Momofuku Ko, NYC 4

December 16, 2014

Momofuku Ko opened in 2008. In its first two years, I went three times, but had not been back for four years. The cuisine was always very good and interesting, but I was put off by surly service, loud rock music, uncomfortable stools, inadequate wine pairings, a no photo policy, no written menu and a sense of “been there; done that.”  But in late October, 2014, celebrity proprieter/chef David Chang closed Ko at its old location. It reopened a month later in a much larger space, a ten minute walk east of the Bleecker Street subway station. The initial reports were good and I was lucky to get a reservation on December 12, 2014, about two weeks after Ko reopened.

There is now a U-shaped counter seating 24 diners. The middle is full of very busy, friendly young chefs and cooks, who serve the dishes they prepare directly to the diners.
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I think that is sous chef Carey Hynes stirring sushi rice.

In the back are shelves with containers for many of the ingredients and garnishes they will need.
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On sitting down, one is asked about any food allergies or aversions. (I had none.) After that the food just comes for almost three hours. A printed menu arrives at the end with the bill. The dish titles below are taken from that. As you can see, they are not very descriptive, so I have tried to expand, but may have made some errors.

I ordered a glass of Crémant du Jura Rosé to refresh my palate. Then I ordered a bottle of 2005 Château de Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru “Les Perrières” Meursault.
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It was excellent; its earthiness went well with most of the dishes. (As you can see, non-flash photos are now allowed.)

The first amuse-gueule  was
grape soda.
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I was instructed to take this in one gulp so that I would mix the carbonated, fermented Concord grape juice and the grape jelly on the bottom. Fun.

lobster paloise
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In the cylinder is chopped lobster meat topped with sauce paloise, a version of béarnaise with mint substituted for tarragon.
The olive oil tartlet was filled with sautéed onions.

vegetable roll
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Tuna with jalapeño and other vegetables were wrapped in thin daikon.

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A rye chip millefeuille was filled with trout roe and topped with matcha dust.

red snapper – green chili, shiso, consommé
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Snapper tartare was tossed with bits of shiso and green chili. Underneath was a consommé jelly made from a snapper bone broth.

scallop – pineapple, basil

Raw sea scallops were in a pineapple dashi broth enhanced with basil oil and basil seeds. The scallops were very good; basil is a classic combination with them, but I thought that the pineapple flavor was too strong.

beet – furikake, brown butter
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Ground pickled beets were served on top of brown butter. They were topped with a Japanese rice seasoning. There was a bit too much vinegar for my taste.

uni – chickpea, hozon
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Excellent Santa Barbara sea urchin was served with a chickpea purée on top of chickpea hozon, a fermented product similar to miso, invented in David Chang’s food lab.
Shortly after I had started my meal, David Chang had introduced himself to me and we had a short chat. Before and after that he had been patrolling the kitchen and visiting with diners. Now he came over and asked if I had been to Gambero Rosso. I told him I had. (Now closed, it was on the Tuscan coast.) He said that this dish was invented as an homage to Fulvio Pierangelini, whose shrimp with chickpea purée dish at Gambero Rosso was famous. On reflection, I found this curious as Pierangelini emphasized simplicity in cuisine. This dish is a good example, but most of the dishes at Ko are quite complex. When I expressed this thought to Chang on his third visit to me near the end of the meal, he seemed somewhat annoyed even though I told him that I thought he was successful with complexity. .

mackerel sabazushi – wasabi, leaf, dashi ponzu
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The skin of the mackerel had been seared just before serving with a Searzall, a culinary attachment to a blow torch. We were told that the sushi rice was from Hokkaido, which seemed odd to me. A little research shows that rice from this cold island is a relatively new thing, but the some of the varieties grown there now are prized.  Anyway, the dish was excellent.

trout consommé – sunchoke, kale, mousse
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Two slices of trout pâté were floating in a trout broth with pickled chunks of Jerusalem artichokes and kale leaves. I did not understand or appreciate this dish.

soft scramble – potato, caviar, herbs
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I think that they used the technique similar to what they had used before.  The aerated egg was piped out of a whipped cream siphon into bacon-dashi broth. The caviar is American hackleback. There was a generous topping of fresh mini-potato chips and light sauces underneath, which added complexity. Anyway, it was an enjoyable dish. 

bread and butter
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These were served with the comment that one needs bread to go with the eggs, but they stayed on the table until dessert. The bread was very good fresh housemade sourdough. The disk of soft fermented butter topped with salt, cracked black pepper and watermelon radish powder was very good. 

celery root – white truffle, tandoori
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The celery root agnolotti were good and unusually enhanced by the nice Indian spicing of the unidentified vegetable curls. I hope that not much white truffle was invested in this dish as it could not be detected above the spicing.

branzino – artichoke, sunflower. yogurt
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The cook directly in front of me had spent over an hour trimming artichokes and then cleaning and fileting branzino.  But he did not get to cook or serve this mishmash of seabass, artichoke chunks, pink yoghurt and sunflower seeds.  Fulvio Pierangelini would have been appalled. I tried to pick out the good ingredients one by one. 

lobster – sweet potato, tonburi, sauce
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Lobster tail was served with sweet potato, tonburi seeds and a foamy, spiced lobster sauce.

foie gras – lychee, pine nut, riesling jelly
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This famous dish of grated frozen Hudson Valley foie gras with lychees, pine nut brittle and Riesling gelée has been served in all of Ko‘s meals since the start six years ago. It is still great.

At this point, after more than two hours, I had finished my Meursault and was asked if I would like a glass of red wine to go with my meat course. Two bottles were offered for tasting.
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I chose the Jura wine, but she left me half a glass of the Saint Joseph also. Both were enjoyable and rich enough for the venison. 

venison – cranberry, époisses
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The Millbrook venison filet was dressed in a sauce made from cranberries and venison blood. Alongside was a scrumptious dish of puréed potatoes on top of pungent époisses cheese. This was great; I think I could do it at home. 

clementine – Campari
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Tangerine sorbet was enhanced with a Campari wash, which provided a nice bitter touch. 

coconut- banana, rum
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Coconut-lime sorbet was topped with a rum meringue, frozen banana and shortbread discs.

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I think they said that it was a chickpea-miso macaron. The filled chocolate was also good.

Well, I certainly enjoyed myself. I was never bored for a minute, even though dining alone. The pace was quite rapid, which is fine for such small plates. They have two sittings a night and they need to get the first sitting starting at 6:00, which I was on, out of there. The staff was always cheerful, helpful and gave the impression that they were happy you had come. The music was relatively low key. The high chairs at the counter were comfortable. This was the view back into the restaurant as I left.
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I think that Momofuku Ko will be quite a different restaurant a year from now. At present they only serve dinner, in two shifts, five nights a week. This leaves room for expansion to lunch and to six or seven days. (Lunch used to be the most important meal at the old Ko, but it was one shift just three times a week.) There is a bar near the front door, which can be used before and after dining or for more casual dining. There are two round tables to the side, which may have a different table menu. I have read that there is a private dining room. The cuisine is generally excellent, but needs some work, although we would all have different ideas for it. So many young Americans want peppery heat in their cuisine. It is clear that the staff is highly trained and motivated. Enlarging it will take time.

There are no media reviews yet and it will take a while for the guides to catch up. The old Ko had two Michelin stars, but I imagine that David Chang will not be satisfied now with less than three. Stay tuned.

The restaurant’s website:

To see all my Momofuku Ko blogposts click here.


2 Responses to “Momofuku Ko, NYC 4”

  1. Peter Maier Says:

    Mike, be careful, 21 dishes even over a 2-3 hour meal is a bit much! Take care of yourself.

  2. John B Says:

    David Chang made an appearance on that NPR improv program whose name escapes me where people just talk off the cuff about an amusing experience. He was actually visited by the head of Michelin, who made himself known and asked him flat-out if he wanted three stars.

    You have one of the only two important remaining food blogs in the English-speaking world. (The other is Andy Hayler.).
    That is an astonishing fact. I look forward to you every week, and long may you and Linda continue to delight us this way.

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