Momofuku ko — New York City (6/2012)

Momofuku ko is one of several restaurants in New York City by David Chang.  It’s the smallest and most exclusive in the sense that there are only 12 chairs around the length of the counter surrounding the kitchen.  The restaurant has two Michelin stars.  It is also different in that the lunch menu is longer (and more expensive) than the dinner menu.  There is only a single tasting menu served. They do one seating for lunch on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and two seatings for dinner every night.  Reservations are only made online – 14 days in advance for lunch, 10 days in advance for dinner.  I did not try to get in 14 days in advance as I was away on a trip.  However, when I did remember to check, there was one seat available on a day that I was going to be in New York.  I think it was because someone else had made a reservation for one and that left the odd seat open.

The restaurant does not allow photos to be taken.  It’s up to your imagination for the most part to visualize the dishes, of which there were many (3-hours’ worth).

The restaurant is not well-marked.  The only indication of its location is the peach symbol on the door.  It is just down the street from the momofuku noodle bar.

The counter is right up against the kitchen.  This was perhaps the most intimate of the chef’s counters than I have been to.  I could feel the heat of the stoves and ovens.  I could smell the blend of aromas as the food was cut, chopped, cooked, and prepared for presentation.

The seating times were staggered, so six of us were there at the opening and were about 2 courses ahead of the remaining six diners who came for lunch.  I went with a seasonal rhubarb and lime soda to start things off.

A series of small bites began the experience.  First, there was a small raw oyster on the half-shell, seasoned with brown rice vinegar.  As much as oysters are not on my favorites list, it wasn’t bad – it did not taste fishy or like seawater, and it was not slimy.

Next up was a pistachio and lavender financier.  It was a little odd having a somewhat sweet bakery dish as part of the starter group, but it tasted fine to me as I like financiers.

We then shifted back just a little towards savory, with a peach section served with marinated fennel and a non-sweet sauce.

Next was a little palm soufflé served with hackleback caviar.  This was soon followed by a small char-grilled pepper served with a pepper vinaigrette.

I was then served a small cup of spring garlic soup topped with fried garlic roots (fine crispy threads).  This was followed by a poppy seed biscuit served with whipped pork butter (and had a little peppery kick at the end).

Continuing on, I had a small piece of fluke glazed with soy and coriander, garnished with thinly-sliced radishes. Then, I enjoyed a piece of seared Spanish mackerel served with watermelon and black sesame seeds.

Finally, the small bites ended with a scallop wrapped in a thinly-sliced (length-wise) piece of cucumber, garnished with basil and celery.  That made 10 in total.

The next dish was a dry-aged sirloin carpaccio, served with radishes, pickled field strawberries, crispy rice, arugula, black olive powder and a little grated cheese on top.

Next, I was served a small bowl with sliced char-grilled octopus.  This was accompanied by a potato salad with turnips, parsley, citrus gel cubes and a pistachio miso.  This was a tasty and nicely-presented dish.

I then had a honeydew melon soup (not warm), served with morel mushrooms, cucumber and sea urchin.The next course was a puffed egg mixture (cooked in water) and served in a bacon dashi (broth).

The next dish was a pork belly lettuce wrap served with pineapple kimchee.  Along with this, served in a separate small dish, were long green beans, seasoned with grated eggs and a slightly spicy brown sauce.  Finally, also in its own little plate, there was a rice roll that was brushed with pork fat and grilled.

The dish that followed was a pasta – cavatelli, served with pieces of duck mortadella, fava beans, fava leaves, ginger, porcini mushrooms, some chili spices and two kinds of clams.

We proceeded on with a roasted lobster tail, sliced, and served with porcini mushrooms, bamboo slices, and granny smith apples.

We then moved on to meatier dishes, starting with a slice of rabbit terrine with black truffles.  This was served with pumpernickel, sour cherries and a cherry mustard.

Next was a small bowl of lychee fruit pieces, covered with grated frozen fois gras, and mixed with some pine nuts and wine jelly.

The final savory dish had a few slices of spring chicken breast that had been stuffed with sausage made from chicken legs and thighs.  These were cooked fresh while we were having the other dishes as we watched the quartered chicken pieces first sautéed and seasoned in a skillet and then baked in the oven for a bit.  They were allowed to sit and cool for a bit before they were sliced and placed on a plate, accompanied by grilled asparagus and rosemary-scented hummus.

The first of the final sweet courses was a goat cheese ice cream, served with mint crisps, and garnished with a little salt and nasturtium petals.  Underneath, there were tea geleé strips.

Next was an English pea ice cream.  This was served with pound cake, white chocolate cream, and sugar peas and pea greens.

And the final dish of the afternoon was a miso ice cream scoop, served in a toasted rice cone stuffed with sticky rice.  The ice cream was garnished with some crispy black rice.

As with some other places, there was no pre-amble or story offered before the meal began.  Also, as the dishes were served, we were told the ingredients, but that was about it.  I did pick up on how some of the flavors/ ingredients tied together some of the dishes.  So, I didn’t totally feel like they had just come up with a bunch of dishes using local ingredients and created clever ways to throw a succession of dishes in front of us over three hours.  I enjoyed the food, the intimacy of being that close to the kitchen and the preparation areas, and the service experience.  I didn’t like it that I could not take pictures, as it made it difficult to recall the experience I had with each dish.  I was also a little surprised that the  three final courses were all centered on ice cream.  Given the season, I expected a little more variety in the sweet offerings, although the pea ice cream was very nicely done and totally appropriate for the season.  And at the end, before departure, they gave us a parting gift of some roasted vegetable kimchee wrapped in nori. It was interesting that there was no bread offering on the side.

I certainly would go back, but I am not sure I’d want to go through all the pre-planning it would take every time to get a reservation, since It seems that the reservations are taken very quickly when they are made available online 7 or 14 days in advance.

Since I wrote up the visit, I have gone back several times:  once for dinner and about 4 times for lunch.  I always enjoy my experiences there.

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