Momofuku Ko

by Susan on March 25, 2008

[Food:4/5]

Metal latticework covers the tiny storefront of Momofuku Ko and if you’re not one of the lucky few with a reservation at David Chang’s newest restaurant, you probably wouldn’t even notice the peach etched into the glass door. This is probably just what David Chang, the man behind the ever-popular Momofuku Ssam and Momofuku Noodle Bar, intended.

A sand-colored wooden bar and fourteen stools fill the minimalist long and narrow space. If you’ve managed to score a reservation (more on that in a minute) you’ll be in the hands of Chef Peter Serpico for the next eight courses. There is no menu. There are no choices. (The staff does, however, kindly ask if you have any food allergies or aversions.) Not having to peruse a menu or make decisions about one’s order was refreshing and eating at the whims of Chang and Serpico is a culinary treat. Sit back, watch, and enjoy.

The small wine list consists of high-end and safe brands (think Kistler and Patz & Hall), but there is no reason to look past the wine flight. Six pairings, from champagne to sake to asti, with some lovely wines mixed in between, is the icing on the cake.

Getting into Momofuku Ko makes securing a table at Per Se seem like child’s play. There are no phones. There are no month-out reservations so you can plan ahead for that special occasion. There are no tables selling on TableXchange. All reservations are granted by the Momofuku Ko Reservation website. Every morning at 10am reservations are released for the corresponding day in the following week. You have to give a credit card to log into the website and the website threatens that you’ll be asked for ID when you arrive. Since Momofuku Ko’s opening, one night’s worth of reservations have been disappearing in under one minute. Yes, we’re talking seconds, so start exercising that trigger finger. Assuming someone would cancel a reservation I had taken to checking the website at random times. Lo and behold, one night at 11pm my efforts were rewarded. Plans were re-arranged and calendars were cleared for the this-may-be-a-once-in-a-lifetime-occasion.

Portions were sizable for an eight-course meal, but dishes are not starch-laden, there is no breadbasket flanked by multiple types of butter, and no ovation of petit fours arrives with your check. You somehow walk out of Momofuku Ko without tugging at the waistband of your pants.

Admittedly, I was disappointed by the calm demeanor of the chefs on the other side of the bar. They are just a few feet away in the open kitchen, preparing and plating multiple dishes. I had grand illusions of a Benihana-meets-Iron Chef atmosphere, but there were no theatrics aside from a few beads of sweat and Serpico’s occasional order to “Fire!”

Dinner for two had an added advantage. My husband and I were not always served the same dish, allowing us to taste even more of Chang’s creations. (My husband did comment that when your dish was better, sharing it no longer seemed like an advantage.)

An Amuse Bouche of homemade pork rinds was followed by English muffins grilled with pork fat and fresh basil leaves. Both were tasty, but neither came close to representing the depth of Chang’s abilities and what we were about to consume over the next handful of courses. I likened it to “limping in” at the poker table.

Fresh pieces of crab was buried under a pile of vibrantly green, shaved avocado. Though beautiful to look at, it was the punch of horseradish that brought the dish to life. A buttermilk, sriracha, white soy and poppy seed dressing gussied up thin slices of fluke. By the end of the course we were dipping pieces of crab from the other dish into the creamy and spicy dressing. If they sold bottles by the door, I would have bought two.

Pea Soup with cannelloni of vegetables ruined me for any future pea soup I may try. It was, hands down, the best pea soup I’ve ever had. It was gorgeous in color and both sweet and deep in flavor. (It was only at this juncture I longed for a piece of bread to swath out the green remains from the bowl.) An intriguing combination of oysters, cabbage and Berkshire pork all bathed in consommé, was delicate, but didn’t meld. The oysters immersed in warm broth were the highlight – a new and delicious way to eat the normally cold shellfish.

A dish of scallop, manila clams, and striped bass was our least favorite. The scallop, browned on its top, but just cooked through its middle was the standout.

If you’ve read anything about Momofuku Ko, you’ve read about these next two dishes. First up, a generous heaping of caviar is spooned over a smoked egg. A sweet and salty puddle of onion soubise and a handful of mini potato chips finish off the dish. Although we found the combination salty, one cannot deny the thought, execution, and presentation that goes into such a culinary construct.

The triumph of the night, a reason in itself to try and secure a reservation and shell out $85 for the menu, was the shaved foie gras atop Riesling gelee, lychees, and pine nut brittle. The clay-colored foie gras is frozen, allowing it to be grated over the sweet and crunchy compote. Once a spoonful of foie gras hits your mouth the shavings instantly melt on your tongue. Perfect balance. Perfect texture. It doesn’t get much better than this.

I applaud Chang for the ingenuity of the deep fried short rib; it was like no short rib I’ve had before. We’re accustomed to short ribs whose fat has been rendered by braising and slow-cooking; a process that causes the entire piece of meat to tenderize. By dropping the meat into the fryer, a dark and crispy exterior layer forms around the meat, but the interior tenderness is not compromised. Pickled carrots provided acidity while the accompanying daikon topped with mustard seed was amazing enough to have been its own dish.

A scoop of Pineapple sorbet served atop dried pineapple pieces was the palate cleanser before the deep fried apple pie concluded our meal. The pie had an ideal crust to filling ratio; there wasn’t a single bite that tasted too doughy or sweet. Though the sour ice cream and toasted miso sounded like masterful accompaniments, the sour ice cream could not tame the incredibly salty miso. We happily ate the apple pie on its own.

Chang pushes the limits without making you uncomfortable. He produces original dishes that keep us buzzing, but never questioning.

Momofuku Ko
www.momofuku.com
163 1st Avenue
New York, NY 10003
No Phone

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