If you didn’t know better, you could easily walk right past this building on the corner of 1st and 10th in New York’s East Village, writing it off as no more than another derelict ghost of a shop. However, upon closer inspection, you might notice a solitary golden peach effortlessly perched in the centre of the door way, shiny and very orange, unlike the actual door to which it is attached.

It’s only this solitary peach that gives away the secrets that lie behind this unkempt fascade. This one peach, golden and rotund and presumably sweet and juicy, a single indication that somewhere behind this door lies the genius that is David Chang’s Momofuku Ko.

Opened in March 2008, Ko is the third in Chang’s apparent plan for world domination. Having already garnered the adulation of fans from his Noodle Bar and Ssäm Bar, Chang proceeded to opened Ko, a 12-seat upper-class fusion-but-insanely-amazing restaurant, taking bookings 6 days in advance, first come first serve regardless of whether you’re Lady Gaga or say, me.

But I mean, as if I’m ever lucky enough to get a spot.

Instead, I just befriend those who have luck and so it was with a certain Laissez Fare that on Monday night, I find myself amongst the chosen few, welcomed into the Momofuku den. I almost expected the waiters to bow upon our entry, but instead they offered to take my coat and pour me a glass of water. I’ll take what I can get.

At this point I should probably note that Ko has a no photo policy. I KNOW. But what infuriated my narrow food blogging mind further was that in this no photo restaurant, the lighting was superb! It was bright! The dishes were colourful and beautiful and GAHHHHHH. It could at least have been painfully dim. With hideously styled plates. Or something.

image courtesy of www.momofuku.com

Anyway, LF and I are seated on the top end of the bar, with 10 other diners along the bar to our left and the three chefs carefully and I have to say lovingly preparing our food in front of us. I say lovingly because these guys? They are probably the most stress-free chefs in the world. They take their time, they are meticulous. They slice and scoop and preen each and every plate with such attention that it’s almost an art. But I guess you can take your time when there are only 12 plates to create. And everyone has the same thing.

Oh did I not mention? For $125, the same 10-course menu is prepared for everyone based on seasonal produce and availability.

As we settle into – actually you don’t ever really “settle into” bar stools – so as we perched ourselves upon our bar stools, we’re instantly mesmerised by the artistry that is occurring before us. The chefs are not rushing and yelling and cursing like you expect. The way they move is almost fluid, from one dish to another, with guests staggered so they need only prepare about four plates at a time.

We’re first brought a set of three amuse bouche (amuse bouches? amuse bi?) – one piece of house made pork rind, one sweet prawn topped with mustard sauce and a spoon containing one ever too tiny drop of duck liver mousse. The pork rind is light as air and dissolves on contact with my mouth. The prawn is sweet and fresh, but my favourite is hands down the duck liver mousse. So good in fact that when no one was looking, I totally licked my spoon. Ok wait, LF saw. But I saw him lick his too 😉

Now primed for the deliciousness ahead, LF and I ceased all conversation (about work, baby, life, baby, food, baby) and turned our undivided attention to each and every dish, eyes closed, smelling it, tasting it, trying to de-construct the sometimes complicated ingredients, or sometimes just enjoying the genius in its simplicity.

The first and second courses are fish based. First, three slices of fresh Long Island fluke, served with fermented black beans, cherry peppers with a dash of miyoga. The fluke is served raw and is sweet, a contrast to the slight heat of the peppers and miyoga. Second, we’re served Spanish red mackerel tataki (with rice cereal, pickled onions and mustard sauce) which is just insane. Seared at high heat (and lightning speed), each slice is raw on the inside with a layer of crispy skin, normally only attainable if you like deep fried the whole fish.

The next course made me Oh So Very Happy. Toasted brioche with bone marrow served in a bowl of… get ready for it… gruyère cheese broth HELLO. I hovered over the bowl just breathing for the longest possible time. If I had a towel, I’d steam my face over it. The aroma infiltrated my palate and took over my brain and surprisingly, the broth isn’t overly cheesy or thick. In fact it’s light, akin to Asian style soups. How do they even DO THAT with CHEESE?

Course four, a smoked (onsen tomago looking) egg slightly split and oozing yolky goodness, served with American sturgeon caviar and potato chips for good measure. I’m not really posh enough to appreciate the apparent awesomeness of caviar (so shoot me), but what I did appreciate was the smokey smoothness of the egg, the delicate texture of the caviar (pop!) and even the potato chips, which LF tells me “adds texture”. He’s obviously smarter than me.

The next course was my least favourite of the night, because I mean, it was just pasta. Handmade tagliatelle, served with grilled beef tongue and dressed with horseradish, mustard and sauerkraut. Sorta meh, right? Or am I like a 100% certified snob now?

Don’t answer that.

Half way through our dinner and so far I am utterly impressed by Chang’s ability (or should praise be directed at the execution by the chefs on duty?) to so intricately weave clean tastes (fish) with heavy flavours (cheese) and deliver a series of courses so varied yet complementary of each other. On a side note, LF had the alcohol pairing (wines and sake) and I of course stole a sip or two. Honestly? The BEST sake I’ve tasted. Ever.

Our sixth course consisted of two fat, juicy New Jersey scallops and sliced razor clams, served in a clam chowder with celery juice. Perhaps molecular gastronomy had a part to play, but the celery juice was sweet. LF, my new food hero, closes his eyes, a look of sheer concentration across his face. A moment later he opens his eyes – lightbulb moment! – he waves the chef over and asks, “is there dried pineapple in this?”. He was right. He picked the flavour of invisible DRIED PINEAPPLE in this dish. Pfffft to molecular gastronomy. Just throw in some dried pineapple and hey presto!

Course seven, the crown of all crowning glories. I am not even exaggerating when I say this course made me want to cry. Shaved foie gras served over lychees, pine nut brittle and riesling gelée. The tiny flakes of foie gras, ever so delicate and cold on the tongue, dissolving on contact, almost like… ice cream. God, foie gras ice cream. Its velvety texture melts in your mouth, the savoury so perfectly matched by the sweet lychees, its smoothness complemented by the pine nut brittle and everything coming together in a burst of riesling gelée.

It was heaven. I ate so painfully slowly. I think I threw out their two-hour turnaround by about… two hours.

The foie gras was such a beauty to us, a mystery, but when LF asked the chef how they even did this, he nonchalantly replied, “oh we just make the terrine and freeze it, then shave it” like, what? How can you not know this?

After the shaved foie gras, I didn’t really want to consume another thing, ever. I felt at one with the foie gras, consanguineous, I didn’t need anything else to survive. And when I saw that the eighth course was some kind of meat, my heart dropped a little because how? How can a piece of meat compare to the unprecedented awesomeness of the foie gras? It certainly can’t! Unless… it can.

Course eight, honey braised duck, served on Chinese greens with a pumpernickle coated turnip. First thing I notice about the duck is that it doesn’t look like duck. It’s cut into a rectangular block, about 4″ x 1″ x 1″, flanked across the top by the crispiest of skins. There’s no fat at all (“oh we rendered it all” – again totally nonchalantly like, whateverz). The turnip is adorable, whole in all its littleness, stripped naked and coated in pumpernickle powder. I don’t even know how or why, but I momentarily forgot about my supposed monogamy with foie gras.

Dessert! First up, an Earl Grey crème caramel, topped with honeyed buckwheat and calamansi sorbet. The calamansi tang negated the over-sweetness of the crème caramel, resulting in a neutral, palate-cleansing sensation, yet at the same time bursting with zest, flavour and the sweet crunch of honeyed buckwheat. I loved this dessert, and almost wished we finished on this but…

… the final course of the night, caramelised apple cake with oatmeal ice cream and burnt apple sauce. Someone asked about the burnt apple sauce and again, “we just burn the apple like a pepper and purée it.” Oh, of course. I didn’t like the burnt apple sauce, it tasted (and looked) uncomfortably like marmite to my untrained palate (and eyes) and while the cake and ice cream were good, I so wish we ended with the calamansi.

With ten (mostly brilliant, one meh and one OMGAMAZING) courses in our bellies, we watch as the chefs glide through their small space, dressing plates for the next wave of diners. I’m utterly satisfied with the meal, the originality and taste combinations, and disproportionately excited about the shaved frozen foie gras, definitely something I’ve never seen or tasted.

Before setting us free, we’re served one last itty bitty bit of awesomeness. It looks like a little round marshmallow, but we’re told it’s buttermilk, corn and mint. Ok. It feels like marshmallow. I pop it in my mouth and it kind of tastes like marshmallow until… POP! The thing explodes within the confines of my mouth and the mint takes me completely by surprise. This isn’t for the faint hearted. You know the Listerine explosion adverts? Yeah, that.

As we pay and rug up for the blistering cold outside, I glance back at the chefs and their open kitchen area, acutely aware of the fact that I may never dine at Momofuku Ko again. Not for the lack of trying, I’m already scheming to come back in February. My scheme of course being that I will be logging on at 10am six days prior to each of my New York days, clicking madly at whatever time conceivable, hoping, just praying that I should be the lucky one.

And as we leave through the ugly grated door, I take one more look back, and take one rare photograph of the innards of the restaurant. The chef spotted me and I’m not sure if he’s displeased that I snuck the photo or just thinking I’m a batshit crazy food blogging person.

Momofuku Ko
163 1st Avenue (corner 10th Street)
East Village, NY, 10003
212 500 0831

Momofuku Ko on Urbanspoon

32 Thoughts on “Momofuku Ko: in words

  1. Wow! I love the rundown look of the exterior that reveals itself like a secret club. I can’t wait till he gets to Sydney. Will be impossible to get a table, I think he will be mobbed here.

  2. I want to be there. So super jealous!

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  4. Wow – beautifully written post… makes me feel like I was there (but clearly I wasn’t).

  5. altho photos would have been great, your description is perfect!

  6. Great post! Even sans pics. Yum yum and more yum. x

  7. YOu are one lucky girl to have prayed at the Momofuku alter of food. I have read his book cover to cover but I just couldn’t brave 4 hours in the freezing cold last Christmas to get in. Lucky indeed!

  8. I was eating those dishes alongside you all the way with this post. And wow – it sure tasted amazing, even in my imagination. I love the nonchalance of the chefs, “yeah man, like, we just froze the foie gras and shaved y’know”… heh.

    Sounds like a restaurant at the top of its game, let’s hope he doesn’t do a Ramsey and over stretch himself around the globe. Places like this are so special because of all the care and attention laboured on them.

  9. Sounds amazing. We went to the more casual/cheap ‘n cheerful Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York last month and loved that also. I recommend it for a big bowl of noodles.

  10. Absolutely no pics necessary! Sounds utterly amazing, very envious of your ‘New York’ days 🙂

    Aim for this Christmas breaks to learn how to completely render a piece of duck…

  11. Ooooooooooooooooooooooh

  12. OMG!! No photos…but your descriptions are so colourful…who needs photos! =)
    you make me wanna book myself there even if its $125! I’m headin to NY in Feb too! =)

  13. omg omg omg, you made it to Ko! (As for world domination, don’t forget Milk Bar and Ma Peche too!)

  14. Hats off! the descriptions are amazing and all done without photos. The thing is, I use photos to jog my memory when writing, so for you to write so well about the food without that crutch is amazing.

    It’s also relatively speaking a bargain, at $125 (apx £80). After all, there are just 12 seats, so one sitting is turning over just $1,500 (oh crap, signs of my day job creeping in here!).

    PS: Only down side is how uncomfortable those stools look.

  15. What an amazing experience Catty! Fabulous recap! 😀

  16. Catherine Phipps on December 15, 2010 at 12:24 pm said:

    You lucky, lucky girl. I’ve been pouring over the book for weeks, knowing it’s a long time before I’ll be in New York again. Desperate to try it all, will be trying some of the recipes instead.

  17. Vintage Macaroon: you’re right it’s going to be absolutely nuts in Sydney! Do you know what style of Momofuku he is opening?

    penny: Hehehe SORRY 😀

    jenny: thanks! It’s hard to share without photos but I tried to do my best 🙂

    mc: thanks, you!

    Linh: thanks, it’s that much harder sans pics, but I did try…

    mealsinheels: which Momofuku did you go to? This one’s reservations only so you might have had to wait more than 4 hours!

    The Grubworm: I agree, he’s got a good set of restaurants now, if he over stretches it will become just another brand. Despite the nonchalance I loved the way the chefs took their time to prepare each dish… that’s what you pay for!

    Greedy Diva: Oh yeah Noodle Bar is like two doors down! I went to Milk Bar as well, and will try some of the others in February 🙂

    Jen: once you perfect it, you can say nonchalantly “what? I just rendered it, it was easy” 😉

    Kavey: that’s the perfect way to describe Ko!

    Kay: seems like quite a few people will be here in Feb! You have to book online 6 days ahead so good luck! $125 PLUS TAX AND TIP.. but still not so bad.

    Su-Lin: I’m going to try and bring some Milk Bar truffles back with me this weekend 😀

    Mr Noodles: Well, I went on Monday night and blogged it on Tuesday.. I think if I left it any longer my memory would have started to fail! $125 + tax + tip.. for me (no drinks) I ended up paying $167. In the greater scheme of things, this isn’t bad for a (probably) once in a life time meal.

    Lorraine: Thanks honey!

    Catherine: The book sounds pretty awesome, considering getting myself one too!

  18. So jealous of this! I just got the momofuku cookbook and I am very inspired. What was LF’s tip for getting a table?

  19. Love it! You had me at gruyère cheese broth and riesling gelée . Interesting on the set up – I’ve been to Ssam and Milk Bar (dessert heaven), but never battled to do Ko. Had no idea it was on bar stools like Ssam. I love the smuggled exit shot though. Perfect ending to a well-detailed post of such a decadent meal.

  20. Linda at Pink Elephants coffee,LLC on December 15, 2010 at 6:12 pm said:

    I don’t know about this food. If I were charged so much money for a smear of this
    and a crackle of that, it would piss me off.

  21. Sounds SO great you batshit crazy foodblogging person! Went to my dad’s yesterday and discovered he smuggled seeds and planted myoga in his garden in suburban Auckland! Another reason to come on home…

  22. Ahaha. This was a great post. Why oh why do they have a no-camera policy? I would have loved to see photos of the shaved foie gras dish.

  23. I read your full post eventhough there were no pics as your descriptions are so amazing that I almost could imagine myself being there! I think you make a good judge in the ‘Iron Chef!’

  24. Gourmet Chick: I think it was just a matter of trying every day at 10am and not thinking even for a split second about what time slot you want, just CLICK CLICK CLICK!

    Lara: I need to go check out at least one more Momofuku before I leave. Am contemplating getting some truffles from Milk Bar to bring home 🙂

    Linda: Awww, I like this kind of eating. I would rather pay more for elegance and creativity than to just be stuffed.

    Sasa: You have myoga! Can you make shaved foie gras too?

    thewanderingfoody: I don’t know! I often wonder why places have no photo policies. I mean, if I wanted to copy the look of a meal I would just remember what it looked like. Possibly though is because they prep and cook all the food in front of you so you could copy their recipe, which is their intellectual property?


  25. If you get truffles, the birthday cake ones are to die for. They really taste like birthday cake!! I love their cereal milk soft serve too. So many fabulous options there – hard to go wrong – but the birthday cake truffles are my current obsession.

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  27. if i go to NYC one day, this will be the top of my list(if i can even get a table lol). and I’m quite intrigued by his milk bar too!

  28. How amazing is that shaved foie dish? I think when I started saying that ‘I’d like all foie in my life to be shaved’ that I knew I’d been spending too much time in high end restaurants. We did a bit of a momofuku odyssey when we were in NYC earlier this year, made it to all of them and tried to write them all up- it was Ko that blew me away the most, but I found the service at Ma Peche to be the best…

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  30. Catty – (just left the same comment on Laissez Faire’s blog) but really glad you enjoyed your meal at Ko – I went a couple of years ago now and it remains one of my favourite meals.

    We wriggled in through the online booked system onto the 17 course lunch and the innovation, story and skill in the food blew me away. Slightly sad that the chefs didn’t engage with you as we found them very open.

    I am now trying to work out whether it is worth flying to Australia for another Ko-esque experience.

    Our, pre blogging thoughts from many moons ago are here http://www.tomeatsjencooks.com/31


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  32. This is a really good read for me. I don’t really have a bunch to say in response. I just wanted to comment to reply “well done”. It seems like you’ve put a ton of effort into your blog, and I thank you for that.

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