No self-respecting review of Momofuku Ko would begin without explaining in detail how “hard” it is to get a reservation. Go read one of those.
What you don’t hear is that being fifteen minutes late may result in losing your spot and cost you $150. Hence the tension as our train inches to Astor Place. This restaurant is so expensive that it costs $300 if we don’t show up – and probably around $400 if we do. In that way, the cost of the thing becomes part of the experience. When you aren’t made of money, you find yourself asking “is this going to be worth it?” a lot.
And it’s not like you can cull too much from the internet, especially photos which are a no-no (hence these clandestine shots and links to other people’s pics). Personally, I take joy in documenting my experiences, so that was a bit of a drag. But I’ll play ball. I even installed the Cover app they suggested on my phone so I could forgo dealing with the bill at the end of the meal. In retrospect, I’m glad I did.
If you don’t know, Ko is part of David Chang’s little empire of establishments – including Momofuku Milkbar in Carroll Gardens where a few nights earlier I enjoyed some cereal milk ice cream with corn flake crunch and chocolate fudge. But I digress.
So our reservation is for 6:20 and we get there on the nose – only to find the place empty. It becomes apparent that reservations are staggered and we’re the first – so each guest gets the same attention upfront, and plates cascade from the kitchen in order. Order, as it turns out, is key, from the controlled intake of guests, to the labeled mise en place, to the delivery of the right spoon just when it’s needed, to wrapping it all up in time for the next seating. Speaking of seats, there are only 12 and they surround the kitchen.
“Like Benihana?” My friend asked when I tried to explain.
The amuses set the stage – a few sips of carrot soup with something whipped on top (while the middle-aged rock isn’t loud, the chefs are mostly soft spoken). A tasty little soup but gone before there’s a chance to get familiar with it. Same with the bite of lobster that follows. By design, both leave you wanting more.
“Is it hot in here?” My girl asks.
The raw scallop with tomato water and basil is clean and sharp. As is the mackerel with watermelon, black sesame and kimchi. Things are starting to get more substantial and tasty.
I’d been watching them slowly prepare the honeydew melon, cucumber and avocado dish since I got there – wondering the whole time what I was seeing. With some macadamia nuts, it was a nice plate – but I could tell it was daydreaming about pancetta.
The important proteins – when not raw – are cooked right in front of you – perfectly – and then dotted, sprigged and presented in semi-exact measure. I’m told most of the menu changes frequently, but that certain key dishes are mainstays.
“People would be mad if we took the egg off the menu,” I overhear the chef say. “That and the foie.”
Lucky me, because that egg dish was my jam, yo. And so simple: a soft boiled egg on a bed of baby potato chips, with herbs and caviar. Beautiful, simple, delicious. With crusty chewy sourdough bread.
Not as impressed with the peaky-toe crab tortellini. Though the al dente peas were nice. Something seemed a little pedestrian about it. Fucking pedestrians, am I right?
Some expertly cooked halibut finds its way onto our plates. With watercress and zucchini and olive, it was the biggest shocker of the night for me. I’ll be honest, I never dug fish growing up (though raised by a family of Italians that were three fourths clam sauce).
“You sure you’re not hot? Maybe it’s where I’m sitting,” she says.
Watching them prepare the next dish was something like food porn for my girl and I. Frozen foie grated over a bowl of riesling gelée, pine nuts and lychees. Nine months later all 12 of us would give birth to twins!
And now the beef rib cap. Like the halibut, I watched the stages of it’s creation and was even concerned it might be overdone by the time it reached me. What a fool! It was delectable and perfectly cooked, with bagna càuda and a little romaine. A nice final savory course.
My girl, beautiful as she is, ain’t looking so great when the first dessert arrives (celery ice-cream with blueberries, sake and sweet rice). And by the time the second dessert (coconut lime sorbet with rum meringue, frozen banana and shortbread) hits the table, she’s really looking pale. Especially difficult from her yellow baseline.
“I suddenly don’t feel so good,” she says, and I eat her dessert while she explains. After a trip to the restroom where she tossed two hundred dollars of fine food and sake into the toilet, she comes out looking a little worn. Some of this drama did not go unnoticed.
“Is she OK?” the chef asks.
“She’s not feeling too well. We’re gonna split.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I hope it wasn’t something she ate.”
“I doubt it,” I say, uncertain. Still, I know this girl pretty well; she can eat the anus off an antelope. And I ate everything she did with no problems.
On the way out, they hand her some sparkling water for the road and give us copies of the menu. Thanks to Cover, we didn’t have to wait around for a check.
“Welp, at least you got to taste it,” I say to my girl, walking back to the train.
“Twice,” she said.
Update: Always felt it was weird the restaurant didn’t reach out to us afterwards, considering.