Momofuku Ko, NYC 2

August 10, 2009

On August 3, 2009, I went to Momofuku Ko for dinner. Linda was out of town and I was lucky enough to find a late cancellation for 9:30. I was particularly interested to see how the experience would be the same as or different from our lunch at Momofuku Ko in March.

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All photos by Tina Wong

The menu was $100, but the choice of price levels for the beverage pairings ($50, 80, 150) was no longer there; only $95 was offered, which I chose. Many of my descriptions are incomplete and possibly inaccurate, particularly for the beverages. I took notes, but it was not easy. I’ll come back to that point. The kind of commentary about the quality and relationships of the ingredients which you are used to on this blog are missing for lack of data and recollection. (As always in this blog, if a word or phrase is in blue, you can click on it for a detailed explanation, usually from Wikipedia.) As before, I was not allowed to take photos, but I have borrowed some from The Wandering Eater, (with Tina’s ok) which she took before the no photos policy was imposed.

Christian Etienne Champagne
A piece of tomato tempura; squid; a chicharrón, or deep fried-pork rind, with Togarashi pepper; a buttery, warm cube of cake soaked in Mirin, a rice wine, with a red topping.
Very good.

A white wine from the Alto Adige.
Diced raw diver sea scallops dressed with pineapple vinegar; fresh water chestnuts.
Good.

Junmai sake
Chilled dashi soup, Santa Barbara sea urchin, cucumber, sugar snap peas with pea shoots.
Good.

Côtes du Jura Savignin.
Hackleback caviar in a cut in a whole egg poached sous-vide; onion soubise; mini potato chips.
Good.
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Sake (This one had a very impressive bottle, but I was only allowed a glance at it; it had a sort of caraway flavor, almost like an aquavit.)
Louisiana crawfish, saffron, fennel, dill.
Okay.

 

 Aichinger Austrian sauvignon blanc .
Grilled smoked trout; Swiss chard; potato risotto; diced radishes.
Good.

A Rheinhessen Beerenauslese 
Foie gras shavings; pine nut brittle; Riesling jelly; litchees.
Excellent.
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Thief-in-Law, a Napa Valley Merlot-Cabernet blend.
A beef short rib, cooked sous-vide for 48 hours at 140F and then deep-fried; an assortment of onions, including a grilled scallion.
Excellent.

2005 Prieuré d-Arches Sauternes
Animal Cracker ice cream, peach soda, diced peaches.
Poor.

An Austrian Sylvaner auslese
Olive Oil ice cream, blueberry crumble, black pepper ganache.
Okay.

The meal and the total experience were not even close in quality to our lunch at Momofuku Ko last March.

The attitude of the staff was entirely different. Peter Serpico, David Chang’s partner in Momofuku Ko, headed the three-chef team. He seemed bored and appeared to be going through the motions mechanically. After all he is cooking the same meal ten times a week. He was described in a New York Times blog as sly and surly. The other team captain, Sam Gelman, who does the three lunches and two of the evenings, has a very different personality. The two younger chefs on this team were more personable, but were clearly taking their cue from their boss. When presented, our dishes were described very flatly in voices which were hard to hear over the music and conversation. Many of the terms are esoteric, known to foodie specialists in particular regions, but were not explained. I have enhanced my notes with gleanings from other blogs, Chowhound, Google etc. There was no conversation anywhere across the counter, but we could watch the prepwork being done, which was one of the highlights of both meals. The knives and the way they were used was particularly impressive.

The two young ladies who served the wine, took away the plates etc, were even more different from the last time. They would pour, mumble part of the names, quickly show the bottle and be on their way. It wasn’t that they were so busy; they spent half the time chatting to each other in their corner.

momofuku2There was no interaction among the diners; they just talked to the person with whom they came; I don’t think that the food was a priority for some of them. The single man next to me was very reserved, but relaxed a bit after some wine. As he was having the pairings too, we chatted a bit about how well they went, which was varied. The wines themselves were mostly underwhelming, although the Beerenauslese was superb. The music was more disruptive this time as it all had lyrics, some of them rap, some of those foulmouthed.

Adam described his dinner experience at Momofuku Ko in his popular blog:

With that said, however, here’s my gripe: the service wasn’t just cold, it was downright hostile. I’d ask a question and get icy, confused looks. Like the woman who poured us our wine. I asked her, in a pretty warm way, why we’d started with a red then moved to a white: “Because the menu is kind of all over the place, so that’s how we pour the wine too.” She wasn’t happily forthcoming: she was irritated.

So, it seemed, were the chefs who–to their credit–were fascinating to watch as they sliced scallops with a really sharp knife or stirred their sauces, salting and tasting as they went. But if you asked them, after they presented a plate, “What was that again? Mirin?” They’d stare at you like you were an idiot and say, “Ya, Mirin” and walk away.

The pace of the meal was good. At the start, the two at the end near the door who had the earliest reservation were served each dish first. Then six of us were grouped together and the later six were quite a while behind us. By the time of the beef and desserts the chefs had detected that the man next to me and I were faster than the others; we were then served first. We were finished and on our way by 11:00, half an hour earlier than planned.

I have noted above my overall reaction to each dish. There were too many dishes that were just good. One surprise was that the foie gras was not the only repeat. A Chowhound post from March 2008 includes the Egg with Caviar and the Short Ribs with grilled scallion; Tina shot her photos the same month. There was no pork, for which David Chang is most famous. There was no respect for the regional season. It was August, but there was one tiny sliver of tomato; no sweet corn, eggplant, zucchini, basil etc.

My recommendation to anyone would be to try to get a reservation for lunch, rather than in the evening. It is not just that the staff and clientele are more helpful and interactive, but the extra time and courses are needed to create the experience.  I suspect that the dishes are more ambitious with better ingredients. I would also not go alone. There is so much going on you can gain a lot by sharing observations and opinions. It would be fun to have four people at the corner end of the counter, but there were not groups of four either time I was there.

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To see my blogpost on our lunch in March click here.

The restaurant’s website:
http://momofuku.com/ko/ 

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