Just when you think maybe you are getting jaded, an experience like this comes along to restore your faith in restaurants...
Lunch at Momofuku Ko was, for me and my friend both, an absolute win on all counts.
This place seems to have taken the soul of the East Village and blended it with fine dining to create an experience that was totally unique, original, and just right.
To be honest, it leaves me puzzled as to where all the controversy comes from. Mind you, we had the privilege of a fresh, clean slate. Never really heard of David Chang before, didn't know much about what to expect in the food. So we had the pure and wonderful element of surprise.
To start with, the layout and the setup and the atmosphere and the people. I guess I can see how you'd be unhappy with the service if you were expecting ballet service. But to me, it was relaxed and fun. The counter arrangement really puts you right in there. It's basically like sitting at a sushi counter, only they are making all different kinds of food. For someone who likes to cook, this was really exciting. The two guys serving the beverages were nice and unaffected. The chefs behind the counter were chefs. Good at their work, fun to watch, answered questions and took some measure of pride in what they were doing. When we joked with them, they reacted and had fun. There was one guy who, at first, I had pegged for the "surly" one some have mentioned. But he opened up as the meal progressed and also seemed to be a great guy. So maybe the surly fellow was not present.
There was a pair of diners at the other end of the bar who seemed to be having not the best time, and seemed unimpressed. But they looked prissy and judgmental from the second they sat down. They did crack a smile for the foie gras, but that was it.
Someone in a post mentioned shock and dismay that the chefs behind the counter were snacking on the food they were serving. I saw this. They were taking the bits that were too small to serve, or the wrong shape. You think they don't do this in a hidden kitchen? Hey, it means the food is good enough that the chefs want to eat it. No problem with that.
Okay, next, the music. Didn't seem too loud. And it was absolutely great. Led Zeppelin and the Gang of Four with my meal? Beatles and Roxy Music? YES PLEASE!! It was a total blast. And, as we finished dessert, Neil Young came on singing "til the morning comes". Like walking into a cozy sunrise after staying up all night eating. Bliss.
Okay, the food. I wrote nothing down and I have a rotten memory, but I'll do my best.
Actually, first, the wine pairing. Keep in mind you are reading a post from someone who actually called Alinea after the fact to complain about the wine pairings. I am no pushover. This was, to me, the best and most interesting wine pairing I've had in years. It started with a cocktail containing a gin liqueuer I'd never heard of (Averell Damson Gin Liqueur). I'll be seeking out and getting a bottle.
Early on they served a sake with a crudo course that was not new to me, but one of my absolute favorites (dewazakura dewasansan, a glorious nama sake). Later in the meal was another sake I'd never had and a style I'd never tried before. Had a completely different sort of flavor, (komoizumi kome kome shu). I'm a fan of sake and will be looking this one up too. I'm much less knowledgable of wines, but I will say that they were all tasty and more importantly, they all really differed from each other and were paired beautifully with the flavors of the food. There was a white in there that was made by a process where it contacts the air while fermenting, and it tasted almost to me like it was partway toward a cognac. Also, there were two beers in the meal. I'm not a beer fan but these too were well placed. There was a stout at the end with an oatmeal ice cream dessert that went perfectly.
Okay, now the food.
Here's what I remember, and I know I'm leaving things out:
-- a crunchy fried torchon on of something gooey and delicious
-- fried daikon with thai basil
Both great. One bite and we knew we were off to a good start
oyster with sweet potato vinegar
vanilla/??? panna cotta with macadamia brittle and black sesame
Also great. My friend thought it was like a rice crispy treat. I was thinking more like the middle of a 3 musketeers bar. But in a good way. :-)
The star here was the fluke. It had little puffs of rice and celery heart on it. The celery with the fluke was a revelation. Never had that combination before. So simple, but it really sang.
uni & house made yuba.
Loved the yuba in particular.
little wonton-looking things (but not fried) made from daikon with fried onion inside, mung sprouts, cilantro, a lovely broth.
Okay so now we seemed to be shifting location from something more japanese toward other places, thailand or vietnam.... Just lovely. I was to thailand once and there was a freshness to the food there that seems lost in american thai restaurants, caught perfectly in this dish. Even though it maybe wasn't thai.
duck meatball with tomato. (HEAVEN)
brussel sprouts in homemade XO (not sure how it's spelled, had not heard of it before but the chefs explained ...) (YUM)
littleneck clam soup
puffed egg and shiitake on top in broth
At this point in the meal my friend and I were totally blissed out and knew this was a meal for the annals. That egg was just amazing.
house made pasta (oreccheite?) with dried broccoli, broccoli puree, and the most amazing sauce in the history of time.
This for me was the least interesting. It was nice, and all of it was housemade. Just not as good as everything else
fried squab leg
sous vide squab breast with sunchoke puree
pan fried sunchokes
I love this one, but my friend put this as his last pick. But he doesn't like squab.
The sunchokes and fried leg were the best part.
I kind of don't get sous vide, it never tastes as good to me as frying things up in a pan.
gruyere soup, toast w/ stuff on top including some kind of onion powder
Pungent and tasty, a little weird
Shaved fois gras, riesling jelly, other things...
I often do not like fois gras, too rich and I feel like I'm eating a pile of fat. So for me, this made it delicious, because it was shavings and therefore light. and the other flavors balanced beautifully. A total win.
oatmeal ice cream, cookie bits of various kinds. Memory dim at this point.
But I loved this dessert
chocolate ice cream with colored rice puffs.
Very nice, nothing too special.
But can I say that yes thank you, 2 desserts is enough? I'm so glad that 5 of the courses were not desserts. I don't get it when tasting menus do that, I'd rather have the other good stuff and just finish with a little dessert thank you very much. So for me this was nice. (Contrast with Alinea earlier this year. They end the meal with a 10 pound dessert that they plop right on the table. It's a fun presentation, but so huge it's unfinishable (we ate about 1/5 of it) and so sweet it canceled out the rest of the meal -- my palette and mind literally could not conjure up the rest of the menu, and my teeth hurt, and I felt gross. So keep it reined in like these guys do, please!)
Okay, I'll end this account here.
But anybody reading this who is wondering whether or not to go --- just do it.
163 1st Ave, New York, NY 10003