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Momofuku Ko, NYC, review

Angela Gilltrap, Gordo’s buddy, gets to dine in one of the world’s most exclusive restaurants

Written by . Published on October 22nd 2010.


Momofuku Ko, NYC, review

This is for food lovers who travel. It’s a restaurant in extreme west Manchester: Manhattan. It’s a travelogue in a single restaurant, just about food.

The dish actually brought tears to my companion’s eyes—and ok, maybe a marriage proposal from me. This was the bento box of slow roasted lamb ribs, korabe salad, yellow wax bean salad and palette cleanser of dashi broth. The tender meat literally fell off the bone, the flavour beyond belief.

It started with a single Kumamoto oyster. Plated on a pristine white dish over a huddle of rock salt, this Washington import came delicately seasoned with a herb-infused vinegar, explained our chef — wearing a Momofuku baseball cap, manoeuvring around two other chefs who would double as our servers.

We toasted with a glass of Christian Etienne, Brut Champagne NV, strangers inexplicably bound by our love of culinary excellence. In a relaxed atmosphere devoid of pretence, seated on bar stools in front of a tiny, unadorned galley kitchen, yet another group of foodies were about to experience Manhattan’s elusive Momofuku Ko.

You can tell from the outset that dining at Momofuku Ko is going to be a distinctive culinary experience. There is no online menu, no a-la-carte menu; in fact there is no menu whatsoever. Everyone in the restaurant is served the same array of dishes, in the same order at the same time; vegetarians cannot be accommodated and turning up more than 15 minutes late incurs a cancellation fee of $150. Add to this that reservations are close to impossible to acquire, and you can see the allure and frustration of this much sought-after establishment.

Opened in 2008 as the third link in the Momofuku chain, this brainchild of famed Korean-American chef, David Chang, continues to garner fans in a city renowned for its fickle food loyalty. A concept geared towards pushing the boundaries of culinary alchemy, it makes no apologies for its strict rules and guidelines.

With only 12 seats available, entry into Momofuku Ko is a well-documented case of luck and tenacity. Eight seconds after seats are released online they sell out, leaving many cursing in their wake. Some wait days; others wait years, which is all part of the allure. Momofuku Ko is not a spur of the moment decision; this is a well-thought out, once-in-a-lifetime experience designed to weed the casual from the committed, the ditzy from the determined, the adventurous from the mundane. And I have to say, in a world built upon instant gratification having to wait — having to plan — creates an inexplicable sense of anticipation and excitement.

The only question is, is the hype worth the anxiety? In a word: yes.

As I had hoped, dining in such an intimate venue created instantaneous friendships. The formality and exclusive nature of the reservation process had conjured up expectations of high-end dining with a regimented service protocol. But behind the heavily-gated front door, sequestered from the world, the atmosphere was more Lower East Side hipster than pompous fine dining.

Here, it’s not the décor, nor the company who come out on top, the real star at Momofuku Ko is the food. And you would be hard pressed to find a more exquisite offering than the 17 - yes, 17 - courses set out in this mammoth weekend offering that lasts three and a half hours.

Mixing a variety of cultural influences with innovative embellishments, the lunch menu at Momofuku Ko starts off simply and explodes into a speechless cacophony of flavours.

The beverage pairing seamlessly follows, mixing wines such as a 2007 Deux Montille Rully from Burgundy with a glass of Dewaakura "Dewasansan" Nama Junmai Ginjo, an unpasturized Sake from the Yamagata Prefecture. A 2009 Copain "Tous Ensemble" Pinot Noir Rose from California’s Anderson Valley proceeds a Lustau Fino Sherry ending in a Little King Cream Ale from Schoening Brewery in Ohio. And it works.

Hen egg

From a simple oyster, to a dainty espresso cup of buttery acorn squash puree with lemon confeit, charred peas and sweetbread, the portions are small yet bursting with flavour. Although, the policy is one of no substitutions, the chefs will make exceptions. The well-seasoned foodie beside me for example, is not a fan of extra spicy food and so his potato “spring roll” ordinarily filled with Korean chillies was done sans heat. Mine on the other hand, kept me upright and attentive for the dishes to come.

From a tender, melt-in-your-mouth, square-inch serving of pork belly to a corn ravioli (mine done with rice noodles) and Spanish chorizo, being able to watch each dish prepared is one of the highlights of Momofuku Ko. The only real complaint came from a well-seasoned couple from Boston who pleaded for just one bad course, even a mediocre one, to bring them back to reality.

The ingredients at Momofuku Ko vary from high-end to everyday fare such as crispy fish scales, something found on the next dish: a sashimi component. Four bite sized morsels of Spanish mackerel with roasted beets, freeze dried soy and mustard oil; Japanese madai with crispy fish scales; Long Island fluke with puffed black rice and tiger scallops with pineapple and New Jersey dehydrated country ham were served in an artistic display.

The textures in all four servings, from crispy bite to buttery texture, balanced the consistent quality of the fresh produce. Surprisingly, the crunchiness of the fish scales proved to be as enticing as the Hackleback caviar found atop our next dish of beef tartare.

There were two absolute stand outs among the endless parade of dishes, the first being a dish served by our chef Cassidy, a Japanese-American chef hailing from California.

After watched him prepare it, we got a jalapeño puree mixed with charred pickles and red onion on a wide, stark white, shallow bowl, Cassidy delivered an impressive array of mushrooms that included white fungus, king oyster and lion’s beard, varietals all provided by the restaurants professional forager in Maine — their meaty, smoky textures remarkably moreish.

The other dish actually brought tears to my companion’s eyes — and ok, maybe a marriage proposal from me. This was the bento box of slow roasted lamb ribs, korabe salad, yellow wax bean salad and palette cleanser of dashi broth. The tender meat literally fell off the bone, the flavour beyond belief.

When you take in the vast array and quality of the ingredients along with the unforgettable experience, it’s worth every penny. Momofuku Ko is a food lover’s dream.

Angela Gilltrap is a New York fashion writer, socialite, bon viveur and foodie. www.angelagilltrap.com

Fluke buttermilk


Rating:20/20
Breakdown:11/10 food
5/5 service
4/5 ambience
Address:Momofuko Ko
163 First Ave
NYC 10003x

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away

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15 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Piers MorganOctober 22nd 2010.

I have been trying for nine months to get in here, how did your writer manage it?

JanieOctober 22nd 2010.

I can't believe anyone would fall for the "turn up late and incur a $150 cancellation fee". Don't get me wrong, I love a bit of pomp and ceremony and am a total foodie but this places sounds like it's well and truly up it's own backside. Don't think I'll be adding it to my list of places to go when I hit NYC, I'd rather have some of the real USA anyday than be surrounded by pretentious tossers.

RayOctober 22nd 2010.

Janie, in what way do you think that the diners will be pretentious tossers? Is that not rather high handed judgement? If you do go to NYC, try Per Se or 11 Madison Park - both excellent restaurants, with the latter probably a lot easier to get into. Turning to the article, I enjoyed reading it, and in particular I enjoyed the decent coverage given to the wines (instead of the usual "we had a tasty chardonnay"). What is the pricing like? Not that I think I'll ever get to go, but just curious...

Paul MastersOctober 22nd 2010.

you were that impressed you spelt the name wrong on the address, f*cku or f*cko ?

NortherngeezerOctober 22nd 2010.

Give me a good new york deli anytime.

AnonymousOctober 22nd 2010.

How about some idea of prices?

Andy10646October 22nd 2010.

Their website gives it as $175 for the lunch menu.

Josef AckermannOctober 23rd 2010.

Peanuts!

Hero
GordoOctober 23rd 2010.

Sorry about the cost; apparantly wine opairing $95 at lunch, $175 at dinner plus tax and tip.

Henri MattiseOctober 23rd 2010.

Good writing this. Just googled Angela Gilltrap; she is quality, how on earth does Confidential get these people writing for them? Class. Tony Schumacker over on Liverpool is great as well with his rear view mirror.

The Sane HatterOctober 25th 2010.

Angela Gilltrap was/is big down under in Oz my friends. Very long legs and can give an opinion.

NortherngeezerOctober 25th 2010.

I've been told i'm big down under ;-)

rhubarb rhubarbOctober 26th 2010.

Gotham Bar and Grill NYC always gets my vote.

BowksOctober 26th 2010.

Sorry to be a bit of a killjoy, but can any meal incorporating fish of any sort be considered THIS good in NYC given the amount of time it is out of the water and on the back of a container ship. From my own limited dining experience in NYC, I must admit that any fish that has been presented hasn't been fit to wast the gills of anything served in the great and good restaurants across this country. Sorry, but am just sceptical whether the reviewer has been drawn in by the hype.

KDecember 23rd 2010.

if you want good cheap food in nyc go to tads in times sq

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