We strolled leisurely down 11th, avoiding the tourist-infused High Line, toward a chef’s counter reservation at Toro where we happily ordered a step beyond what might be considered reasonable.
I went with a steady stream of Pizza Night! cocktails – a spicy Old Fashioned with Calabrian chili, chorizo infused bourbon, Mike’s Hot Honey, and peach bitters. Cold and hot. Spicy and sweet.
We also found the Hell’s Bell Pepper to be just the right amount of savory – tequila, mezcal, yellow bell pepper, agave and bird’s eye chili.
Now we’re diving headfirst into an expensive plate of Paleta Iberico De Cinco Jotas – a dry cured boneless Iberian ham that delights and is gone before you can say “twenty eight dollars.”
Some addictive Maiz Asado con Alioli y Queso Cotija followed – a dangerously convenient version of grilled street corn, and a nice foil for the Setas, a bowl of deliciously unctuous mushrooms set beneath a sexy chivy yolk.
Then things got heavy – in a good way. Unable to choose between bone marrow and foie gras, we picked both. I’m more of a purist when it comes to bone marrow, so the Asado De Hueso with guajillo and chorizo XO, Brussels sprouts and escargot – perhaps has a little too much going on. Yet I ate it happily.
We opted for the Foie Gras Tonkatsu – a crispy foie sandwich with strawberry tomato jam and pickled daikon. Kinda perfect bar food if you’re OK with foie taking second billing. Nice marriage of textures, too.
“Hey man, that’s probably delicious, right?” asked a stranger at the bar – flanked by two liquored up and leathery ladies of a certain age. I smiled and snapped a picture of his seared foie.
For dessert we had hamburgers.
Ok, not dessert per se, but our last course were a pair of delectable Hamburguesas, mini dry-aged burgers with a spicy kick on a potato bun.
In a nutshell, Toro is the perfect place for you and your overpaid friends to meet up, get buzzed, and eat decadent small plates while ignoring a world gone mad.
After checking out Degas’ mono-prints at MoMA, Kim and I head to the Lower East for a reservation at Degustation. It’s been a heavy week. Any excuse to lighten the mood is welcome. What better way than a tasting menu of “provocative” Iberian, French and American influenced cuisine?
“I’m looking forward to the octopus,” I say.
“And the foie with cauliflower ice-cream,” Kim adds.
We take our seats around the chef’s table, not unlike the dining experience at Momofuku Ko we had some time back. It’s just us and a few other patrons basking in the glow of some non-offensive Gen-X music barely audible through the speakers. I heard some of the same songs the night before at Surfish.
“Another Modest Mouse song. We must be the dining demographic,” I say, perusing the menu.
“I look for more in a tasting menu, maybe because I’m an over-eater.”
We go with the seven course tasting menu – and ask for wine recommendations as we’re more of a “cocktail couple.” I start with a Senca Lake Riseling from Red Hook Winery and Kim gets an Eve Charles Smith Chardonay. Later I also try the Vina Peralillo Pinot Noir from Chile. We’re wine novices, truth be told, but dug the change of pace. That being said, give me a Dirty Martini any day of the week. Two on Fridays.
I’m gonna tell you right off the bat that there was nothing off about the flavors the entire evening. Every dish was competently assembled and plated. Service was attentive with each dish explained as the appropriate silverware was placed. Wine and water refills were prompt and unobtrusive. Nothing to complain about. Yet… somewhere in the middle of the meal I realized something was missing.
“What’s that?” Kim asked.
The place is a bit dark with one tiny square window to the street. The open kitchen is well prepped and double teamed by two competent Chefs that tweeze tiny flowers onto seared proteins and spray plastic bottles of oils and dressings with practiced measure. It’s no more or less assembly than goes on in many other restaurants, but seeing it may take a bit of the magic away.
After two adorable oysters, the small salad of local (Union Square Market) snow peas was tasty, as was a plate of carrots with dollops of cheese. A perfectly seared scallop followed – which came with more curried sauce than the one scallop could support. Would be perfect for two scallops, I thought to myself, eating the remaining pungent sauce with a flat spoon. The use of finger limes (?) in the curry was nothing short of genius – and a spark of the aforementioned joy I was looking for. Regardless, that small salad, tiny carrots and one scallop were 43% of the meal. The foreplay was a little lacking.
Perhaps the Mackerel was more adequately sized, with a delicious sear, some fennel and radish. Pork Shoulder slathered in a chocolate mole and avocado mouse had a real depth of flavor but was gone in a matter of bites.
Someone nearby ordered the skirt steak ala cart and received a heaping plate of it. Our tasting portion was something of a sliver or two. Perfectly cooked, yes, and tasty, but more than a little bit fussy.
A small brioche crème brûlée was placed before us and Kim was startled the meal was coming to a close. Delicious, tho. A sweet caramelized french toast of sorts. Hot and gooey and soon gone.
As an advertisement for the actual menu, the tasting menu succeeds – but I look for more in a tasting menu, maybe because I’m an over-eater. Seems to me that folks go with a tasting menu because of a sense of adventure, not for a packaged tour of the usual spots. I don’t want to feel like a tourist, I want to feel like a king.
So, by all means, check out Degustation – but manage your expectations if they are anything like mine.
I went to The NoMad back when I started this blog and felt totally out of place. By now I’ve been there four times and it feels like home. In fact, I had an epiphany some nights ago during appetizers that this is officially my favorite restaurant. The distinction is fluid, yes, but right now The NoMad reigns supreme.
The problem with blogs like this, and Facebook and Twitter, is that people see these posts and think your life is going from one expensive meal to another, without a care in the world. Truth is there’s plenty of hardships to go around but that is not going to stop me from enjoying my pants off tonight.
The distinction is fluid, yes, but right now The NoMad reigns supreme.
I take a hot shower before taking the F into Brooklyn with the excitement of a man about to visit an expensive prostitute. Admittedly, I can only guess about that, but that’s what was going through my mind; That I was about to experience the sexy charms of a true professional.
We walk through the hotel lobby then beneath a huge skylight to our disarmingly comfortable chairs. We’re surrounded by folks with every intention to enjoy expertly prepared food and some creative cocktails. Oh, and wine. Lots of wine. I watched the table next to us order four bottles. Who knows what that cost. Our cocktails were about $16 each… and worth every penny of my girlfriend’s money.
I was about to experience the sexy charms of a true professional.
Did I mention it was my birthday?
“I’m gonna put you through the wringer,” I say to her.
“Go, ahead, it’s your birfday, my boy.”
So, armed with the truth that I am one of the luckiest people I know, Kim and I decide to switch it up tonight. Order different things. Not the old standbys we love so much. Only that’s not exactly what happened.
“We kinda have to have the foie and the poached egg.”
“Is that what you want?” she asks. “We had those before.”
“I want those badly,” I say.
We order a few ingenious cocktails. I start with my usual Start Me Up (bourbon, rum, strega, honey, ginger, lemon, orange bitters). Kim gets the Bread and Butternut (vodka, cream sherry, amontillado sherry, becherovka, butternut squash, lemon, angostura bitters). Both are marginally sweet, but totally ready to be paired with food. I promise you.
We start with something new. Fresh radishes with butter frozen in time by liquid nitrogen and accompanied by some fleur de sel. Oh, and a nice fresh rye bread hits the table hot and scrumptious. We’d barrel through one and half of those before the meal ends.
And yes, during the Foie Gras and poached egg appetizers, listening to classic rock, facing my girl with a slight buzz… nothing else mattered. None of this election noise. No terrorism. No injustice. Just happiness in one of my favorite places to find it.
Spreading that black truffled foie on brioche, with a little truffle sauce… it doesn’t get better than that. Except, of course, for that amazing Poached Egg on quinoa with Parmesan foam and asparagus. The perfect plate of food. One of the best plates in NYC, for my money. I mean, my girlfriend’s money.
A server recommended two new drinks for us and we drank them happily. Mine was the Scarlet Knight, which was dry rye gin, carpano antica sweet vermouth, amaro ramazzotti, amaro zucca, cranberries, lemon, mint, and Douglas fir. I got a face-ful of mint every time I took a sip. Kim opted for the Koala Pear made with new american gin, pear eau de vie, cocchi americano, lemon, eucalyptus, bay leaf, and sparkling mineral water.
People see these posts and think your life is going from one expensive meal to another.
For the main, we eschewed their famous chicken dish (which I love) and tired something new. I had the Suckling Pig, which was remarkable. Crispy skin atop tender pork confit with cabbage and pears and a delightful boudin noir. It was out of this world. The contrast of the skin with the pork underneath and then the rich and soft boudin noir sausage… so amazing.
Kim was slightly underwhelmed with her lovely Loup de Mer dish, Loup is a European Seabass and was poached with parsnips, crispy kale & salsa verde. I tried and liked it, but for Kim it was under-seasoned. And as you know, restaurants like this don’t put salt or pepper on the table due to some weird code that Chef’s are supposed to season for every possible palate. A good fish if you’re afraid of “fishy” fish, but my girl is more adventurous than that. You live and learn.
I ordered a perfect Latte and we shared the Milk Chocolate. I know, I could eat their Milk & Honey dessert every day, but we needed something different. We were not disappointed. The Milk Chocolate is ganache with chocolate fondant and malt ice cream, with some crispy chocolate cookie pieces. Perfection.
“I could eat here everyday,” I say.
“I know you could.”
We walk out through the huge bar and library, through the new bar where they also serve food. I can see myself coming back for lunch one day and having a few drinks. I hear they have a chicken sandwich with foie that’s as good as anything else on the menu. Part III of my review is inevitable.
Kim and I hit the street full and happy, holding each tightly as we walked off dinner. We pass a homeless woman pushing a shopping cart.
I can’t hide the lust in my heart for Empellon Al Pastor. I’ve had a bone in my pocket for Chef Alex Stupak’s latest venture since watching his segment on Real Food with Mike Colameco last month and reading all those Eater articles.
Stupak has worked some amazing kitchens, like the late great WD-50 in New York and the other-worldly Alinea in Chicago. So who could guess the latest move by this molecular gastronomist would be an elevated Mexican dive bar in the East Village?
I start with the house Michelada; serrano chiles, reposado tequila, agave nectar and Mexicali beer. I’m not much for beer, but stir this up and you’ve got something special – an umani beer experience that pairs perfectly with tacos and guacamole.
I followed that up with a variant attributed to Chef Wyle Dufresne called the Michelote. This one was made with corn powder, Malta Goya, Ponzu, and Negra Modelo. I was thinking about it for weeks afterwards, but my girl didn’t dig it at all. She liked her cider beer, though, and the guacamole they make by pushing avocados through a grate. Their guacamole is not overly mixed or unduly seasoned, just an honest side dish with crisp house made tortillas.
My plan, executed to perfection, was to eat too many tacos. We ordered at least two or three Al Pastors, which, if there was any justice in the world, would be doing Cronut numbers. To make these, pork shoulder steaks are rubbed with chile before being spit roasted shawarma-style, sliced thin, layered on a soft corn tortilla with a piece of pineapple, and tastefully garnished with salsa and onion.
My plan, executed to perfection, was to eat too many tacos.
Neck and neck with these are the Shortrib Tacos with Maggi Onions. I could eat these on repeat until I flat-lined. There are worse ways to go.
I could eat these on repeat until I flat-lined. There are worse ways to go.
I’ve said it before, but if tongue is on the menu, my girl is putting it in her mouth. We both dug the succulent Beer Braised Pork Tongue tacos, as well as the Chorizo and Bistec variants. Yeah, we ate a lot of tacos – all served on fresh homemade soft corn tortillas made using the Nixtamalization technique where field corn is ground into masa for tortillas every day.
They’ve got a hamburger taco, a few vegetarian choices, as well as chicken wings, nachos, drunken black beans, and other cool sides. I’ve got to start making my way though the menu, including their Tequillas and Mezcal. And of course, there’s an array of Margaritas for you Sex in the City types.
Pull up a stool by the window and watch the lower east side unravel before your drunken eyes. Life is short; eat tacos.
I had vague memories of passing Indochineon my way back and forth to Tower Records back in the day. So I relied on sense memory to find it from the F train on Layayette. And there it was, up the staircase like I remembered. I sat in the lounge, listening to them get ready for service, playing with my phone until Shirley arrived.
We hadn’t seen each other in years. We once worked for the same giant financial corporation, but she moved on to bigger, better things. She was a kid when she worked for me, but we still had a very synergistic relationship. We learned a lot from each other. She quickly became a subject matter expert in anything she put her hands on.
Desserts were a high point. I had read about the Roasted Banana and knew it had my name on it
Now here she is, a veritable grown-up, communicating like the adult she wasn’t then, with all the poise and finesse of a lady. Me? I was just older and fatter, and truth be told; unemployed.
“Are you looking?” she asked.
“I spent about nine months doing other stuff, but I’ve been looking for the last few months. Sent out a few resumes, but no bites just yet.”
I order a Dirty Martini; vodka, rocks, olives. Shirley gets the Indochine Martini; citrus vodka infused with pineapple, ginger and fresh lime juice.
We start with Steak Tartare with lemongrass, coriander, sesame, and ginger chili. As any reader of this blog knows, I’m more than mildly obsessed with tartare these days. This was served with some rice crisps and no egg. I dug it.
Shirley wanted the Grilled Baby Back Ribs, but changed her mind when the waitress took the order. I steered her back to it and am glad I did. Those were the hit of the night. Not traditional, so manage your expectations. More like an Americanized Thai version. Not slathered in sauce, just soft and decadent, with Asian spices and a dry coriander seed rub. Nice heat on these. We were both too polite to eat the last one so we added it to the doggie bag.
“It’s nice that we can easily pick up where we left off. I feel like we can say anything to each other.”
“Yeah, definitely. We always had that rapport. I think that even though you worked for me, I learned a lot from you.”
Next up, I had the Skirt Steak, or was it Hanger Steak? One or the other. Don’t ask me to remember. And no, I didn’t get a good picture of it. I know, I should have my blogging license revoked. I do remember digging it. Nicely medium rare with a good char and a slight Thai funk.
Shirley wasn’t blown away by her chicken dish. It was a bit safe and bland for her tastes.
“Rajiv told me he really liked this,” she said, a little unimpressed.
“Maybe he had a different dish. Well, you can always bring the rest home to him.”
“I hate shlepping,” she said.
Desserts were a high point. I had read about the Roasted Banana and knew it had my name on it. Wrapped in sweet rice and served with coconut tapioca, we polished it off happily. And how can you go wrong with Salted Caramel Gelato.
Time flew. We had no idea we were drinking and talking for about five hours until a waiter came over and offered to buy us another round at the bar so they could have the table. And they sure needed it. The place was packed on a Thursday night.
The check came and I grabbed it. Shirley tried to steal it and I swatted her fingers away with my smartphone. So she slid her hand into the holder and ripped out the check from inside.
“I wanna pay,” she said.
“How about we go halfsies?” I ask, but she wasn’t hearing it.
“This isn’t about you being unemployed,” she said. “This is my way of thanking you for being a great boss.”
Slightly embarrassed, I decided to accept her offer with a little grace. “Well, I appreciate it, Shirl, I really do.” Then she gave me little box of chocolate truffles. Thoughtful as ever.
We made our way to the bar and had one more drink, talking about how we used to arm wrestle during meetings back in the day.
“I rock climb like four days a week,” she said. “I can probably beat you now.”
“I’m not gonna humiliate myself.”
I walked her to the train and we said our goodbyes. I headed back to the F with a smile on my face and no concern about being out so late on a “work” night.
The NY Times called Per Se the best restaurant in New York City and I’ve read it’s the third most expensive in the world. I had a $300 gift certificate and was still shaking in my boots. But Kim and I decided to split the balance as birthday gifts to each other.
“Wait, does that mean I don’t have anything to look forward to when my birthday comes around?”
“That’s right,” she said.
I had to agree. This may be the Holy Grail for any food blogger.
Chef and owner Thomas Keller is the only American chef to have three star Michelin ratings for two different restaurants at the same time. He currently holds 7 Michelin stars total across Per Se, The French Laundry, and Bouchon.
The nine-course chef’s tasting menu (with a vegetarian option) is $310 a person including non-alcoholic beverages and service. Obviously wine pairing is separate but so are lux ingredients like foie gras, black truffles and wagyu beef. I dunno, that feels a little bullshitty, but I’ll play along. I’ll even wear the requisite jacket required, albeit unhappily.
The Time Warner Building on Columbus Circle was bustling on a beautiful day in July, with touristy consumers traveling up and down a gajillion escalators to the high end stores and dining options throughout the space.
I made eye contact with Christian Slater making my way up to the fourth floor where a static replica of The French Laundry’s iconic blue entry doors sits between two sliding glass doors letting you into Per Se.
We open the menu and there’s a birthday message printed for my girl at the top, which is a nice touch. We went with the seven course tasting menu ($245 each), no alcohol, and one supplement (foie) just for me.
“I’m so uncomfortable,” Kim says to me. I know what she means. We don’t feel like we really belong here among the amply spaced tables, expensive floral arrangements, and folks with enough money to burn that they can bring small children.
The two guys next to us got all the supplements, and I was a little jealous seeing the waiter shave $125 worth of black truffles onto their risotto while they sipped from the wine pairing.
“I’ll just have a ginger ale,” I said.
“Water’s fine,” Kim added.
As the waiter stepped away, Kim looks to me and says “I feel like they’re judging us.”
“I’m judging them, too,’ I say. “I’m a food blogger.”
Enter the amuse-bouche, a tiny set of fried Gruyère that were good if ultimately unmemorable. Maybe that Eater review I read the day before was right. Maybe this place was starting to show its age.
The Salmon Tartare Coronet was a step in the right direction. Salmon tartare with crème fraîche in a sesame tuile. I don’t dig salmon in general, and never liked it in all my attempts. That is until this unfortunately penis-shaped appetizer hit the table. Dang, I could eat that again, shape notwithstanding.
I read that the next dish, Oysters and Pearls, never comes off the menu. As I’m one of the few foodies that doesn’t dig oysters or caviar, I was more than a little afraid of this one. Turned out to be the absolute best dish of the night, and perhaps the best thing I’ve eaten in years. A sabayon of pearl tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and sterling white sturgeon caviar. Holy macaroni, it was like someone rolled out the red carpet in my mouth.
I opted for the supplemental foie while Kim kept with the program; a salad of Hawaiian Hearts of Peach Palm. Chanterelle mushrooms, royal Blenheim apricots, petite basil, and apricot-Riesling butter. It was a thing of beauty, indeed, but nothing to write home about flavorwise.
The foie, a $40 supplement, was also a treat for the eyes. You couldn’t take a bad picture of it. Hudson Valley Moullard Duck Foie Gras – Squire Hill Farms currents, marinated fennel, spiced walnut and orange crème fraîche served with toasted brioche and a selection of salts.
I can eat foie in all its forms every meal of the day every day of the week. A purist may feel this terrine hid the natural taste a bit, and a skeptic may feel like they just paid $40 for a two inch diameter coin of duck liver.
Thomas Keller knows bread, and the bread here comes from his bakery Bouchon. Served with two types of butter, we wolfed these down between courses happily.
Next up, the Georges Bank Sea Scallop “Poelee” on a ragu of applewood smoked bacon, pain de campagne, haricots verts, and tomato confit. A perfect lil’ scallop and a smokey ragu indeed.
“I’ll have 9 more of these,” I joked to the waitress.
“I’ll tell the chef,” she smiled.
Kim opted for the grilled fillet of gulf coast Amberjack with celery root pastrami, poached bing cherries, red-veined arugula, and miso-mustard emulsion. She wasn’t blown away, I think I dug it more than her, especially the miso-mustard emulsion.
I opted for the Wolfe Ranch Bobwhite Quail Breast with caramelized cipollini onions, flowering watercress and stewed black mission figs. Skin coulda been a little crispier, but all the flavors were spot on.
We both had the Snake River Farms Calotte de Boeuf, a beautifully sous-vide beef with squash en persillade, jingle bell peppers, garlic confit, red wine vinegar sauce and salsa verde that resembled a melted green crayon. Not too heavy and a picture perfect way to end the savory courses.
For the cheese course, a delicious Jasper Hill Farms Willoughby Cheese with Yukon Gold potato mache served mille-feuille with slow roasted beet marmalade. Subtle and refined. This was followed by a divine Panna Cotta with berries and one sweet crystallized gooseberry.
Up next, Burnt Honey Ice-Cream with sorghum puffs and raspberry coulis on a bed of chopped nuts. Ben and Jerry’s should pint this shit up, yo, and sell it to people that make too much money.
They brought a Chocolate Cake to the table with a candle in it for my girl’s birthday. She was embarrassed, but at least they didn’t sing. They took the cake back and brought us two beautiful slices with some ice-cream on the side. Was it the best cake I’ve ever eaten? Yes. A perfectly balanced plate with great textures of smooth chocolate, velvety ice-cream and chocolate crispies.
We were getting pretty full by the time the waiter brought out a box of chocolates with flavors like coconut curry, balsamic vinegar and maple pecan. We got about four each, although we probably coulda asked for all of them.
The next dish is their famous Coffee and Doughnuts, which is not coffee at all but coffee flavored semifreddo ice-cream with delectable bite-sized sugar doughnuts. When I told the waiter how incredible it was he laughed knowingly and said “I know, right?”
No joke. This place knocks desserts out of the park into another park miles away.
Then a final selection of chocolate truffles and macarons, caramel and nougat – none of which we had room for, so they put it all in an epicurean take-home bag with extra tins of shortbread cookies, chocolate bars, a booklet about their food sources and a personalized copy of the menu.
The waiter gave us a check for the 9 course menu by accident, but quickly rectified. With our $300 gift certificate applied, the meal still came out to $144 each. An extravagance, yes, but more palatable than the two thousand bucks spent by the guys at the next table.
I judge every restaurant by asking myself the same question: Would I eat there again? I don’t think I could answer Yes quick enough. If I had the money I might eat there an embarrassing number of times every week. I’m even desperate to try their vegetarian tasting menu.
If I start saving up now, I can eat there again in three or four years.
Update: By now the latest NY Times review of Per Se is legendary, claiming it’s the worst food bargain in town. But you don’t go to Per Se for a food bargain, do you? That being said, while the writer makes a good point or two, he seems particularly more interested in taking down Goliath.
I meet Tom at one of our favorite spots for catching-up, the bar alongside Delmonico’s.
“We’ve been coming here for years,” he says. “What is this place even called?”
“I think it’s officially Next Door Grill.”
“Yeah, we usually just say Delmonico’s.”
I’ve only had good experiences here, and I tend to use it as a place to catch-up with folks. I come early, get situated, order a drink, scan my cell for the what-gives, manage the expectations of our Waiter (“drinking with an option to eat“), and judge the Bartender’s playlist – not too harshly – until my party arrives.
Is it the hippest spot this side of Hipsterville? No. Go hang out there. I’ll be at Delmonico’s Next Door Grill with the heavy-set desk-jockeys, enjoying perfectly executed Dirty Martinis the way I like them; vodka, rocks, olives, in a rocks glass. Not technically a Martini, I know, purists. Thanks for pointing that out. This one is perfectly concocted, nice and cold, and brought to me by a Waiter who wouldn’t look out of place in Downton Abbey. I mean that in the best way. The staff really have your back here.
“Let’s exercise our food option?” I say, opening the menu.
“The calamari?” Tom suggests. “That’s always good here.”
“Last timewe split Steak Au Poivre.” “And then there’s the Benedict, of course.” “Let’s do the Benedict again,” Tom insists, breaking my arm.
“This is the birthplace of Benedict,” I remind him. “You say that every time.” “But there’s been more than one Delmonico’s, so I don’t know who did what where first.” “This is delicious. Just the right amount of hollandaise.” “They don’t always do caviar on the Benedict, right? You can have my caviar, Tom.” “You don’t like caviar?” “Nah, I can’t get into it. Maybe one day.”
Downton Abbey schedules checkups at a tasteful pace, making sure we’re happy and hydrated.
“We’ll do two more Martinis – both rocks – and we’re gonna split a cheeseburger medium.”
“Throw some bacon on there, too?” Tom half asks.
“Bacon, of course,” Downton responds, and quickly makes it so.
“I love how they split it on two plates. And we both get our own toothpick and pickle and perfectly seasoned crispy french fries.”
“And who doesn’t love a potato bun?”
“It’s the simple things.”
Tom and I spend a few moments judging the clientele, but soon realize we basically fit right in.
“Also, we should get dessert.”
“We should,” Tom agrees.
“What say you to Baked Alaska?”
And here she comes – casually sophisticated, curvy browned meringue, silky ice-cream, and a trail of apricot marmalade. The perfect finish by a kitchen that aims to please.
Leah Cohen‘s Clinton Street restaurant Pig & Khao has been calling my name since Colameco’s piece on the former Top Chef contestant last year, but they’ve been open since 2012. After three failed attempts to get in, I decided to make a reservation like an adult.
Our waitress says that for two people we should order three to four small plates. We order three plus the Chicharron to start – homemade fried pork rinds. Kim has an FTP, which isrum, cognac, peach, and cinnamon bark. Sweeter than she’d like. I tossed back four Perfect Storms (ginger, sherry, lemon, rum) like they were happy juice.
I’d skip the chicharrons next time as they’re a bit one note – and the coconut vinegar was so mild it really only got them wet. They look nice, though.
Then the evening special blew our minds. Crispy pork belly on pumpkin puree and bok choy with nuts and fried onions. Kim and I looked at each other like we’ve done only a handful of times – registering extreme delight with barely a raised eyebrow – silently acknowledging that we just ate something special. Crispy and smooth, sweet and unctuous.
I had an awesome pork belly experience with friends a week ago and didn’t expect another so quickly. The gods of ham throw bacon in my path. Next up, the Sizzling Ssig; An egg cracked on a hotplate of chopped pork head. Stir the egg in and SHAZAM! So very tasty, especially for Kim who identified the anatomy as she ate it.
“This is an ear. My mom used to make this.”
“Your mom made ears?”
Not a morsel remained and it paired perfectly with their amazing coconut rice. That rice borders on dessert and I will slay any man that gets between us. Although even it could not contain the heat of the next dish.
“Wait, we have another dish coming?” I ask Kim.
“Wait, we have another dish coming?” the guy at the next table asks his girl.
Seems both tables were talked into three dishes, but do yourself a favor and stop at two and a dessert. It’s a lot of food, especially with that delicious coconut rice. Unless you’re in a group, I mean. Or you could just do whatever you want.
The Khao Soi (red curry, coconut milk, chicken, egg noodles, pickled mustard greens, shallots) was so spicy it should be mentioned when you order it. Help me help myself, Pig & Khao. We had to give up and get it to go. I just tried it again after a day in the fridge. Whoowweeeeethat’s a spicy Khao Soi!
Hence the Halo Halo was a no-brainer. A traditional Filipino shaved ice dessert I’ve only had once before at Talde where Dale puts Cap’n Crunchin it. Known for being a concoction, at Pig & Khao there’s some tasty purple ube ice cream and the occasional leche flan your spoon discovers happily, all melting into a soup with macapuno coconut and pinipig, (toasted glutenous rice).
We rolled ourselves onto Clinton Street and walked by the now closed WD-50 with a liquid nitrogen tear running down our cheeks. Somehow we made it to the F train on Delancey before collapsing into heaps back in Brooklyn – where Leah Cohen plans to take more of my money.
“Next time I’m getting the tasting menu,” I thought to myself, before slipping into porky unconsciousness.
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. “Uhm… no.”
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.
I’m the ugliest person at The NoMad, maybe the poorest, but I’ve been here twice before, and my girl more than bends the bell-curve in beauty’s favor – so pack away the world’s smallest violin you weren’t even pretending to play.
Still, I’m not Lenny Kravitz, or that other celebrity whose name eludes me (spotted in the hotel/restaurant lobby). They fit in perfectly here – as do the gaggle of girls slow-jamming today’s drama into cellphones, lazily swaying boutique bags from rubbery wrists.
Together, my girlfriend and I create the perfect storm for judging these books by their covers – leaving a giant red X on the dust jackets of anyone outside our tacitly accepted parameters.
After a day out-and-about we’re ready for some drinks. My goto is the Dirty Martini, but when I’m here I keep to a steady regimen of Start Me Ups; bourbon, rum, strega (Italian herbal liqueur), honey, ginger, lemon and orange bitters. Sounds like too much going on, but it’s decidedly focused (if a little sweet) and whether it pairs or not becomes irrelevant once you’ve had a few.
My girl orders the Sons of Liberty; bourbon, apple brandy, early grey, lemon, bitters, some black pepper and egg whites.
“This is going right to my head,” she says.
“Good,” I say, then spot a couple a few tables down where I swear the lady is checking me out.
“Popsicle, this lady digs your boy,” I say, but it turns out she was curious about the Sons of Liberty and eventually asked us how it was. Still, they stuck with wine. Was she just making an excuse to talk to me? The answer may surprise you. *
The bread hits the table and that earthy fragrance of rosemary wraps smiles across our judgmental faces. “You got your pills?” I ask, just as she places them next to the bread. “Fucking gluten,” she no-doubt thinks to herself.
The Foie Terrine arrives with a tiny peeled, possibly stewed apple aside two slabs of smoked terrine, some raw apple and roasted sunflower seeds. Spread on brioche it was creamy smokey crunchy bliss. I’ve had foie every which way, but smoked was new for me. Me want again.
Earlier in the day as the curtain rose on Godot, I started thinking about the Slow Cooked Egg I had here last time.
“That’s a given,”
I thought to myself. But alas, they changed it up tonight – served with mushrooms, black garlic and crispy kale instead of the quinoa and asparagus/foam from my earlier visits. That previous incarnation sent me to the moon, while this was a series of astronomical units lower. Comparisons are a bitch.
Instead of their amazing chicken dish, which I’ve had twice, we went with the lobster and beef entrees – polishing off the lobster entirely before even looking at the beef. Gracefully Poached Lobster with salsify and a brown butter bisque. Not a missed note on the plate. My girl knew all about salsify, I’d never heard of it.
The Roasted Beef with sweet potatoes, smoked swiss chard and bone marrow sounded better than was executed. If you’re gonna promise bone marrow, you’d better deliver that flavor somewhere on the plate. Still, by any standards, a solid dish if you got all the flavors on one fork.
We ordered two desserts because I’m fat. I was already familiar with the Milk & Honey and wanted to experience it again. You would, too. Shortbread and brittle with ice cream and honey? Just pour it straight down the front of my pants, please. Kudos on the more complex honey used this outing – it’s sweet smoothness balances the brittle and shortbread textures perfectly.
“I’m so glad you ordered the dessert brioche,” our stoic server said, judging me, and I him. “It’s not a much-ordered dish,” he added.
“The brioche itself is amazing. What is that on the bottom?” I asked.
“Mmmm. Wonderful,” I say. “The tropical sorbet on top of the flavored ice is perfect, too, but the ice itself is super-sour. Too sour.”