Food Junta got the much-talked-about, much-lusted-after pleasure of eating at Momofuku Ko on Monday night, thanks to our very own Brandon, whose clicking dexterity secured us a four-person reservation at 6 pm. Go Brandon! For those of you who don’t know the trials and tribulations involved in getting a reservation at Ko, you can read about Frank Bruni’s quest in his restaurant review and also here in one of his numerous blog entries about his White Whale on Diner’s Journal.
We both agree that it was an absolutely amazing meal. We entered at 6 pm excited and curious. We (sadly) re-entered reality three hours later, feeling entirely sated and utterly dazed. We asked at the beginning if they had any printed menu, and the hostess promised us a handwritten one. This (pictured) is what we got. So, as follows, our best efforts to reconstruct our $85 tasting menu. We each also ordered the $50 wine pairing, though it is basically entirely lost on both of us wine philistines (though excellent as well — one tip: if you can get a reservation later, that would be better, a few of our wines were noticeably day-olds, though still good). Also one note: in many of the courses, the chefs served one dish to the men and one to the women. We have noted them as separate headings under the same course. Also another note: We didn’t want to be those bloggers who had a camera and were taking pictures of every dish (there was one couple, not taking photos of the food, but of each other, and with flash, and they were even looked upon with disdain by the chefs).
So here’s the down low:
Claire: Great. Just my kind of place. Pretty much basic, slightly irreverent (see cookbooks in the bathroom and wine cork as chopstick rest). Good music, and chefs in charge of the iPod. Chefs were much less surly than the reviews indicate, though more surly than I had expected (I had really given them the benefit of the doubt). Hostess was attentive, though occasionally a bit flighty. Surprisingly comfortable stools, for being backless. Really like being in another world. And particular fun to watch the chefs make every single thing, and debate about what they are doing loudly, when they can surely hear every word you say (ex: “Are they deep-frying that? Oh my God! They ARE deep-frying that!”). And David Chang, the deity himself, even made an appearance, and pressure-cooked the wazoo out of something (that we didn’t eat) and also snarfed some some pouissan samples.
Kevin: Actually only one chef was actually surly, and I think it was perhaps more social awkwardness than surliness. The music was, with a few exceptions, excellent, and when we asked what a song was, the hostess had a chef hop up on the counter and check the iPod. (It was Camera Obscura.) The group of four was perfect, because it meant we got to hold down the corner of the bar, and the bar is the only place to sit. I’m glad I didn’t have to spend the whole night with my neck rotated to one side like the other patrons did.
Claire: I like this idea, and I think they did a really good job with it, though I think the one reddish wine pairing I had (which was still a rose) fell a little short of the white wine, beer, and sake pairings. All in all, though, surprisingly worth the money, surprisingly well-chosen, and surprisingly big pours.
Kevin: So glad I did this. The dishes were fairly spaced out, and the beverages kept us entertained while we waited for our next course. They also got us drunk.
Amuse Bouche: Toasted English Muffins with Whipped Pork Fat and Wild Bay Leaf and Homemade Chicharron
Claire: Really good, of course, though honestly, I’m pretty sure a friend and I made almost exactly the same thing when we poured some bacon fat over some English muffin strips we were toasting. Chicharron is basically pork rind. So, basically, both were excellently executed and nice enough starts to the meal, but I don’t think they lived up to what followed…
Kevin: Meh. Pork fat is always tasty, but I was not blown away by either of these. My chicharron was, I think, missing the red spice that other people’s were coated in. That may have been the problem.
Raw: Men — Fluke with Buttermilk, Yuzu, and Sriracha with Toasted Poppy Seeds; Women — Kampachi with Pickled Prunes, some kind of prune dust, chives, and chive blossoms
Claire: I don’t remember all the components of this dish perfectly. I do remember that it was amazing. Really, really amazing. Tart and sweet at the same time, a great fish with great texture, and some really great dust, whatever that was! The pickled prune gave a really necessary crunch and bite to the dish that you wouldn’t have known was missing without but that added worlds upon worlds with. Mm. Just thinking about it makes me want more.
Kevin: Oh my god. These were both incredible. I am partial to mine, but I’ll eat anything if you put sriracha in it. Mixed with the creaminess of the buttermilk, this may be my new favorite dish. The girls’ was also spectacular. David Chang knows what he’s doing with raw fish.
Soup: Men — Pork Belly, East Coast Oyster, and Napa Cabbage in Kimchi Consomme; Women — Crawfish with Morels in Sweet Pea soup with pea shoots
Claire: I think this one was a draw. I thought the boys’ dish was a lot more intriguing (plus featured pork belly), but I have to say the girls’ pea soup was out of this world. So velvety. So clean. So fresh and so clean. Clean. A fantastic dish, and one that relies not so much on cooking technique (though some of that) as it does on finding the absolute best goddamn peas on the face of the earth. Which Momofuku did.
Kevin: While each element of the men’s dish was good separately, I’m not sure they went together that well. It was good, just not amazing. The pea soup on the other hand, was masterful. To paraphrase Frank Bruni, I will never look at all those bastard peas the same way again…
Egg: Men — Soft to Hard-boiled Egg with Onion Soubise, Hackleback Caviar, and little bitty potato chips; Women — Chawan Mushi (Japanes Egg Custard) with Argan oil, Asparagus, and Hackleback Caviar
Claire: The most eh dish of them all, which is to say still perfectly executed, but just kind of…eh. I think, actually, there was just too much of it, which I never thought I’d say at Momofuku Ko (give me more pork belly!). But when it comes to egg custard, too much of a good thing can really be too much of a good thing. The dish just never totally came together, never really tasted like something. In a shot glass, I would have marveled at how interesting it was. In a big ol’ plate I just thought, hm, do I want to finish this? (Don’t worry, I did.)
Kevin: Men’s dish was a definite winner here. The exact opposite of the dish above: Each ingredient separately was fine, but together they were spectacular. Plus, the tiny potato chips were sort of adorable.
Pasta: “Lasagne” with Burgundy Snails, Mushrooms, Roasted Spring Vegetables, Foamed Ricotta Salata, and Toasted Ricotta Salata
Claire: This was, undoubtedly, the best dish of the night. The Foie (coming later) came close, but no cigar, for me at least. I put lasagne in quote marks because it was how the chef described it, but it was really just two small sheets of pasta, in there more to hold everything together. Just totally awesome. Awesome beyond compare. Of all things, the foamed ricotta salata really brought the dish together, I thought, which (can you see the theme developing here?) is what I think is most amazing of all at Momofuku Ko. The extraordinary ingredients (like the snails) may be extraordinary, but they’d be nothing without the humbler, workhorse ingrdients.
Kevin: Wow. I’m with Claire on this one. I’m glad everyone got a plate of this dish. Claire would have wound up with a fork in her thigh if she had gotten this one and I hadn’t.
Fish: Men — Trout with Toasted Almonds and Yuzu-Pickled Morning Radish; Women — Halibut with Chinese Greens and a whole radish (completely unrecognizable as such)
Claire: A perfectly cooked piece of fish, perfectly executed in all ways, but not extraordinary, as far as I was concerned. Very, very good. Don’t feel the need to elaborate more when I could be talking about the foie gras instead…
Kevin: I thought the trout was fantastic, which is really something as I’m not much of a fish eater. The textural contrast between the almonds, fish, and radish was pure genius.
Foie: Shaved Foie Gras over Lychee Gelee and Pistachio Brittle
Claire: Is there any way this could be not amazing? I can’t think of one. Shave foie gras? I mean, come on. Still, if anything, I think the pistachio brittle was really the star of this dish, bridging the otherwise unimaginable gap between the lychee gelee and the foie, which just melted together impeccably. I also do remember that the wine pairing for this dish was particularly spot-on, though it escapes me what it was.
Kevin: This is definitely Ko’s most talked-about dish. I suspect that this will be Chang’s Oysters and Pearls.
Meat: Men — Deep-fried Short Ribs with Daikon and Mustard Seed; Women — Stuffed, Deep-fried Pouissan with Mushrooms and SOMETHING ELSE
Claire: What, you may ask, is poussin? “A sexless chicken,” according to the somewhat curt chef who presented it to us. For some reason, this explanation sent all of us into a fit of giggles, but it really was delicious. I was a little disappointed, honestly, to get chicken as my meat, but while I thought the boy’s beef was surely more intense, there was something delicate and complex about the perfume of the chicken that I thought was lacking in the other dish. Without realizing it, I had dipped my finger into the leftover sauce. I think — if this makes any sense — it was a dish I liked a lot more than I realized at first.
Kevin: This was served right as David Chang appeared in the kitchen. The fried short rib was great, but I think it is telling that as soon as Chang got in the kitchen he popped two huge pieces of the poussin in his mouth.
Pre: Men — Kiwi Sorbet with Olive Oil and Apricot Puree; Women — “Arnold Palmer” Sorbet with Mint Julep Cake
Claire: I think everyone else like my Arnold Palmer sorbet best, and I agree that it was good — and a really good idea to put the Arnold Palmer flavor (half iced tea, half lemonade) into a sorbet. But I didn’t think the cake crumbs did much for it, and the kiwi sorbet was just so creamy, and the olive oil was just so delicious. Kevin and I traded halfway through. I mean, olive oil on kiwi sorbet! Who would have thought?! So delicious! I’m going to start trying olive oil on everything.
Kevin: Both of these were actually a little too sour for my palate at this point in the evening. That said, Arnold Palmer sorbet is inspired.
Dessert: Men — Yellow Cake Ice Cream with Poached Rhubarb, Candied English Peas, and Chocolate; Women — Cereal Milk Panna Cotta with Toasted Corn Flakes, Chocolate Hazelnut Bar and Avocado Spread
Claire: Here, at the very end, a very interesting one. I love chocolate-hazelnut combos, and I love avocado. Those two things may, in fact, be two of my favorite things in the entire world. So you’d think I’d love this dessert. But, in the end, the panna cotta was just too salty. There was no way around it. It was overwhelming, to the point that I actually left a spoonful on my plate that not a single one of my dining companions wanted. I did find the dessert incredibly intriguing, however, especially since on its own the avocado spread (I’m calling it a spread for lack of a better term) was incredibly avocado-y — which is to say, savory. But when paired with the chocolate-hazelnut and the panna cotta it lost all of its savoriness and just acted as a great binder of flavors. Not enough to balance out the salt, though. Take down the salt, and you’d have me at hello.
Kevin: The panna cotta was way too salty. No two ways about it. I’ve seen that dish raved about elsewhere, so I wouldn’t be shocked to learn that ours was a fluke. The men’s dessert, however, was spectacular. The yellow cake ice cream has to be tasted to be believed. It was like being beaten about the head with a birthday cake. In a good way. The peas were a shockingly good addition.
Claire: GO! GO NOW! Some dishes may be ever so slightly less absolutely fantastically innovative and extraordinary as others, but we all have to make sacrifices in life.
Kevin: I challenge you to show me a better culinary experience for the price. Come on. I dare you.