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Momofuku Ko, East Village - A 12-Seat Restaurant with $175 Lunch Tasting, $125 Dinner Tasting

East Village Modern American Tasting Menu Only $45 Corkage No Large Parties Momofuku

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#1 darkstar965

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Posted 07 January 2012 - 11:31 AM

Ko next weekend. Is it worthwhile? Had a disappointing experience at Ssam Bar recently but I've long targeted Ko for a try and it just didn't work until now. Has anyone been recently? Did it crest too long ago? Thank you!

#2 Simon

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Posted 07 January 2012 - 04:25 PM

I went in January 2011 and thought it vastly overrated. In general, I thought the cooking lacked the kind of clarity and precision required to bring off its brand of novelty. The most satisfying dish was the main course -- a rather conventionally prepared duck breast -- and of the more "innovative" courses, only the shaved foie gras lingers positively in the memory. Everything else, to me, was muddled or simply lackluster. Didn't live up to the hype.

#3 darkstar965

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Posted 08 January 2012 - 10:19 PM

I went in January 2011 and thought it vastly overrated. In general, I thought the cooking lacked the kind of clarity and precision required to bring off its brand of novelty. The most satisfying dish was the main course -- a rather conventionally prepared duck breast -- and of the more "innovative" courses, only the shaved foie gras lingers positively in the memory. Everything else, to me, was muddled or simply lackluster. Didn't live up to the hype.


Big thanks, Simon. I'd love to get a few more responses on this. If there's any kind of trend, we'd likely cancel or keep our booking. Simon's feedback more or less aligns with my own experience at Ssam Bar from a few months ago.


Are you going for lunch or dinner? The best reports I've heard have been from lunch. I went for dinner.


dinner

#4 darkstar965

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Posted 14 January 2012 - 02:35 AM

So, with the big exception of Simon (thanks again!), didn't get any response here and that was part of why we headed to Ko tonight with some trepidation. It wasn't just that only one person weighed in upthread. Or that Simon wasn't that excited about what he'd experienced. It wasn't even that I'd personally been pretty disappointed with Ssam Bar several months back. Or, for that matter, that few restauranteurs have been as hyped as David Chang (who suffers from no lack of confidence whatsoever if his public interviews are any indication). No, it wasn't any one of those things that drove our worry. Rather, it was all of them together.

But, still we went.

On one hand, I can't disagree too much with the specific recollections that Simon shared. Our menu included the same things Simon recalled. Descriptions about "conventional" preparation and being "overrated" align with our own experience.

On the other hand, I think all the above served to lower expectations sufficiently that we generally enjoyed it. But, in no way is Ko transformative, game-changing or particularly memorable. Nor could I recommend it as a definite destination. And, yes, that's in spite of it retaining 2 Michelin stars for four years running; in spite of it ranking #65 on the world's best 100 restaurants list (or so we'd read).

On to the specifics:

PRE-VISIT

As has been written about elsewhere extensively, getting seats at Ko isn't straightforward nor particularly hard. Because the place has only 12 seats at a bar and has been backed with sophisticated marketing, it has created an aura of being a pretty tough table. But, the reality is this. Log on to their site at 9:55am on any morning, be prepared to click right at 10am, and you'll be fine to likely book 1, 2 or 4 seats for seven days hence. At least, that was our experience for a Friday night so I imagine safe to generalize. First example of significant pr-fueled exaggeration.

When the reservation confirmation email came, it instructed (in red) to "print this out and bring it with you" and went on to address any special requests this way:

please note we will do our best to accommodate special needs and food allergies however because our menu changes from day to day we will sometimes be unable to significantly alter your meal.


Armed with that guidance, I emailed them to inquire whether they could accommodate the gluten-free and dairy-free preferences of my SO. I won't quote the response I received but, paraphrasing, it was basically "no" to gluten-free and no response on the dairy free. In the back of my mind upon receiving that was the snippet (aka #3 on "David Chang's Top 5 Most Annoying Things Customers Do" sermon) about "fake allergies" that just strikes me as obnoxious. If you can accommodate, then do so. If you can't or don't want to, then don't. But don't judge customer sincerity on preferences whether or not doctor approved. One person's view.

So, mildly annoyed by all this, I was then pleased to get a call from an actual person (their email communications are all unhelpfully signed "Momofuku") who was...nice...and understanding. He explained why gluten-free wasn't possible (soy in most dishes) but checked and then assured us they could adapt to the dairy-free request. Encouraged.

ARRIVAL

From arrival on everything mostly surprised us on the upside. Ko has a pretty established two-turn choreography each night with the 12 seats divided into 3 groups of 4 for service timing. We arrived right on time and took our seats. Hooks for coats under the bar. Drink menu proffered. They did ask anew about any dietary restrictions (despite the email and phone conversations we'd had) but no concern there. Calm and inviting environment. Hmmm, maybe we'd be okay after all.

SERVICE

Quite good. First off, most of the service (all food) is done by the chefs, of which there are three and which of course didn't include David Chang or even Peter Serpico. The chef/servers are each dedicated to different courses with one working salads/raw fish, another the oven/salamander/grill and the third being a chef-of-all-trades working desserts, pastas and whatever else needs doing. All three chefs serve and interact with all 12 guests. They are supported by 2-3 other staff, one of whom is both hostess and sommelier/barkeep.

Two of our chefs were Shaun and Ann (Anne?) and they were wonderful. Great backgrounds. Genuinely nice. And more than happy to talk and answer questions while keeping on schedule with service. We really liked this part of the experience. Similar to a chef's table in terms of the dynamic.

Beyond the conversation, the 5-7 total staff ensured thorough, attentive and balanced service throughout the meal. Their systems ensures some space between the two nightly seatings without any feeling of being rushed.

FOOD

We had what Simon had and several other things to total 11 courses not including two amuse bouches. One fun fact. The daily lunch tasting menu is priced $50 higher than dinner. Given that's not so typical, we asked and the answer made some sense. Lunch is evidently more food, more courses (18 maybe?) and more time with just one seating. Well alrighty.

Our tasting menu included:

- Amuse #1: crispy pork skin with a smoked beef heart borscht shot--this was very good. The crispy pork skin was fairly straightforward but well executed with a bit of heat. The shot struck us as both innovative and quite tasty.

- Amuse #2: duck pate--about a half inch cube served in a spoon. Enjoyed it. Not much more to say.

Of the 11 courses, I'm missing one and these aren't all in exactly the same sequence as they were served. But, as best we could recall:

- A gruyere soup with cheese bruschetta--again here some points for innovation as this was a very thin soup with the consistency of a clear broth but with strong flavor of a quality gruyere. No gloppy cheese. Thought this interesting and also quite delicious and savory while also oddly refreshing.

- Ami ebi with micro cilantro and yellow curry--this dish, while also fairly pedestrian, was well executed and we enjoyed it. The shrimps were creamy in consistency.

- Large poached egg with American sturgeon roe, soft sauteed onion and thin fingerling potato chips. Like so many of the dishes, this was surprising in how simple it was in design and technique. I'm no cook but I'd go as far as to speculate I could probably replicate this at home. Nevertheless, the pairing worked with the salty caviar and sweet onion complementing the perfectly poached egg nicely and the chips adding some textural crispness. Probably the most luxurious of the courses we were served.

- Raw spanish mackerel with ginger pickled shallot and crispy rice bits that had a Japanese name I didn't catch. We also enjoyed this mostly because the fish was very fresh and of good quality. The shallot paired nicely.

- House-cut pasta (I think that's what they called it) with a "chicken/snail sausage" and crispy bits of chicken skin. One of the better and more interesting dishes inasmuch as i) the pasta was excellent, ii) i'm not sure I'd had sausage made with chicken and snails before and it worked; very tasty and iii) I wouldn't have thought to expect crispy chicken skin with this combination but that also worked to round out flavors and texture.

- Partly cooked trout with radish and rutabaga mayonnaise. Pretty good. Again, the good quality and carefully de-boned trout made the dish enjoyable even though the cooking was more 'mostly' than "partly." Didn't pick up so much rutabaga in the mayo but a nice complement nonetheless. Another appreciated but simple dish in design and execution.

- Cold-shaved foie gras with lychee and a riesling gelee. This was a repeat from Simon's experience. I agree it was one of the more interesting dishes though my +1 enjoyed it more than I did. Served in a deep bowl, it presents as reggiano covering something but then surprises with cold, richness and fruit.

- Seared Muscovy duck breast with a red wine reduction, mustard greens, turnip tops with pumpernickel and a swipe of turnip green puree. Agree with Simon that the duck is very conventionally prepared. That said, it was cooked to a perfect medium rare and well seasoned. Much better than one we had recently at one of DC's more acclaimed restaurants I won't name. We found the pumpernickel turnips to be more gimmicky than memorable but appreciated that the whole vegetable was used in the dish with the greens for both a side vegetable and the puree. Maybe this would do well on a Food Network show that asked chefs to create culinary wonders with muscovy duck, turnips and a stocked pantry. When the duck came out of the oven, the chef trimmed it to serve only the center, perfectly portioned rectangular cubes. We'd have like them to also incorporate some of the parts trimmed that had most of the crispy skin but wasn't to be.

- Calamonsi sorbet with brown butter caramel and earl grey tea pannacotta. I wasn't familiar with calamonsi but was instantly familiar with the taste because, while it is most commonly found in SE Asia, the fruits are also grown throughout North America under different names and it tastes fairly close to tangerine or tangelo. This was okay. Sorbet-fine. Caramel/brown butter maybe a tad burnt but still good. I'd never have guessed the pannacotta was flavored with Earl Grey tea but, nonetheless, it was fine. More complex as described than as served.

- Pomegranate meringue with frozen banana, raw chips of coconut, coconut cream and some kind of chocolate "crumble." Probably the least successful dish that overdid it in an attempt to be "innovative." Some components (the frozen banana and crumble) were better than others but the combination didn't make a lot of sense or work particularly well.

BEVERAGE

Wish I'd been able to write down what we drank but the place frowns on note taking and actively prohibits bloggers or photos.

We each tried different sakes to start and then I moved on to a suggested white burgundy and, finally, a red rhone. All were good and well matched to the food.

VALUE

The dinner tasting menu runs $125 per person not including drinks, tax and tip. We thought that fair for where we were and what we had.

BOTTOM LINE

I know lots of others love Ko and think it revolutionary, Michelin and many media outlets among them. We thought it more ordinary than that but were freakin' delighted that there were no molecular gastronomy components, all the staff were very friendly and helpful and the food generally well executed if not as redefining as much of the hype might have one believe. Better than Ssam Bar though who knows what we'd say with a few more visits to each? Lots of fancy, complicated labeling of dishes but almost always more straightforward as served; generally a good thing. I probably would try the lunch at Ko given how it was characterized but less likely we'd do dinner again with all the other options on offer in Manhattan and greater NY.

#5 DonRocks

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Posted 14 January 2012 - 06:37 AM

So, with the big exception of Simon (thanks again!), didn't get any response here and that was part of why we headed to Ko tonight with some trepidation. It wasn't just that only one person weighed in upthread. Or that Simon wasn't that excited about what he'd experienced. It wasn't even that I'd personally been pretty disappointed with Ssam Bar several months back. Or, for that matter, that few restauranteurs have been as hyped as David Chang (who suffers from no lack of confidence whatsoever if his public interviews are any indication). No, it wasn't any one of those things that drove our worry. Rather, it was all of them together.

But, still we went.

On one hand, I can't disagree too much with the specific recollections that Simon shared. Our menu included the same things Simon recalled. Descriptions about "conventional" preparation and being "overrated" align with our own experience.

On the other hand, I think all the above served to lower expectations sufficiently that we generally enjoyed it. But, in no way is Ko transformative, game-changing or particularly memorable. Nor could I recommend it as a definite destination. And, yes, that's in spite of it retaining 2 Michelin stars for four years running; in spite of it ranking #65 on the world's best 100 restaurants list (or so we'd read).

On to the specifics:

PRE-VISIT

As has been written about elsewhere extensively, getting seats at Ko isn't straightforward nor particularly hard. Because the place has only 12 seats at a bar and has been backed with sophisticated marketing, it has created an aura of being a pretty tough table. But, the reality is this. Log on to their site at 9:55am on any morning, be prepared to click right at 10am, and you'll be fine to likely book 1, 2 or 4 seats for seven days hence. At least, that was our experience for a Friday night so I imagine safe to generalize. First example of significant pr-fueled exaggeration.

When the reservation confirmation email came, it instructed (in red) to "print this out and bring it with you" and went on to address any special requests this way:



Armed with that guidance, I emailed them to inquire whether they could accommodate the gluten-free and dairy-free preferences of my SO. I won't quote the response I received but, paraphrasing, it was basically "no" to gluten-free and no response on the dairy free. In the back of my mind upon receiving that was the snippet (aka #3 on "David Chang's Top 5 Most Annoying Things Customers Do" sermon) about "fake allergies" that just strikes me as obnoxious. If you can accommodate, then do so. If you can't or don't want to, then don't. But don't judge customer sincerity on preferences whether or not doctor approved. One person's view.

So, mildly annoyed by all this, I was then pleased to get a call from an actual person (their email communications are all unhelpfully signed "Momofuku") who was...nice...and understanding. He explained why gluten-free wasn't possible (soy in most dishes) but checked and then assured us they could adapt to the dairy-free request. Encouraged.

ARRIVAL

From arrival on everything mostly surprised us on the upside. Ko has a pretty established two-turn choreography each night with the 12 seats divided into 3 groups of 4 for service timing. We arrived right on time and took our seats. Hooks for coats under the bar. Drink menu proffered. They did ask anew about any dietary restrictions (despite the email and phone conversations we'd had) but no concern there. Calm and inviting environment. Hmmm, maybe we'd be okay after all.

SERVICE

Quite good. First off, most of the service (all food) is done by the chefs, of which there are three and which of course didn't include David Chang or even Peter Serpico. The chef/servers are each dedicated to different courses with one working salads/raw fish, another the oven/salamander/grill and the third being a chef-of-all-trades working desserts, pastas and whatever else needs doing. All three chefs serve and interact with all 12 guests. They are supported by 2-3 other staff, one of whom is both hostess and sommelier/barkeep.

Two of our chefs were Shaun and Ann (Anne?) and they were wonderful. Great backgrounds. Genuinely nice. And more than happy to talk and answer questions while keeping on schedule with service. We really liked this part of the experience. Similar to a chef's table in terms of the dynamic.

Beyond the conversation, the 5-7 total staff ensured thorough, attentive and balanced service throughout the meal. Their systems ensures some space between the two nightly seatings without any feeling of being rushed.

FOOD

We had what Simon had and several other things to total 11 courses not including two amuse bouches. One fun fact. The daily lunch tasting menu is priced $50 higher than dinner. Given that's not so typical, we asked and the answer made some sense. Lunch is evidently more food, more courses (18 maybe?) and more time with just one seating. Well alrighty.

Our tasting menu included:

- Amuse #1: crispy pork skin with a smoked beef heart borscht shot--this was very good. The crispy pork skin was fairly straightforward but well executed with a bit of heat. The shot struck us as both innovative and quite tasty.

- Amuse #2: duck pate--about a half inch cube served in a spoon. Enjoyed it. Not much more to say.

Of the 11 courses, I'm missing one and these aren't all in exactly the same sequence as they were served. But, as best we could recall:

- A gruyere soup with cheese bruschetta--again here some points for innovation as this was a very thin soup with the consistency of a clear broth but with strong flavor of a quality gruyere. No gloppy cheese. Thought this interesting and also quite delicious and savory while also oddly refreshing.

- Ami ebi with micro cilantro and yellow curry--this dish, while also fairly pedestrian, was well executed and we enjoyed it. The shrimps were creamy in consistency.

- Large poached egg with American sturgeon roe, soft sauteed onion and thin fingerling potato chips. Like so many of the dishes, this was surprising in how simple it was in design and technique. I'm no cook but I'd go as far as to speculate I could probably replicate this at home. Nevertheless, the pairing worked with the salty caviar and sweet onion complementing the perfectly poached egg nicely and the chips adding some textural crispness. Probably the most luxurious of the courses we were served.

- Raw spanish mackerel with ginger pickled shallot and crispy rice bits that had a Japanese name I didn't catch. We also enjoyed this mostly because the fish was very fresh and of good quality. The shallot paired nicely.

- House-cut pasta (I think that's what they called it) with a "chicken/snail sausage" and crispy bits of chicken skin. One of the better and more interesting dishes inasmuch as i) the pasta was excellent, ii) i'm not sure I'd had sausage made with chicken and snails before and it worked; very tasty and iii) I wouldn't have thought to expect crispy chicken skin with this combination but that also worked to round out flavors and texture.

- Partly cooked trout with radish and rutabaga mayonnaise. Pretty good. Again, the good quality and carefully de-boned trout made the dish enjoyable even though the cooking was more 'mostly' than "partly." Didn't pick up so much rutabaga in the mayo but a nice complement nonetheless. Another appreciated but simple dish in design and execution.

- Cold-shaved foie gras with lychee and a riesling gelee. This was a repeat from Simon's experience. I agree it was one of the more interesting dishes though my +1 enjoyed it more than I did. Served in a deep bowl, it presents as reggiano covering something but then surprises with cold, richness and fruit.

- Seared Muscovy duck breast with a red wine reduction, mustard greens, turnip tops with pumpernickel and a swipe of turnip green puree. Agree with Simon that the duck is very conventionally prepared. That said, it was cooked to a perfect medium rare and well seasoned. Much better than one we had recently at one of DC's more acclaimed restaurants I won't name. We found the pumpernickel turnips to be more gimmicky than memorable but appreciated that the whole vegetable was used in the dish with the greens for both a side vegetable and the puree. Maybe this would do well on a Food Network show that asked chefs to create culinary wonders with muscovy duck, turnips and a stocked pantry. When the duck came out of the oven, the chef trimmed it to serve only the center, perfectly portioned rectangular cubes. We'd have like them to also incorporate some of the parts trimmed that had most of the crispy skin but wasn't to be.

- Calamonsi sorbet with brown butter caramel and earl grey tea pannacotta. I wasn't familiar with calamonsi but was instantly familiar with the taste because, while it is most commonly found in SE Asia, the fruits are also grown throughout North America under different names and it tastes fairly close to tangerine or tangelo. This was okay. Sorbet-fine. Caramel/brown butter maybe a tad burnt but still good. I'd never have guessed the pannacotta was flavored with Earl Grey tea but, nonetheless, it was fine. More complex as described than as served.

- Pomegranate meringue with frozen banana, raw chips of coconut, coconut cream and some kind of chocolate "crumble." Probably the least successful dish that overdid it in an attempt to be "innovative." Some components (the frozen banana and crumble) were better than others but the combination didn't make a lot of sense or work particularly well.

BEVERAGE

Wish I'd been able to write down what we drank but the place frowns on note taking and actively prohibits bloggers or photos.

We each tried different sakes to start and then I moved on to a suggested white burgundy and, finally, a red rhone. All were good and well matched to the food.

VALUE

The dinner tasting menu runs $125 per person not including drinks, tax and tip. We thought that fair for where we were and what we had.

BOTTOM LINE

I know lots of others love Ko and think it revolutionary, Michelin and many media outlets among them. We thought it more ordinary than that but were freakin' delighted that there were no molecular gastronomy components, all the staff were very friendly and helpful and the food generally well executed if not as redefining as much of the hype might have one believe. Better than Ssam Bar though who knows what we'd say with a few more visits to each? Lots of fancy, complicated labeling of dishes but almost always more straightforward as served; generally a good thing. I probably would try the lunch at Ko given how it was characterized but less likely we'd do dinner again with all the other options on offer in Manhattan and greater NY.


[All I can say is ... what a wonderful Saturday morning present this was to wake up to. I drove to, yes, Starbucks, in the pitch black quiet of 6:15 AM, treated myself to a Reserve Organic Indonesia Blue Java made on the Clover - which cost me about $1.25 more - and the coffee was so good that I didn't even bother putting any cream or sugar in it (usually, at Starbucks, I get my drip Pike Roast while waiting on my cell phone, put enough sugar and half and half in it so that it's drinkable, and haul ass without even looking at anyone; this morning was different). I came home, where I'll wake my son in an hour (I think the little bugger is up now playing around on his computer upstairs), and head to Harrisonburg for the day. But for ten minutes, I sat back on my styrofoam roller (yes, on my yoga mat), and enjoyed this shockingly good coffee while reading about this shockingly hyped restaurant which, in part, lived up to its reputation. Comparisons and contrasts abound - thanks for making this a better morning, sir. Yours was an important post. Cheers, Rocks]

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#6 Ericandblueboy

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Posted 15 January 2012 - 09:32 AM

My visit to Ko from 2009. A much shorter review but gets to the same point.

#7 TrelayneNYC

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Posted 20 November 2013 - 11:33 PM

They may have frowned on bloggers when you visited there, but there was a time when they didn't....



2394679461_0ba9f934c8_o.jpg

Fluke sashimi, toasted poppy seeds, buttermilk, chives

2395893048_ae51d84be3_o.jpg

Coddled egg, soubise onion, potato chips, hackleback caviar, sweet potato vinegar

2394679935_5acd48aaa5_o.jpg

Deep-fried short ribs, carrot, daikon radish, scallion, pickled mustard seeds, fried parsley

2395514506_a6556bca72_o.jpg
 

;)



#8 TrelayneNYC

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Posted 21 November 2013 - 07:27 AM

I thought soubise was béchamel with onion in it. This is a new one for me - is it the green stuff on the plate?

(Feel free to reproduce and answer the question on the thread if you think it’ll be of general interest - I didn’t want to come across as “aggressive” by asking it publicly.)

Love your pictures!

Best,
Don

 

Thanks, Don. ;)

This Bon Appetit recipe is an adaptation of the dish in the pic above. The onion soubise appears to be the clear liquid sitting beneath the egg.

 

BTW, the short ribs were cooked sous vide, then deep-fried, in case that wasn't apparent. 



#9 Pool Boy

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Posted 23 May 2014 - 08:33 PM

We had a really good meal there December 2013. This after our attempt in May 2013 was thwarted, with confirmed ressies when they unexpectedly shut down for the night with no explanation as to why. The made good on their promise to guarantee us a seat whenever we were back in town, so good on them.

 

Their bar chairs suck.

 

The food was good, some of it really good. Maybe one real eye opener. But it was obscenely expensive (as well as the wine), and honestly I wasn't blown away. Don't get me wrong, it was a lot of fun watching them make the dishes and all, and they were imaginative and delicious. But I think these neverending tasting menus have jumped the collective shark for me. I'd rather thoroughly enjoy 4 to 5, 6 maybe 7 courses max than make my way though 10, 12 or more. That's just me.

 

It was worth the experience but I see no need in ever going back.


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Also tagged with one or more of these keywords: East Village, Modern American, Tasting Menu Only, $45 Corkage, No Large Parties, Momofuku

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