This is one in a series of reviews from places my husband and I visited on a long weekend trip to Manhattan in late July.
We managed to get a reservation for Momofuku Ko for lunch on the Sunday of our long weekend. We were flying out a little later on Sunday evening, so we figured since we wouldn't be having dinner in Manhattan before we left, what better than a three hour lunch? But then, I read a few of the comments about how the service was really unfriendly and standoffish, so we started to wonder if we should cancel. Ultimately, we had enjoyed our meal at Momofuku Ssam Bar when we visited last September and remembered their had been similar comments about service there, which we didn't find to be the case. So, we kept our reservation and we're really glad we did.
We arrived a few minutes early, but we were greeted warmly by the two front of house folks, our backpack stored away and we were promptly seated at the counter. We were part of the last group of four seated, so the other two groups had already started into their experience. There is no printed menu and no pictures, and we didn't write down our courses as we went along (we were too busy enjoying the food and watching the prep), so the below is from memory after we finished. We may be out of order in some cases, but you'll get the idea.
There are three chefs working right in front of you, in a very small space, which is a large part of the experience. For anyone who cooks, you can really appreciate the importance of prep work for this multi-course meal. Without it, this meal could be a disaster. In this case, it was really precise over approximately 17 courses. The front of house staff kept us filled with water, the appropriate silverware and our wine. (We just ordered our own choices--3 different bottles of white wine: a cremant di jura and 2 rieslings that really seemed to work well with the food.)
Okay, here we go:
Tomato gazpacho: this dish looked a little like an egg yolk; it was tomato water within that skin. great flavor.
Kushi oyster: just an oyster, but served with an oyster porter beer that was a great complement
pumpkin bread with ricotta and tri star strawberry
"french fry": their take on caviar: potato souffle with caviar and creme fraiche and chili piped into a french fry like skin. Some might consider this a salty dish, but we found it salty in a good way--that's what you get with caviar.
crudo plate: 4 different raw fish tastes: scallop with hearts of palm and dehydrated bacon, fluke with celery leaf and black rice puffs, madara with a really fabulous vinaigrette and another fish with beet and dehydrated soy. I'm not a huge sushi fan, but it was amazing to taste the fluke with and without the celery leaf. Who knew how much it could totally transform the flavors? And the third fish (sorry, I'm not sure what it was), was fantastic. I wasn't a fan of the scallop mostly because of the texture, but again, I'm not a sushi person.
tartar plate: That's what we called it. A quail egg half, beef tartar with caviar and red miso, another tartar (with sriracha?) and a piece of waygu with a little onion. A very rich plate with nice presentation on a banana leaf type leaf.
Multiple mushroom salad: lobster, black trumpet, white cauliflower and chantarelle mushrooms with pickled red onion (fabulous!), jalapeno and other flavors. I don't always like mushroom upon mushroom, but I think the red onion and jalapeno really played well here.
Ravioli: with corn, chorizo, sour cream, pickled tomato. I'm sure I'm missing some ingredients, but this was probably the best dish we had for the entire weekend! I'm still dreaming about another bowl full.
Lamb rib: This had four separate little dishes to make up the one course. One had the lamb rib which was braised and sauteed and was sitting on a bed of kohlrabi salad which we're hoping to recreate at home (because despite all the write ups to the contrary, the chefs were very willing to answer questions--you just have to know you shouldn't ask while they are right in the middle of intense prep work.) The second dish was a little rice roll that had been rolled in bacon fat and grilled--so good! Third dish was wax beans in a sambal sauce, also really good. Fourth was a cold dashi with uni and peas. I'd have to say the last one wasn't my favorite, but my husband finished mine, so I think it just wasn't to my taste.
Halibut: with charred mustard greens, kohlrabi/radish salad and another dashi. The fish was coated with a light flour that helped to make it nicely crispy. (This I think is one of the dishes that I have out of order.)
Puffed egg: Like a puffy scrambled egg, with chive, kombu, in a bacon dashi and served with an "english muffin" with bay butter. If only I could have this for breakfast every morning!
Foie gras: This dish has been around for a while with Ko: shaved foie gras with peanut brittle and riesling gelee. It is a super rich, decadent dish. I really liked the crunch of the peanut brittle.
Short rib: a perfectly cooked, deep fried short rib (really perfectly cooked) with eggplant two ways (one which was wrapped in nori with red miso). Also with some pickled watermelon.
Onion sorbet with onion seltzer and sea salt. This dish wouldn't be for everyone, but we thought it made a nice bridge between the main courses and desert.
Coconut custard in a crispy shell with a lemon? curd and toasted coconut. This was really great!
Orange granita with dehydrated almond cake and thai basil. I didn't think this was quite as successful as the other dishes. I think there the dehydrated almond cake and thai basil was a little overwhelming and lumpy.
When you are getting ready to leave, they give you a little jar of homemade pickles and a nori wrapped rice and veggie "sandwich". Both were quite good (we ate them after we got home).
Almost everything I had read said that the chefs really were standoffish and made it seem like it was a bother to answer questions or repeat an ingredient. We absolutely did not have this experience. Of course, they are not going to chat with you the entire time; it does take some concentration to make sure that you are preparing the multiple courses with the right timing and, when it comes down to it, that is what they are really there for. While we were there, they answered questions and talked with everyone. And a great part of being there was sitting and watching them work.
Overall, we had a really great experience and the only thing that really detracted from it didn't have anything to do with the restaurant or staff, but rather that two of the other diners could not go five minutes without some pretty major public displays of affection. That gets a little distracting over a three hour meal and unfortunately, they were in a spot where everyone had to watch. Without them, it would have been a perfect Sunday afternoon and even with them, it was pretty close.
163 1st Ave, New York, NY 10003