be long gone! It is now probably just a money-making machine for David!

I had many disappointing meals in my life but still glad that I tried them, but this is the first time I actually regret going to a restaurant. Come on, someone out here must share the same thought as me right??

By the way, I don't know if David had a real Onigiri before. It always has a wrapping to keep the seaweed separate from the rice so that the seaweed remains dry and crunchy!!!

IMG_5504.JPG

I don't understand why he wants to give such an ugly wrapped soaky onigiri as a gift for us to take home! I had a quick taste then put it right into the bin! What an insult to Japanese food! Don't get me wrong, David's Ssäm Bar and Noodle Bar are genius creations, but charging the price of Jean George in a hole-in-the-wall cheap production Momofuku Ko, something isn't right here!

Lucky for those who couldn't get a reservation here!

www.finediningexplorer.com/NYC

Fine Dining Explorer

www.finediningexplorer.com

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If you've noticed, you're in a very distinct minority of patrons at Momofuku Ko. I've dined at Ko(both lunch and dinner) more thant a dozen times during the past 2 years, and I've always found the service very professional and friendly. I'm having dinner again at Ko this week, and I am certain the service will continue at its usual high level.

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If you've noticed, you're in a very distinct minority of patrons at Momofuku Ko. I've dined at Ko(both lunch and dinner) more thant a dozen times during the past 2 years, and I've always found the service very professional and friendly. I'm having dinner again at Ko this week, and I am certain the service will continue at its usual high level.

Yes, I have noticed, and that's why I had a high expectation, and that’s why I was very disappointed. Maybe something occurred at the restaurant that they were upset or something... or maybe because we arrived 15min earlier than our reservation time… don't know... I am just trying my best to explain it. But sitting next to us that day was a couple (who flew from California mainly for the meal) and they felt strongly the same way… so it’s not just us.

Wow Ellenost, you have been that many times in the last 2 years, so I guess no other restaurant in NYC you enjoyed more than at Ko, even at $175 lunch or $125 dinner (food only)? At that price, seems there are other superb choices in NYC for a meal. Is the “counter-seat small restaurant” setting rather unique in NYC? And you enjoyed the onigiri that they gave you at the end? Or they don't give it out everytime?

Fine Dining Explorer

www.finediningexplorer.com

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Actually, I dine quite frequently at Eleven Madison Park too (most recently this past Friday night). When I lived dowtown I used to dine more often at Bouley. While I enjoy trying new restaurants, the one thing that can ruin a great meal for me is poor service (something that I've experienced at Daniel--shocking I know), so through the years I've concentrated my dining on a few great restaurants instead of trying the latest hot spot. The reason I dine so frequently at Ko is that every time I've dined there I've had wonderfully creative food with attentive and friendly service. Your early arrival at Ko should not have mattered to the staff since I always tend to arrive early for my reservations, and I've always found the staff incredibly welcoming (I found this to be the case even from my first dinner at Ko--that's why I dine at Ko so frequently). Counter seating dining in NYC is a growing, yet still small movement in dining. I enjoy it since I find it fascinating to watch a great dish being prepared--I'd love Per Se to offer this type of dining too.

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Just because FDE is in the minority of people who have had bad experiences at Ko or any of Chang's restaurants doesn't mean his criticism isn't valid or accurate. In fact, I would say that it is even more telling, considering his/her extensive knowledge of the world's fine dining culture.

I do agree that poor service can ruin a dining experience. My two meals at Eleven Madison Park were disasters, not only because I didn't like the food, but also the service was horrendous and not up to the standard of what I expect in a four star restaurant.

I hope and pray that THomas Keller never decides to diminish the Per Se experience by offering "counter dining" at his temple of gastronomy.

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I have also traveled extensively worldwide, and pride myself with having a sophisticated palate having dined in many Michelin 3-star restaurants (and some amazing lesser known restaurants). The sad thing that I am finding is that (especially at Ko and Eleven Madison Park) is that many diners behave outrageously rude to the staff with demands that are beyond childish. Just because one is paying top $ for a meal, does not entitle them to treat anyone in a restaurant so shabbily. I had an exquisite dinner at Eleven Madison Park this past Friday, and towards the end of my dinner, a husband and wife were seated next to my table. The wife behaved so outrageously rude to the EMP staff I was offended. The EMP staff didn't blink an eye and accomodated this woman's every demand. I truly felt sorry for the staff and left an extra big tip to show appreciation for all of their hard work. Since I dine frequently at Ko, I have also seen behavior to the staff that brings rude to a new low. And then these same spoiled brats post on this site and others that the service wasn't good. My answer to these spoiled brats is "grow up and behave yourselves!". I've always found that if I treat someone with respect (whether it is in a restaurant or in the supermarket), I get treated wonderfully.

Edited by ellenost (log)
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The sad thing that I am finding is that (especially at Ko and Eleven Madison Park) is that many diners behave outrageously rude to the staff with demands that are beyond childish. Just because one is paying top $ for a meal, does not entitle them to treat anyone in a restaurant so shabbily..... Since I dine frequently at Ko, I have also seen behavior to the staff that brings rude to a new low. And then these same spoiled brats post on this site and others that the service wasn't good. My answer to these spoiled brats is "grow up and behave yourselves!". I've always found that if I treat someone with respect (whether it is in a restaurant or in the supermarket), I get treated wonderfully.

I am sure your statements above wasn't particularly directed towards me, but still, I just want to clarify I did not make any "demands that are beyond childish".

At the end of every meal, I would compare it with other dining experience I had of similar price. For a $$$ meal like KO, I just hope for a more friendly service and chefs that would plate my dishes with precision and extra care than a $ meal. (Especially KO doesn't have that great a location and fancy dining room, so I expect even more from other aspects of the meal. Otherwise, where did the extra money that I paid go?) But all those aspects were far below average and that's why I questioned.

And just so you know, I did pay about 12% tips which is lower than a 15% standard I guess in NYC. You might ask why I still paid tips if I was that upset. It's mainly because I still respect what they did. I mean, the long hours that the full kitchen spent to prepare our meal, I fully appreciate that.

In summary, I didn't ask them to polish my shoes nor pay them 0% tips.

Fine Dining Explorer

www.finediningexplorer.com

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FDE: My comments are definitely not directed at you. They are recent general observations of rude behavior that give New Yorkers a bad reputation for being pushy and arrogant. Many years ago I moved from NYC to the suburbs of Detroit, and there was an immediate apprehension from my new co-workers that I would live down to the stereotype (I made sure that I was as polite as my new Michigan friends). When I returned to New York, after having lived in Michigan for 4 years, I did (finally) recognize the infamous New York stereotype. Even though it's been more than 20 years since I've returned to New York, I still (thankfully only occasionally) see the ugly New Yorker emerge from people, and it's usually in expensive restaurants, and I am deeply embarrassed for the rest of us.

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As for wrapping in nori, we usually have two options: wrapping just before eating (usually by the person who eats the onigiri) and wrapping at the time of making the onigiri (by the person who makes it). The latter was the norm when I was small (in late 1960 and early 1970), while the former has become popular since the advent of conbini (convenience stores) in Japan.

According to a recent (2008) survey by Nikkei Plus1, 3773 respondents said they favored crispy onigiri nori, while 1722 respondents said they favored moist.

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Thanks Hiroyuki, you always able to provide valuable insights to Japanese dining. Cool! But in any case, I think it makes sense to use onigiri wrapping nowadays so the person eating it has a choice to wrap it just before eating OR wrap it and wait for say 2min until the nori becomes moist before eating it.

Ellenost, yes, I understand your general observations and I see how embarrassed it could be.

Just to recap my unfortunate experience at KO, maybe it is more an attitude issue rather than a service issue. They first asked us to prove our booking, then pointed us to our seats. The meal was alright but after dessert and just when we started having tea and chatting with the couple next to us, the server interrupted and said to us “here’s your bill”, gave us those soaky onigiri, we paid $500, then walked out.

Let me tell you what’s more. Instead of exploring the big city on a sunny afternoon after the meal, I wrote my 1st complaint letter in my life (yes, I was that upset, felt like I got rip-off $500!) outlining our experience at KO and emailed to them. Since there’s no reply for weeks so I followed up. They said it was already sent it to management and if I didn’t get a reply, it means no reply!!!

Fine Dining Explorer

www.finediningexplorer.com

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Ellenost, yes, I understand your general observations and I see how embarrassed it could be.

Just to recap my unfortunate experience at KO, maybe it is more an attitude issue rather than a service issue. They first asked us to prove our booking, then pointed us to our seats. The meal was alright but after dessert and just when we started having tea and chatting with the couple next to us, the server interrupted and said to us “here’s your bill”, gave us those soaky onigiri, we paid $500, then walked out.

Let me tell you what’s more. Instead of exploring the big city on a sunny afternoon after the meal, I wrote my 1st complaint letter in my life (yes, I was that upset, felt like I got rip-off $500!) outlining our experience at KO and emailed to them. Since there’s no reply for weeks so I followed up. They said it was already sent it to management and if I didn’t get a reply, it means no reply!!!

FDE: Everyone gets asked to show a copy of their reservation. Since there are only 12 seats, the staff at Ko wants to make sure that the person dining is the same person who made the reservation. As you correctly point out, obtaining a reservation is somewhat difficult. Ko wants to make sure that people aren't selling their reservations for a premium, or that someone hasn't created a cottage industry of obtaining reservations for others as a side business (I could retire from my job as an attorney and make more money getting people reservations at Ko since I seem to be pretty lucky at their online reservation system). Since you were seated on the end (which are great seats), there really wasn't too far for you to walk to your seats for you to be escorted--maybe 5 feet. If you were seated further back, you would have been escorted. Finally, Ko (same for Per Se) doesn't want its guests to have to flag down a staff member to ask for the check. They hand it to you, but they are not rushing you out of the restaurant (certainly not for the lunch since there is only one seating). I have sometimes sat with the check already paid chatting with another patron for a half hour and not felt rushed out the door. 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.

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I would consider it rude and a terrible service error to be given the bill in a fine dining restaurant before I asked for it. Doing so, could rightly be interpreted as an attempt by a restaurant to get rid of a guest. Similarly, I don't think it is too much to ask for someone to walk me to a table or a seat at the bar regardless of the distance. This is after all one of the more expensive restaurants in the city (what you get for the money is another story) not the local diner.

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If you've noticed, you're in a very distinct minority of patrons at Momofuku Ko. I've dined at Ko(both lunch and dinner) more thant a dozen times during the past 2 years, and I've always found the service very professional and friendly. I'm having dinner again at Ko this week, and I am certain the service will continue at its usual high level.

I do think you need to at least consider the possibility that, in light of your extended patronage of David Chang's various restaurants, you are recognized by staff, and are probably getting better service than the average patron would experience.

Practically all restaurants (from the local diner to Per Se) have extra level(s) of service for their regular and best customers, and it would be naive to assume that David Chang and his team are immune to this. Indeed, my sense is that Chang and his minions are particularly adept at recognizing those whom they wish to pamper. At this point, you are getting the very best they have to offer, perhaps delivered so smoothly that you are unaware it is not offered to everyone.

This is not, of course, to suggest that everyone else gets routinely bad service, but it undoubtedly happens sometimes. I have found the service at Chang's restaurants highly uneven—neither consistently good nor consistently bad. I have visited them enough times that I think I can draw some conclusions about this, but not so often that I am recognized.

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I would consider it rude and a terrible service error to be given the bill in a fine dining restaurant before I asked for it. Doing so, could rightly be interpreted as an attempt by a restaurant to get rid of a guest. Similarly, I don't think it is too much to ask for someone to walk me to a table or a seat at the bar regardless of the distance. This is after all one of the more expensive restaurants in the city (what you get for the money is another story) not the local diner.

Seth: I take it you've never dined at Per Se since the waitstaff at Per Se always places the bill on your table before you've asked for it. I found it a bit odd the first time I dined at Per Se, but I don't anymore. That's why it doesn't bother me at Ko. There was a recent thread on Chowhound about a diner at a top restaurant being unable to get his waiter's attention (or anyone else for that matter) to get his check. We all had great fun giving him suggestions (including calling the restaurant from his cell phone). Given the choice, I'd rather have the check available for me to pay when I choose than waste time trying to get the bill if I were in a hurry. Chacun a son gout!

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I have eaten at per se numerous times, including a superb meal last night in the salon, and i have NEVER been given my bill before I asked for it. I can say the same practice exists at Jean Georges, Le Bernardin, The Modern, and at Ducasse's restaurants in the city as well.

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I have eaten at per se numerous times, including a superb meal last night in the salon, and i have NEVER been given my bill before I asked for it. I can say the same practice exists at Jean Georges, Le Bernardin, The Modern, and at Ducasse's restaurants in the city as well.

There was a piece (where I can't remember, or maybe it was from the waitstaff at Per Se directly) that Chef Keller did not want his guests disturbed by needing to flag down their waitstaff looking for their bills. The waitstaff very politely (sames as at Ko) places the bill on the table with a comment that this is not meant to rush the dinner. Perhaps Chef Keller has changed the practice at Per Se in the past year (I dined at Per Se last August and was presented with the bill--same practice for my previous four visits). You mention all restaurants that I have frequented; I know their practice of not placing the bill on the table unless requested--same as at Eleven Madison Park. A funny (well, at least to me) story was when I dined at Ducasse's restaurant in Monte Carlo with my mother ten years ago. We couldn't find our waiter for at least 15 minutes and were in jeopardy of missing our ride back to our hotel (well, it really wasn't funny then; it is now). If I know the restaurant's practice of placing/not placing the bill on the table without asking for it, it doesn't bother me. Ko has the practice (as did/does Per Se) of placing the bill on the counter/table.

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The vast majority of higher-end restaurants take the view that it is rude to present the bill before the customer asks for it. Frank Bruni, hardly a stickler for old-fashioned values, gave a demerit to Bouley (in his demotion review) because a check had been delivered before he asked for it.

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.

Again, I would suspect that the "place[ing] the bill on the table with a comment that this is not meant to rush the dinner" is a courtesy granted their best customers, and for most other people the bill is just deposited simply when the staff is ready to have them go.

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FDE, I'm so sorry that you did not have a good experience at Ko. I haven't been there in about a year but yes, everyone is indeed asked to show their confirmation (it's even mentioned at least once when making the reservation). One time I was not escorted to my seat but there was more than just being pointed. The wine server one time was "cold but cordial" and the other time was a little more friendly. I think overall the chefs were friendlier at lunch than at dinner (more overturn at dinner, I'd expect), they were able to chat a teeny bit with me.

The "placing of the bill" never bothered me so long as it wasn't PLOPPED on the table (which happened once at Le Bernardin). Certainly at PerSe, it's placed when you know you are at the end; same idea at Ko as well.

And you got a gift of onigiri as you were leaving Ko? Didn't happen when I was there.

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If you've noticed, you're in a very distinct minority of patrons at Momofuku Ko. I've dined at Ko(both lunch and dinner) more thant a dozen times during the past 2 years, and I've always found the service very professional and friendly. I'm having dinner again at Ko this week, and I am certain the service will continue at its usual high level.

I do think you need to at least consider the possibility that, in light of your extended patronage of David Chang's various restaurants, you are recognized by staff, and are probably getting better service than the average patron would experience.

Practically all restaurants (from the local diner to Per Se) have extra level(s) of service for their regular and best customers, and it would be naive to assume that David Chang and his team are immune to this. Indeed, my sense is that Chang and his minions are particularly adept at recognizing those whom they wish to pamper. At this point, you are getting the very best they have to offer, perhaps delivered so smoothly that you are unaware it is not offered to everyone.

This is not, of course, to suggest that everyone else gets routinely bad service, but it undoubtedly happens sometimes. I have found the service at Chang's restaurants highly unevenneither consistently good nor consistently bad. I have visited them enough times that I think I can draw some conclusions about this, but not so often that I am recognized.

One of the key reasons for my continuing patronage at Ko and Ma Peche (haven't gone too often to Ssam Bar or Noodle Bar) is that from my very first visit to Ko (which was my first Momofuku restaurant), I was treated very well. The staff didn't know me, I am not famous (don't look famous or rich either), yet they, from my first dinner, treated me with great warmth and professionalism--that's really all I can hope for in a restaurant. The front staff at Ko has changed quite a bit over the past two years, and many times they have never seen me before, yet they are always professional and friendly. Since on a number of occasions, I dine solo, I am able to observe how the guests seated near me are treated. I am pleased to report that I have never observed any guest at Ko being treated any worse than me.

Edited by ellenost (log)
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Ellenost, I have no doubt that you have had wonderful meals at Ko and that your first experience there led you to return often to the restaurants of Chang's empire. First impressions are indeed lasting ones. However, such an experience should be the expected norm at any fine dining restaurant. Unfortunately, from what I have read on this and other respected food blogs, the service at Ko is not uniformly wonderful and one of many reasons why I have absolutely no desire to eat there.

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And you got a gift of onigiri as you were leaving Ko? Didn't happen when I was there.

The onigiri is given at the end of the lunch only (along with the jar of pickled vegetables). Ko started the gift of the onigiri at lunch earlier this year. Uhockey had reported about this in his blog, and I said "hey, I never got this". Sure enough when I returned to Ko for lunch in the spring, I received the onigiri too.

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The whole bill thing strikes me as a bit odd to bring up in regard to Ko. The restaurant, as part of its mission statement, reservation process, etc. is there to remove a lot of the artifice and ceremony from a meal of its caliber, and make it all about the food (not unlike its pseudo-model, l'atelier joel robuchon). In a restaurant like Per Se, or Daniel, or Jean Georges, it may well be terribly inappropriate to drop the check. 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? The reason I (and I suspect many others) love the place, and the Momos in general, is exactly because they DON'T have any of that... Different strokes, I suppose.

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 must reiterate that onigiri (rice balls) wrapped in nori in advance are not uncommon at least in Japan. 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.

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