I can't remotely claim to be unbiased when it comes to David Chang's Momofuku empire. I've been a fan of Momofuku Ssam Bar since it opened, and I was diappointed--momentarily--when they stopped serving ssams¹ and started doing more upscale American fusion cooking with some Korean inflection. I was disappointed, that is, until I started having those new dishes. Sure, it turned the restaurant from a moderately inexpensive place to get a meal into a moderately inexpensive one, but the food wound up being so good that I was happy to make the trade.
¹ More or less, burritos made with Korean style meats and seasoning
The Bo Ssam is the highlight of a dinner there; it's something both Rich and I have written about, and can only be described as amazing. An eight pound pork butt, braised for a day, served intact but falling off the bone and served with bibb lettuce, oysters, kimchi, and sauces, is one of the best meals I've ever had. It was the first outside meal I arranged to have when I got out of the hospital. I'm going again in a couple of weeks.
Momofuku Ko is the newest full restaurant². It opened a year ago; it's a 12 seat restaurant. Reservations can only be obtained online, which makes tables available at 10am seven calendar days ahead of time. Dinner is a ten course prix fixe, costing $100 with optional wine pairings for $95. The meal is very unfriendly to vegetarians³.
² Momfuku Milk Bar opened more recently, but just serves baked goods and dessert. And there's a Momofuku Midtown location in the works but won't be open until fall at the earliest.
³ In fact, the menu at Ssam reads: "We do not serve vegetarian friendly options." For awhile, the only vegetarian-friendly option was bread and butter (apparently very good, though I feel weird ordering a bread and butter option that costs $8), but now even the bread and butter also comes with lardo.
Getting a reservation at Ko has always been extremely difficult--right up there with Per Se and Babbo in terms of difficulty, but not as hard as El Bulli. I'd been trying to get a reservation there since the place opened a year and a half ago. With exGiff, there was also some hesitation since there are a number of foods that she just won't eat, such as beef, veal, and foie gras, and not having any knowledge of what courses would be served a head of time made her nervous. One sunny side of the dissolution of our relationship is that it freed me up in terms of dining experiences I could strive for.
So I lucked into a Ko reservation, finally. In fact, in the space of one week I managed to get a reservation for the Bo Ssam meal for ten at Momofuku Ssam, the fried chicken dinner for eight at Momofuku Noodle Bar, and the icing on the cake, a reservation for two at Momofuku Ko.
Ko is about the size of your first New York apartment. It's one room with a counter running the length of it, ending in an L shape, with twelve stools that can charitably be called semi-comfortable. On the other side of the counter are the chefs, who also act as your servers. The food is made right in front of you and just handed over to you, a fact that got us into a little trouble at the beginning of the meal. I'd not told my date that fact, and so when we sat down and started being served, she exclaimed, "Oh, so it's like Benihana's!" I tried my best sotto voce and said, "yes, but it's probably not a good idea to say that where the chef can hear you." The chef, who if he wasn't David Change was at least a passable double, said with (I think) mock disdain, "Oh, but I did hear," and proceeded to bring it up from time to time over the course of the meal in a way that was either teasing or passive-aggression. I'm not sure which.
It was the closest thing to a misstep the entire evening. The meal itself was uniformly superb. Every course was great, and some were fantastic. The various wine and sake pairings went well with each course. The only drawback--an intentional consequence of the ten course meal format--is that each course felt like it didn't last quite long enough. You get your first bite for the taste to hit you, a second to start to get used to it, a third to get comfortable, and then, if lucky, a fourth and fifth bite to remind you what you'll be missing once you swallow. Polish off our glass of wine and then on to the next course.
Ten courses also seriously stretch my midwestern politeness with it comes to being served. I naturally say, "thank you" every time a water glass is refilled, a course arrives, a plate is taken away, new silverware is provided, silverware is taken away, a wine glass arrives, a wine glass is filled, or a glass is taken away. Also when the bill arrives, when the bill is collected, when the check comes back for a signature for the credit card, and when the signed bill is taken away. And then "Thank you" and "Goodbye" to each employee we pass on the way out. By my back of the envelope calculations, I estimate I said "Thank you," somewhere over 75 times over the course of the two and a half hour meal.
We eventually finished eating. The food was exactly the right amount for me--I left neither too stuffed to move nor hungry, nor was I too drunk. My date, who is significantly smaller than me, declared herself "stuffed" and so we took a walk to let it all settle. We wound up by Tompkins Square Park, just in time to see a preppie-looking guy come tear-assing out of the park in enough fear to run out directly into traffic and jump into a cab on the other side of the street without even hailing it. Coming out of the park after him were a half-dozen scruffy drug-addicts⁴ who were shouting for blood; the loudest growled something about not wanting to see "his kind" around there.
⁴ I don't like to cast aspersions in general, but, come on, it's Tompkins Square Park. Any New Yorker worth their salt should be able to ID a Tompkins Square Park addict at 11pm from across the street.
As I was wearing an outfit of Perry Ellis and Uniqlo, we decided it was time to leave the area and head back to Brooklyn to live in peace.
It was a great meal. I shat it all out the next day.
The meal, as best as I can recall
(I cannot remember any of the wine pairings. Sorry. There was a lambrusco and some whites and a nice red and, I think, two sakes, but that helps us out not at all).
Spiced chicharron with togarashi pepper (fried pork skins), sweat pea pods infused with truffle oil and something else, and homemade biscuits with black pepper butter and a mirin glaze, which tasted like cornbread made by God himself.
Mackerel with sea salt and assorted greens flowers, one which tasted like oysters
Tiny daikon dumplings in an oxtail and amaretto broth. The dumplings were too small to get much taste out of them, but the broth I could drink all day
sous vide chicken egg (poached) with hackleback caviar, crispy fingerling potato chips and microgreens with sweet onions and dash of soft vinegar.
Butternut squash ravioli covered in chorizo, corn, pickled tomato and cotija cheese, which was like Italian ravioli that stopped at the Red Hook Soccer Fields on the boat over
A fish dish that was very nice and involved mustard and sea salt in some way but I can't quite remember what kind or the specifics. I think it was fluke, but I'm not sure.
a torchon of foie gras grated over a mix of Riesling gelee, and lychee, with a dab of sea salt. It just melted in your mouth, with a slight alcoholic kick, with the tiniest bit of saltiness in random bites. The most unique dish of the evenings.
a sous vided, then braised, then deep fried beef short rib with a medley of spring onions, including green onions. Good, but not as amazing as I was expecting. It melted in my mouth like the best pork belly does, with a little crispiness from the deep frying.
peach sorbet in a peach liquor sauce of some sort
macerated blueberries with olive oil creme fraiche ice cream and black pepper crumble