Address: 163 1st Ave, New York, NY 10003
Phone: (212) 500-0831
- Website: http://momofuku.com/new-york/ko/
- Hours: Lunch: Fri-Sun, 12pm onwards. (1 seating) Dinner: Mon-Sun, 6pm onwards (2 seatings)
- Price (after tax + tip, excl. drinks): $225
- Courses: (20 main/23 total) 1 amuse / 17 savory / 3 dessert / 1 mignardises / 1 take-home
- Price/Main Course: $11
- Rating: 18.5/20
- Value: 5/5
- Dining Time: 225 minutes
- Time/Course (total): 10 minutes
- Chef: Sean Gray (ex. Momofuku Ssam Bar)
- Style: Asian-influenced contemporary
- Michelin Stars: 2
- Notable: No photos during service, a few photos allowed after service (i.e. “I’ve been here” shots), strong seafood line-up
Momofuku Ko is the crown jewel of a David Chang empire that spans 3 countries, with 5 restaurants in New York alone. I’ve tried many times to get a seat at the restaurant, refreshing the Ko reservations page at 10am sharp with credit card in hand. The stars, prior to this weekend trip, unfortunately didn’t align. But when I took a last-minute decision the Thursday before to head to the city, I looked at the Ko page, more in hope than expectation, where to my surprise – there was a seat for 12:10pm! I snapped it up immediately. And the meal I proceeded to have showed me why Ko tickets are in such high demand.
But first, a question I had as a Ko newbie. What’s the difference between lunch and dinner? Lunch, as evidenced by its higher price of $175 to dinner’s $125, contains more courses (16 to dinner’s 10), takes longer, and is more experimental than the dinner menu. The sole dish that unites the two menus is the signature frozen foie shaved over lychee and Riesling jelly – named 2008 dish of the year by New York Times. Here’s an illicit photo. I enjoyed the slower, relaxed pace of lunch, as I can imagine the necessity of two seatings might rush dinner a bit more.
I knew nothing of Ko’s menu prior to my visit. What would be served? It turns out that the Ko team is very strong in seafood. All sorts of seafood were prepped with delicate care, to showcase their textures and tastes at their best. I think for versatility, saucing, pairing with ingredients, the seafood at Ko beats what I’ve had at Marea or Le Bernardin. The sensibilities of the 3-man Ko kitchen crew (chef Maximus Ng and gang on the pass) reminded me of sushi as done by Jiro in that famous documentary. The various preparations and ingredient-pairings served to highlight the differences between the kinds of seafood (maybe 10 kinds over the course of lunch). It was enlightening to have bay scallops slightly poached in a mushroom-vinegar broth, grilled sepia with charred rice cakes, slow-cooked smoked trout with everything bagel spice (etc. etc.). Most seafood was lightly cooked, but quite a few were also cured prior.
No photos unfortunately! The pictures I carry in my head; the rest is up to your imagination.
Memory: Potato cigarette with smoked cheese & chives, Cured bronzino, Mushroom consomme with bay scallop, Grilled Sepia, Puffed Egg, Maine Lobster with Brioche, Chocolate Black-Trumpet Ice Cream
- English muffin with sesame (3.25/5) | Sliced popover with popcorn (4.5/5). I enjoyed the sliced popover, which was filled with popcorn cream, intense in flavour. In contrast though, the mini English muffin was a bit lukewarm and couldn’t taste the sesame (though I could see the coloration with my eyes)
- Shigoku oysters from WA | Mixed spice pepper vinegar | Paprika oil (4/5), Salty and plump. Naturalistic, a splodge of red oil on the oyster. Fruity in a very west coast way (the east coast oysters tend to be very salty)
- Potato cigarette with smoked pimento cheese and chives (5/5) Golden potato rolled in a cigarette, filled with smoked cheese, topped with chives. Great! Smoked flavor in the salty cheese was really delicious. It reminded me a bit of the addictive 7-Eleven Cheese Taquitos I used to buy every week on my way back from school in Singapore, without the pervasive grease.
- Braised daikon, with american caviar, nori (4.25/5). A flower-shaped column of pink daikon, slightly bitter, topped with caviar. Sprinkled with ash. A slight bitterness reset my tastebuds.
- Red snapper tartare | jelly made from its bones | Lime | Shiso. (4.25/5) Red snapper, a muscular fish, gave a sinewy and chewy tartare. Specked with bits of bright green lime “caviar”(?), which here functioned as capers to the standard beef tartare.
- Cured bronzino | Radishes | Puffed farrow (5/5) The silky, fatty bronzino melted in my mouth – a cherished feeling. In combination with the previous dish, it was a showcase of contrasts: a lean sinewy fish before a fatty fish.
- Mackerel pickled in salt, its skin seared | a ring of shallot | blood orange zest | mustard seeds (4.5/5)– the mustard seeds were sprinkled last. The oily mackerel was pickled in salt to firm up the fish | topped with a small onion ring. Best part of dish: juxtaposing pickled mackerel with the seared skin surface.
- Chopped raw sunchoke | Caper pesto | Sardines (4/5) Raw sunchokes tasted like chopped water chestnut. A quiet dish, refreshing.
- Beet smoked and pickled | beet candied | Tarragon | Crispy trout skin | Slow cooked smoked trout | everything bagel spice (4.5/5) – A riot of colour, reds, light pink beet wafers, contrasting with the green of pesto.
- Mushroom consomme with black vinegar | Bay scallop | Pear | Raw mushroom underneath (5/5) Brilliant dish. You could call it a mushroom-black-vinegar consomme, but it reminded of nothing so much as a mee-pok broth. Mee-pok, done well, is my favorite Singaporean hawker dish of all – and the key is a black-vinegar based sauce with mushrooms. Knowing Chef Max as Singaporean, I do wonder if there was some Singaporean influence on this dish! But taken on its own merits, it was superb, a hot consomme is quickly poured into a bowl containing slices of raw bay scallop, the heat quickly poaching the external side of them and making them firmer. The pear was the right refreshing fruit note, not competing with the flavour of mushroom+vinegar. The best was the raw mushroom, its mushroom walls still retaining a firm texture and earthy crunch – filled with flavour from the broth.
- Grilled sepia | Charred rice cakes | Potato broth (4.5/5) – enjoyable charred rice cakes with grilled sepia (type of cuttlefish)
- Venison tartare | Quail Egg | Truffed Capers (3.5/5) I thought this might have been the weakest dish of the lunch (which also speaks to the high sustained quality of the experimental Ko lunch menu.) A variation on steak tartare, with two quarter-slices of hard-boiled egg (custard yolk consistency). Fine but standard fare. Venison offered a game-y twist on it.
- Puffed egg | shio kombu. (5/5) An apparent Ko old dish (as a veteran Ko diner recounted to me) – this egg was puffed up like a sponge. Taking bites of the eggy sponge, the shio kombu kept re-washing over the exposed bits, making the newly exposed egg sponge salty with kombu again. It was like dipping an ice cream cube into chocolate fondue – the chocolate crust perpetually forming on the diminishing ice cream is the gift that keeps on giving. Same here with the egg sponge – keeps on giving. The puffed egg was boiled in a pot, and I’ve no idea how they get the spongy texture.
- Roasted Maine lobster | Torn pieces of brioche | Sauce made from lobster roe | Miyage, shiso leaf and other herbs (5/5) Amazing. Tender bits of Maine lobster, an unexpeakably rich lobster roe sauce with the sweetness of egg and sugar, mixed with bits of torn brioche – a rich knockout.
- Tortellini with cream filling | shaved black truffle | Celery root chips (3.5/5) – a quiet and plain dish.
- Uni sauce with charred brussel sprouts | compressed apple cubes with apple juice | Meaty slices of grilled halibut | Burnt apple powder (4/5) It was pretty to see green cubes of apple in the orange uni sauce. I felt though that the uni sauce was overpowering in proportion to the apple cubes which were refreshing. The main player, a meaty halibut was perfectly cooked, tender.
- Lychee | Riesling gelee | Foie, cured frozen shaved | (4.5/5) Chef Christie used a microplane to carefully shave the foie over lychee and riesling gelee. The reason for shaving is to give the foie a lighter texture to compliment its heavier taste. The idea is very good, and has been used in Chang’s other restaurants (a cheese course at Ma Peche in particular) – though coming straight after the halibut and uni sauce, it seemed the kitchen was going full throttle to satiate our appetites.
- Slices of pork ribs with secret awesomesauce rub | kimchi and caramellized red onion (4.5/5) The thick-slices of pink pork ribs (great) are almost incidental to the glorious spice-rub, the rub having been applied on identikit meats like lamb and venison before. Chef Max’s rub uses primarily cumin, fennel, 6 or 7 other spices I couldn’t catch [soy sauce? oyster sauce?], and the secret ingredient was the addition of an almost (for me, fully) imperceptible amount of star anise, the licorice taste of which heightens the meaty flavour. The principle comes from the Singaporean-Chinese dish called kong-bak.
- Roast barley sorbet with grapefruit foam | roast barley (4/5) A good palate cleanser and come-down after a trio of hard-hitting dishes, the bitterness of grapefruit a welcome cutting against the fat.
- Chocolate + black trumpet ice cream | candied black trumpets | almond biscotti tuile | huckleberry (4.75/5). My first reaction was incredulity. My second reaction was “you’re kidding”. Black trumpet, an intense tasting mushroom with truffle notes, in a dessert? And incorporated in an essential way in the ice cream? But it gave a wonderful mustiness to the chocolate, and this was better executed I think than truffle ice cream I had in Singapore’s Jaan the summer before – because the earthy taste of mushrooms was not overly unfamiliar, being helped by the strong chocolate flavour. Sidenote: “On the East Coast, the black trumpet is a summer and fall mushroom, with unpredictable swings in abundance; on the West Coast it’s a predictably common mushroom in winter among hte dense tanoak forests of the coastal mountains.” – Langdon Cook, Mushroom Hunters.
- “Rice cream cone” | Mochi ice cream, sticky rice in an ice cream cone (3.75/5)
- Chocolate macaron with amaro filling
- A Ko onigiri to go.