May 10, 2008
Momofuku Ko: Yup, I Went There
(If you don't know anything about Momofuku Ko, you might want to catch up with these posts on Grub Street. Or in one sentence, it's David Chang's newest, omakase-style restaurant that is known for being nearly impossible to get a reservation at—aside from having awesome food—although I do know at least 8 people who've already eaten there. I've been hearing and reading about it so much in the past few months that I can't gauge how much the non-NYC-food crazed crowd knows about it.)
First, to get the most oft-ask questions out of the way.
Q: How did you get reservations?
A: I didn't—a friend did. And thus is the laziest way to get into Ko.
Q: How was it?
A: Much more filling than I thought it would be, but then I hadn't realized going into it that it consisted of 15 courses. More or less.
Okay, you probably need more back story that that.
Last Thursday I received an email from Susan, a reader of my blog whom I had never met, asking if I would be interested in eating with her at Ko the following Wednesday because all her foodie friends were busy. The next person to ask after them was, naturally, the gluttonous food blogger. Sucks for them; I felt like a winner! I meet up with a lot of people through my blog and they've all so far turned out to be perfectly normal (aside from that they read my blog), food-loving people. And even if Susan were crazy, I'd still eat with her anyway.
So how did she get the reservation? Like everyone else: preserverance and dumb luck. Or something. I don't believe in fate, but her increasing frustration with her inability to get a reservation resulted in some kind of magical alignment of the Momofuku stars. After muttering/chanting a string of expletives in the name of David Chang (a scene that she reenacted quite realistically during out dinner), she was rewarded with a coveted green check next to the time of 9:10 for May 7.
Ko, which I hadn't realized was in the same space as the old noodle bar, was much more spacious than I thought it would be. I mean, compared to the cramped quarters of the noodle bar. There are only 10 seats (according to that photo at least; I've mostly read that there are 12 seats) that are generously spaced around the kitchen. Because you're sitting just inches away from where your food is being prepared, the food is served to you by the chefs, although there are also waitresses to serve your drinks and take away/set up your plates and silverware.
Even though there was pop/rock music playing, the restaurant felt very...zen. Besides that each customer was given ample space, it felt even roomier because not every seat was occupied during our whole meal. The kitchen was quiet, with the chefs not speaking any more than necessary (nor smiling more than necessary, not that you have to smile to cook). I was probably too loud, come to think of it—I had a lot of talk about considering that I was eating with someone I knew nothing about.
But enough of this boring crap; you want to see FOOD.
I should warn you first though: I hadn't planned on writing much about this dinner or even taking photos, meaning that my brain wasn't in "memorize everything you eat" mode and my descriptions will be worse than usual. Which is pretty poor. Gasp. So I'm going to steal descriptions from Tina and The Momofuku Superlative Matrix, along with the rest of the google-able internet.
As for the "almost no photo-taking" thing, some of my friends have already taken the shit for clicking their cameras away during their meals and I figured with their contributions, I probably wouldn't even have to take photos. But I caved in and, yes, took photos of everything. Did this bother the other customers and chefs? Maybe. Probably. Aside from Susan, I can't really speak for them.
If you were eating at Momofuku Ko this past Wednesday night and my photography annoyed the crap out of you, I'm sorry. On the upside, I doubt you'll ever have to deal with me again. And to give my photography more justification, I'm going to pretend that many of these photos are work-related for when Serious Eats needs a hit of David Chang-made cuisine. (Actually, I took a bunch of photos of the bathroom for an upcoming Serious Eats post. Ha ha.)
How does the meal work? After telling the waitress whether or not you have any food allergies (none for me or Susan, woo!), you're served whatever the chefs feel like blessing you with. Just sit there and devour. Sometimes you and your dining partner will get the same dish, while other times you'll get complementary dishes. To me, the obvious thing to do is share, but Susan and I saw people who weren't splitting the dishes 50/50. That's just doesn't work in my world, man. If you eat with me, we're sharing; case closed.
We started with mini English muffins with pork fat and chives, and (in the back out of the frame) chicharrons. Each was a one or two bite-affair, although the super-light chicharron was one bite because I ungracefully forced the entire shared of deep-fried puffy pork skin into my not-wide-enough mouth. I wouldn't say that either of these things was particularly memorable—the chicharron had an unfortunately styrofoam-like quality to it—but they delivered pork flavor. I can't say no to pork. Just can't. Dammit.
Raw fluke in buttermilk, yuzu, and Sriracha poppy seeds: Mm, raw fish. So clean. So smooth. Tastes like...whatever you season it with, in this case a light, creamy sauce with a hint of hotness and little crunchy bits.
Raw kampachi with muscat grapes: More raw fish! I liked this more than the fluke, probably just because I like grapes. Sweet grapes and fish—it works.
Pea soup with morels and crawfish: One of my favorite dishes of the night. I love peas. I love peas a lot. Not having eaten everything nature has to offer, I'm already quite sure that peas are one of the most delicious things you can eat raw, ripped fresh out of the pod, disconnected from its womb. Besides that, being blended into a creamy soup is pretty damn happiness-inducing. Each spoonful is a mouthful of spring. I can't recall the mushroom part very well, but unless we experienced massive taste bud fail, Susan and I thought that there bean curd sheets at the bottom.
Berkshire pork belly, oyster, and cabbage in kimchi consommé: Do you see that tender pork chunk with the coveted 50/50 meat-to-fat ratio? YES, BRING IT ON. I would happily eat ten of those, and then probably fall ill from rich, fatty pork overload, but it'd be worth it. I liked the soup, even though I was hoping it'd be spicier rather than salty, but...but pork! It doesn't get better than pork.
Chawanmushi with caviar, asparagus, cashews and argan oil: Another fave of the night. I think I would've liked it more if it had been hot (it was more like room temperature) since that's what I'm used to chawanmushi tasting like, but I'll assume there's a reason it wasn't. The caviar provided neat little pops of salt in every bite and the cashews gave a slight crunch to the silky-smooth egg custard.
Soft cooked egg with onion soubise and chips: I didn't realize until after I got home that we were probably supposed to mixed this all together like a bibimbap. Fail. Instead we tried to get a bit of each component—egg goo, caviar, onion goo, and baby potato chip matter—into one spoonful. Which was rather hard. As you can see, there was a lot going on in this dish. I can't say it didn't taste good, just that...there were a lot of things in there and I probably didn't eat it correctly. Yeah. I am really unhelpful right now.
Lasagna (or open ravioli?) with snails, morels, ricotta, and spring vegetables (ramps, asparagus, and broccoli rabe flowers): My favorite part was the foamy ricotta sauce. I have no idea why. I also enjoyed the snails. Methinks a dish of just snails and ricotta may not do so well, though.
Grilled trout with pickled radish, bacon purée, and almonds: I liked this except for the bacon mash that sat at the bottom of the bowl. ...Yeah, I like pork, but not bacon so much. You're perfectly allowed to think that I'm nuts. That's just my flavor preference, for the fish and its crispified layer of skin to stand alone. Although by "alone" I mean covered in crunchy almond bits. I loved any dish with nuts in it.
Shaved frozen foie gras with lychee, Riesling gelée, and pine nut brittle: "You're going to want to lick your bowl clean," is a description I heard more than once about this dish. It's one of the most interesting, surely, with its mix of textures and flavors, and surprisingly addictive. However, I didn't want to lick my bowl clean; I couldn't take the frozen foie gras straight—it was just too strong. When did I become so weaksauce? I love foie gras! But I swear Ko's version was a deathly super-condensed version. The buttery shavings went perfectly with the juicy lychee bits and sweet, crunchy pine nut brittle (and I'll refrain from saying anything about the gelé as you probably already know I don't like anything that tastes like alcohol).
It was around this point that Susan and I felt our stomachs lurch and moan, "Stop eating." Not that we listened. Instead, I braced myself against the table and tried to position myself in a way so that my stomach could expand even further. Fortunately, I was wearing a non-restricting dress, allowing my waistline to grow as much as it wanted to.
Deep-fried short ribs with braised daikon, mustard seeds, and weeny carrots: Tender short ribs. Perfectly marbled slabs of beef surrounded by a layer of fat. Each bite brings you closer to death. Sweet. Jesus. It didn't need the miso sauce, which I found too heavy and overly masked the flavor of the beef. I just wanted the beef. Beeeeef.
Chicken roulade filled with I don't know what: Oh god, we were so full. I don't think we finished this. Because, as I said...we were so full. And we hadn't even gotten to dessert yet.
Cantaloupe sorbet and cashew butter, and kiwi sorbet with apricot goo: These sorbets were awesome. Very smooth, very fruity, not too sweet. Crunchy cashew butter was full of win, and the kiwi and apricot were like eating fresh fruits but better because they were mashed up, frozen, and plated in an appealing manner.
Deep-fried apple pie with sour cream ice cream and toasted miso sauce: I can't say anything wrong about an apple pie that has been deep-fried and dusted with cinnamon sugar—nor could I say that it blew me away. Surely it's much better than the apple pie pocket you could get at McDonald's, but my untrained palate would probably be just as satisfied with that. I thought the miso sauce was too strong for the pie, but I've heard people say that they liked it. Perhaps I don't like straight-up miso.
Cereal milk panna cotta with avocado cream, corn flakes, and hazelnut chocolate: I feel like the only person who wasn't into this, perhaps because it was too far removed from my beloved panna cotta. Or maybe it's because I don't eat cereal and thus wouldn't appreciate the taste of milk that has the light touch of cereal, something that the sizable cereal and milk-eating population would be familiar with. Or maybe I was just too full. The chocolate sheet appeared to be semi-melty; I thought it'd be better either totally melty or totally hard. BUT WHAT DO I KNOW; I AM NOT A CHEF.
And then we waddled out of there. I walked back to Penn Station (about two miles, an easy, leisurely walk) to ease the digestive pain.
Susan and I were both very pleased with our meals, although our expectations were probably too high considering all the hype we've listened to for the past few months. I also think that at $85, possibly the most expensive meal I've ever eaten, this dinner was a bargain. It's worth it; if you can go, you definitely should. Just make sure you can set aside two and a half hours for it. I ended up getting home around 2 a.m. (keeping in mind that I had to take the last train back to NJ).
A million thanks to Susan for inviting me to dinner! She's a bro for life. During dinner we found out that we may have possibly crossed paths before in Taiwan; we went to the same school (granted, in completely different grades, but whatever)! If any of you guys went to Taipei American School between 1996-1998, reveal yourself. So many people have been to that school, it doesn't really surprise me when I run into people who were also students there.
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