Momofuku Ko, NYC 5

July 28, 2015

When I dined at Momofuku Ko last December, shortly after its reopening,  I wrote that it would be quite a different restaurant in a year. I did not wait that long, returning for dinner on July 17, 2015.

I was seated next to the opening in the end of the horseshoe counter, which gave me a good view of the activities in the kitchen and of the refrigerated wall for ingredients on the right.
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I started with a glass of Savart “L’Ouverture,” Éceuil, Champagne.
This was followed by a bottle of 2012 Boisson-Vadot, Meursault “Chevalières.”
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This was very good and went well with most of the cuisine, but some of the dishes were unfriendly to wine, with palate dulling ingredients, so I did not enjoy it as much as I should have.

There is no menu shown at the start of the meal. A menu is presented with the bill at the end of the meal showing concise titles for each dish. They are what I have shown below in italics above each photo. Dishes are usually served by the sous-chefs who prepared them, who give more detailed descriptions. Unfortunately the pleasant, low-key music which played at my last visit to Ko has been replaced by much louder music, making it very difficult for me to hear the descriptions or to enjoy brief conversations with the servers. This was an impediment to my enjoyment of the meal. It probably resulted in errors in my descriptions below.

The first hors d’œuvres were pommes souflées
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Deep fried potato tubes were filled with a creamy pimiento cheese. Nice.

apple. beet.
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The wedge of apple was topped with horseradish and roasted caraway seeds. The two candied beet squares formed a tent over a beet ball. (It was not easy to pick up with the fingers.)

lobster paloise. tartlet.
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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 had a mixed vegetable filling.

vegetable roll
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The roll formed from thin, marinated daikon was filled with jalapeño and arctic char.

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A rice pastry millefeuille was filled with trout roe and a cream. It was topped with matcha dust.

madai, consommé, shiso
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Raw pieces of madai, or red-sea bream, were mixed with shiso shards and the “caviar” from Australian “finger lime.” They were topped with a jellied “consommé” made from the fish bones and trimmings.  This was very good.
The genial sous-chef working directly in front of us was a fish specialist. He showed my neighbor and me a fresh finger lime and cut it in half so we could taste the good, mildly tangy insides. Later in the meal he started the preparation of a whole fresh madai for this dish at the second serving this evening.
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razor clam – pineapple, basil
I forgot to take a photo of this, but it was not very photogenic. Razor clam meat was in a pineapple dashi broth enhanced with basil oil and basil seeds. The pineapple  overwhelmed the other flavors and was a palate killer for the wine.

mackerel sabazushi – ginger, dashi ponzu
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mackerel sabazushi is a redundant phrase, like shrimp scampi or gazpacho soup. Nonetheless, this was excellent.
When we arrived, the sous-chef in front of us was searing rectangles of rice with a Searzall, a culinary attachment to a blow torch. These were put on a ginger, ponzu base and reserved. Just before serving, they were topped with lightly pickled mackerel, the skin was seared and they were cut into sushi sized pieces.
Later on the sous chef prepared the rice for the next serving. (Top two photos.) 

mackerel dashi – king oyster, asian pear
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Continuing with mackerel, this soup was good. 

squash – brown butter, bbq
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I had seen the zucchinis being charred and wondered what would become of them. They had retained their flavor and inside creaminess. The toppings were just right to pep up the flavor. I think there was miso in the bbq sauce, but I am not sure. 

rutabaga – beef jerky, kinome
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Okay, but nothing special.

egg – pea, potato, osetra
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Half of a hard-boiled egg was in a frothy potato concoction. It was topped with diced peas and a mound of caviar.

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

orecchiette – octopus, pepper, olive
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The fresh pasta “ears” were dressed in a red pepper and octopus sauce. Underneath was a basil pesto with black olives. This was nice with traditionally complementary flavors. 

skate – uni, radish
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A piece of skate wing sat on a sea urchin sauce. The pickled radish round added tartness, color and crunch, but the dish did not bring out the best in these ingredients.

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.

pork – kimchi, chili
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All evening sous chefs had been testing the pork loin with a meat thermometer. Now it was sliced and served topped with home-made kimchee and chili oil. The redundant two hot spicy ingredients totally wiped out whatever care had been put into preparing the pork and finished off my palate for what remained of the wine.

carrot- miso, white chocolate, nasturtium
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It was a mystery to me why they thought these ingredients belonged together. 

strawberry – chamomile, sorrel
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Simple, straightforward and very good, a philosophy which would have improved many of the dishes in this meal.

roasted barley (and other grains) tea with honey
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This was a good way to settle the palate at the end.

Well, I had a good time. The kitchen theater here is enjoyable, even if interaction with the servers, which was so good the last time, is hampered by the upturned volume of the music. The level of the cuisine is very uneven. There are excellent, imaginative, well-executed dishes and others which do not work, at least for me.  Some were downright boring: the skate, the jerky. During the meal, I was thinking that there was too much complexity, but, looking at the photos above, that seems to be a minor problem.  The over-spicing of the razor clams and the pork threw off the balance of the whole meal. Some dishes seemed to be designed to impress with being unusual, although the most exotic ingredient, the finger lime, was one of the best in the way it was used. It is notable that the ingredients were not at all seasonal or local, an imperative at many top restaurants nowadays. I wish I could say why I was irritable on leaving. Perhaps it was the lack of improvement over the last time and insufficient novelty for me. Perhaps it was my inability to enjoy the expensive bottle of wine. Perhaps it was that damn music, although I had endured worse at the old Momofuku Ko. Surely, all of the above.

The restaurant’s website:

To see all my Momofuku Ko blogposts click here.


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