163 First Avenue off 10th Street
about $300 for two, with beverage pairings, without tip
♥ ♥ ♥
I was so busy at work last week that I didn’t even have time to be excited about our upcoming reservations at Ko. When Cameron told me she wanted to take me out to thank me for showing her the Philippines last month, I thought, You’re welcome; don’t be silly. But when I received an email from her a couple of weeks later with our Ko confirmation attached, I squealed, Noooooo.
I gave up trying to get a reservation the first time I actually saw a green check mark on their Web site. As soon as I clicked it, I waited nervously for the page to refresh, and then, Sorry, that spot was just taken. It’s like waiting for your lottery numbers to show up on TV: the ball rolls out and you think it’s one of your picks; only it’s a 6 and not a 9 when it finally stops spinning. Momofuku Ko is the first restaurant I know of that uses only a Web site to take reservations and I suppose it’s a good way to keep the die-hard David Chang fans excited. All of us need someone who is willing to click their mouse off once in a while.
At 6:15 sharp, we were seated in the middle of the bar with a couple to our left and a group of four at the other end. The other seats were waiting for the 6:30pm guests–stacking them up this way is their version of turning tables over efficiently. By the time we were eating our fourth course, a newly arrived couple to our right was pouring over the wine list. The night’s pace was swift; our matching wines, beer and sake kept coming until the first of two desserts. I felt like I had to keep drinking to have no more than two glasses on my table. Although I played catch up with my drinks, I kept up with all eleven courses, including the bouches. The portions weren’t French Laundry nor Blue Hill sizes. I wasn’t comatose at the end of our two-hour meal. Perhaps a little tipsy, but quite happy and content. Here’s a rundown:
1. A delicately small toasted English muffin with pork fat and chives
2. A Ssam tribute of pig’s head torchon with mustard
One of the first two came with a light and crunchy chicharron and Japanese salt.
3. Fluke sashimi in buttermilk (!) with Sriracha hot sauce and yuzu paste covered in poppy seeds
4. Matsutake mushrooms in hot broth of bacon and dashi, a dish that reminded me of Tojo’s sable fish soup in Vancouver.
5. A beautifully smoked soft-boiled egg with onion sous-vide and caviar served with potato chips
6. An out of place corn-filled ravioli with Cotija Mexican cheese; I liked it more than I expected.
7. Maine halibut in pepperoncini purée and burnt onions with finely-chopped kohlrabi and radish in basil oil
8. Lychee with Riesling gelée and pine nuts and then covered in grated foie gras. Grated. Foie. Gras. This dish blew me away and I couldn’t stop talking about it. Everything melded in my mouth like Dippin’ Dots, only more luxurious and decadent than anything I’ve had this year. “Son of a peach” indeed.
9. Perfectly, perfectly cooked duck–the surly Asian man behind the counter (who wasn’t David Chang) had skills–with Chinese long beans, chestnuts and bean sprouts in cherry sauce.
10. Lychee sorbet in sesame “sand”; my quotes but perhaps a Thomas Keller-influenced naming convention
11. Strawberry and peanut butter halva with a sickeningly sweet yellow cake ice cream. I told you, I don’t like sweets.
David Chang is so lucky to be the name on almost every foodie’s tongue today: five years in the east Village and he’s still making waves. Ko is obviously his and his staff’s playground and you can feel that they’re cooking for themselves and serving what they want because they know people will follow. I can’t help but feel proud that this Asian American is at the top of his career right now. How I wish all talented and deserving chefs out there get the same chance to cook and perform the Momofuku way.