Friday, January 30, 2009

Best This Is What I Wanted to Talk About

Well, last night I went to Momofuku Ko. This was a big deal for me for several reasons:
1) Perhaps you've noticed I like the Momofukus, and I had never been to this one. 2) I had never been to this one because there are only 12 seats at Momofuku Ko, and reservations are only available via an online reservation system. Seats become available for seven days from the present date at exactly 10:00 am and are all gone by exactly 10:00.01 am. 3) And why are they gone so quickly? Partly because it's a Momofuku, partly because the exclusivity breeds madness, partly because of its constant food-media coverage, partly because of its two Michelin stars, partly because it was the Times' #1 Best New Restaurant of 2008, and partly because of a pile of additional accolades along those lines.

So how did I get my reservations?

I must attribute it to a higher power.

Monday night I was tucking myself in and about to turn off the light when a voice spoke to me and said "Check the Ko reservations page." So I did. And instead of a field of red x's, I saw a green check for Thursday night at 9:20. So I clicked it! And then I started emailing people that would care and making mysterious blog posts because I couldn't help it. I was excited.

Now that I've had that dinner, I can stop being ridiculous about it. Oh, it was good, it was great, the memories are a bit overwhelming...but you know how when something really terrible happens, and we say, "Well, it's not the end of the world" or "Well, the sun will still come out tomorrow"? The same happens with really great things. My dinner was not the end of the world, and tomorrow came (but it's rather overcast).

So, let's get down to the dinner.

Arrived on time, was joined by Leslie for the meal. Ko is in the space that was the old Noodle bar before it moved up the block to its larger present space. Like with the old noodle bar, you are seated around the open kitchen and are served by the chefs. You get to watch the whole meal being cooked, it's like real-fancy Benihanas (with the showmanship toned down quite a bit) and conversations often stop dead in their tracks at the sight of some of the food as it nears completion (or is just getting started). The whole atmosphere of the restaurant is such an interesting blend of real laid back and real fancy, it's a fun mix...everything is real casual, you don't have to dress up, but the food and the service is exacting and perfect. (You know, new silverware for every course, glasses never empty, the chefs answer questions and engage in a little conversation, but they're still all business.)

Ko serves a tasting menu and the tasting menu is what we had. Also, Ko has a no photography in the restaurant policy (the meal-blogging level when it first opened was ridiculous and the tiny restaurant must have looked like a constant Food & Wine photo shoot before the rule was in place), but here's a picture of what I ate anyway:

Let me expound upon that a little.

Chicharon w/ shichimi togarashi and Biscuit w/ black pepper and mirin

"Chicharon w/ shichimi togarashi" is the fancy way of saying "a pork rind with Japanese seasoning" on it. The biscuit was one one of my favorite things of the night, served warm with peppery butter and a mirin reduction, I could have eaten a tray full of these.

Amuse 2
Pork belly on polenta w/ huckleberry jam

This one also punched me in the gut. A tiny piece of pork belly (now I'm wondering if it had been ground up or something, it was very soft) served on a tiny circle of polenta on top of a dab of huckleberry jam. Major flavor explosion, could have eaten these all night.

Spanish Mackerel w/ rice crisps, mustard oil, mizuno

A fine plate of sashimi, very tasty mustard oil squirted all over the plate, these tiny rice balls that acted like salty explosions, and nice little green leaves here and there. I feel my ability to describe this dish lacking.

Uh, Soup?
Grilled pork belly, rice cake, oyster, kimchi consomme, cabbage leaf

When I saw the pieces of pork belly coming off the grill I got real excited because there used to be this grilled pork belly dish at the Ssam Bar lunch that they don't have anymore and I really missed it. What they did with this pork belly I was not expecting it. They placed it in a bowl on top of a cabbage leaf alongside an oyster and a little cylinder of rice. The chef set this in front of me and then poured a bit of kimchi consomme in the bowl, about up to the edge of the oyster shell. So it was like soup, I guess. Except I took the oyster out and ate it, and took the big pieces of pork belly out and ate it, and then mixed up the rice in the broth, and ate that like soup. And then I ate the leaf. Oh, it was delicious. But confusing.

Smoked poached egg, caviar, fingerling potato chips, onion soubise

A large poached egg (I wonder if I didn't hear right and this was the egg of something besides a chicken because it seemed real big) served on a bed of sweet cooked onions with a bunch of tiny potato chips around it. The egg had been sliced open and a dab of caviar spilled out of it along with the yolk. Very pretty. Reminded me that I don't know how to poach an egg.

Hand torn pasta, pecorino romano, chicken & snail sausage, crisp chicken skin

This one was so cool! I got all excited as I watched it being prepared, I hadn't expected Momofuku to serve me something almost totally straight up Italian. I watched with so much anticipation as they dished out all the pasta, made sure there were an equal number of these little meat cubes on each plate, grated the cheese onto the plates, and then topped it with... something. At first, at the sight of it, I hummed to myself, "mmmm, bacon!" but when the plate was served they told me it as crisp chicken skin! That's like my favorite thing! I didn't know you could use it as a cooking ingredient! And then they said the little meat cubes were chicken and snail sausage? Man. I knew I was in for something good.

Halibut, apple & cauliflower puree, pickled cauliflower, bacon & black olive

Hrmm. Pretty much this was just a fine piece of fish with a very appley-sauce topped with ground bacon and olive. I guess you could say this was my least favorite dish, if I had to pick one.

Star Trek Food
Shaved foie gras, lychees, gelee, pinenut brittle

Ko's signature dish, it's real wild. What they do is they take this bowl and set some lychees in it, top them with pinenut brittle and jelly, and then they get out this big torchon of frozen foie gras and start grating it all over the dish until you have this great big mound of grated duck liver covering everything. It's looks like a big pile of cold parmesan cheese, but in your mouth it warms back up and gets all melty and, you know, tastes like foie gras (that means "good"). Add the tartness of the lychees and the sweet crunchiness of the brittle and you've got a crazy outerspace meal. Very wild.

Sirloin, smoked jalepeño puree, black trumpet mushrooms, pickled pear onions, brussels sprouts, cauliflower

Early on in the meal I watched a chef pressing garlic cloves into thick, beautiful pieces of steak and then sealing the steak into plastic bags. "Aha!" I thought to myself, "He's going to sous vide those steaks!" Sous vide means pressure cook sealed in a plastic bag, and then the chef placed the bags in this futuristic pressurecooker for maybe five minutes. (So I was right! He totally sous vide'd them!) Then, while we were having our foie gras Captain Picard food, they started searing the steaks. They were plated in enormous bowls with a spicy smoked jalepeño puree, some mushrooms, onions, a few brussels sprout leaves, and some more of that pickled cauliflower from earlier in the evening. Very proper, filling finish to the evening.

But something I couldn't stand about this dish was watching the chefs trim the steak before serving it and just throwing the steak pieces away. I wanted to yell "Stop! I'll eat that!" but I was feeling a little more civilized than usual.

Guava sorbet w/ cream cheese glaze

When we got to Ko the nice lady in charge of the desserts at the Milk Bar was making desserts, but by the time we ate she was gone. Still, couldn't possibly complain about these desserts. Have you ever seen the care with which a top notch chef scoops a scoop of sorbet? It's astounding. So, yeah. This was just a little plate with a scoop of sorbet flavored after my least favorite fruit in the world (uhm, one that makes me gag, actually) that they covered with a glaze flavored after my favorite ice cream frosting, so it all equaled out pretty well.

Dessert 2
Funnel cake, lemon sugar, black sesame ice cream, lemon cream

Now this was cool. Big plate, they poured a layer of cream in the bottom and then placed an expertly-scooped scoop of dark ice cream in it and then the chef went over to a deep fryer and squirted batter in it and whipped up a long piece of funnel cake state fair style. The ice cream was black sesame and very excellent, the funnel cake hot and great.

So, yeah. That was my dinner. It was totally excellent. Almost too much to think about and make sense, sort of the opposite of a natural disaster when you're like "How could something this awful happen?" and are in denial. Wait. That's what's happening here. This meal left me with the Five Stages of Grief, but with Happy? So I'm only barely approaching the acceptance stage. By next week I'll be talking about this dinner nonstop...right now I'm actually a little short on words when it comes to talking about this dinner, just ask Collin or Ali or Mom, they'll tell you.


Like all Momofukus, the restaurant featured music courtesy of David Chang's itunes. You'll notice in my notes the occasional inclusion of songs that were playing. Highlights? Eating mackerel to "Search and Destroy" or chowing on my pork belly soup with "So Watcha Want?" thumping away (that's when I could tell that the spirit of Jeff M., a fellow Momo-lover, was with me). They played "Godzilla" during my egg & caviar and "Boys Don't Cry" during dessert...good advice, I may have gotten too emotional about the meal ending.


Yes, no pictures in the restaurant...but what about the bathroom? Is that okay?

In Conclusion

10 courses of awesomeness, but I want more. Good thing there's a 16 course lunch, maybe I'll try that some day.


The bo ssam. Got to get some amigos together and kill that bo ssam. Then we can all move on.


Cindy said...

Oh, THAT Momofuku. I'm jealous of you.

Side of Jeffrey said...

Um. Wow. WOW. Amuse 2 sounds frickin' ridiculous. Also, So Watcha Watcha Watcha Want???? Seriously, I lived for this kind of experience in NYC. I am so glad that someone realized this one. I had 8 people working to get me one of these reservations last summer.