Elation at Momofuku Ko
Edit (4/15/08): As per this commentor‘s request, I took down the photo of looking down the bar, if you noticed any changes from the first time you’ve seen prior to this edit. You will be able to see on my Flickr photostream but not on my blog, per se. But at least you still got the food porn!
As you remember me posting my urgent, desperate need last week about my reservations to Momofuku Ko, I have indeed found people. YAY! It’s not a failed mission…not like many things in my life. Anyways, I met up with Andrea, her friend, Grace, and Kyle. Everyone arrived before I have since I was in Chelsea running errands and admittedly shopping for a new camera. Yes, I have upgraded to a 5D and retired my Rebel XTi.
As I sat down on the stools for a four-top (which was the corner spot on the bar), one of the waitresses/hostess gave me a Moleskine notebook of booze. Since I can’t handle any alcohol that’s beyond the total of two wine glasses, I passed and awaited for the food and chat with my guests of the evening.
The place setting was very simple – a folded napkin, a pair of chopsticks set on top of a cork that had a diagram engraved with something have to do with “experiment” – I can’t recall too well. The bar is made of a warm, blonde wood with a few pegs on the bottom to hold bags. The stools were backless and made of the same type of wood; not exactly as cushy as what you would encounter in L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon but it’s fine.
After waiting about five minutes or so, the cooks presented us with two orders of amuses to share among us – chicharrón. Basically, it’s a fancier version of pork rinds made of Four Story Hill farm pork skin and seasoned with togarashi. It’s tasty and quite familiar.
Soon after that, came in our second amuse of the evening, housemade English muffins with rendered pork fat and green onions. I’m not really an English muffin person. It’s awfully dry and unpalatable when it comes to the stuff my mom buys from the grocery store. But this sets the standard of how an English muffin should be. Crisp with little nooks and crannies with salty rendered pork fat permeating its tangy, thin core. I wish I have this for breakfast everyday – without getting atherosclerosis.
Moving onto the fluke and scallop sashimis, poppy seeds, chives, spicy buttermilk, were a great starter for the dinner. The silky freshness of both types of seafood meets the creamy, slightly spicy buttermilk sauce and the nutty crunch from the poppy seeds. Personally, the fluke shined better here since it’s cut thinner, giving it a more silky texture. (I should note that the fluke was given to myself and Grace, while the scallops were given to Kyle and Andrea).
The next course, Kimchi consommé with Long Island oyster on a half shell with crispy pork belly was interesting. The spicy, clear broth contributed the warm mouth feel and gave the silky oyster a kick to it’s briny meat. The pork belly was crisp and as it absorbed the kimchi consommé, it adds on an additional layer of moisture, making it more softer and more moist.
This dish is certainly one of the highlights of the evening: Coddled egg with soubise onions, sweet potato vinegar, hackleback caviar, potato chips, parsley chervil. The oozy yolk that gently cascades over the small pile of soft, creamy, sugary sweet onions mingling with the pop-like texture of the caviar. Oooh…it made my palate dancing with joy. The potato chips were precious and very crisp; contrasting the smooth and chewy textures of the dish.
The scallop with clams, trumpet mushroom puree, pickled fennel, nori, and bacon dashi was served to Kyle and Andrea, while Grace and I had the fluke with clams, trumpet mushroom puree, pickled fennel, nori, and bacon dashi. The sweet, meaty scallops fared a lot better than the fluke due to the lovely sear, cooked to perfection. The fluke was a nice but it lacked the complexity compared to the scallop. The clams, dashi and mushrooms gave it an earthy and briny elements and it the flavors were very clean.
In between courses, I managed to take this photo down the bar. It just look like everyone’s bowing down their heads to revere and contemplate the food and the chefs. Which in many ways, can be that argument…the maniacal reservation clicking, and the buzz before opening, etc. Anyways, back to the food…
The other dish that truly amazed me was the shaved foie gras torchon with Riesling jelly, lychee, and pinenuts. The thin layer of grated foie gras was so ethereal yet accomplished so much in terms of its silky textures and balances the flavor of the dish. The sweet-savory nuances of this dish went from juicy, fruity, and delicately sweet and went to the flip side of savory with the foie and the buttery pinenuts. Man, talk about foodgasm in every bite…
Now we move onto a heartier dish, deep fried short ribs with grilled scallion, pickled daikon, and pickled mustard seeds. As any person who likes food (and isn’t exactly health conscious) would go with the mantra, “You can’t go wrong with fried food.” In most ways yes, but for my own dish it seemed a tad too overcooked that perhaps I don’t enjoy it as much as the others were. It was crisp and moist but a tad tough. The nice touches were the crunchy, pickled vegetables to cut the fattiness of the dish.
The miso soup and grilled rice with nori, rolled in pork fat with pickled turnips and cabbage is basically the finisher of the savory course, meaning after this dish, we’re moving to dessert. The miso soup is the best I’ve tasted by far in the city, where most just gets it wrong, afflicting my taste buds with a bucket load of salt. But this is perfection – balanced, great body, and enough salt that my tongue doesn’t scream for water. As for the little cylinder of rice, it was nice and crisp from the grill and the vegetables gave it an additional textural interest with a touch of sweet-salty brine it’s been marinating in.
We finally moved to the sweets, pre-dessert: pineapple. This is basically a palate cleanser of sorts by having this refreshing, über pineapple-y dessert. The pineapple sorbet’s ice crystals were so fine that I almost thought I’m eating ice cream and it’s not very sweet – just intense pineapple. To go an extra step with the pineapple, they added a small pile of chewy, dried chunks of pineapple for something beyond smooth. That was lovely.
We’re now at the grand finale: deep fried apple pie, sour ice cream, toasted miso. The first thing I thought when I saw this pie was that it looks similar to the McDonald’s apple pie due to its shape. In terms of flavor, it’s very different. Eating this pie alone actually tastes insipid – it needs more cinnamon. But when you do eat a little bit of everything with it (sour cream ice cream and the miso swash in the back) it’s wonderful, though I do prefer having creme fraiche ice cream instead. The only thing that made this particular dish different than anything else in the city is the use of the extremely salty miso that amplified the entire dish’s elements that created multiple tones of flavors makes it remarkable.
After eating at our pace of nearly two hours or so, we’re all satiated (some had the booze) and we paid our check. In case you didn’t know by now the entire tasting menu is $85 and the wine and sake pairings are an additional $50 pre-tax and tip. It’s not cheap eats, but it’s a lot cheaper than Per Se or a lot of other restaurants that strictly do tasting menus. My verdict: YOU MUST TRY IT!
163 1st Avenue
New York, NY 10003