On this fine second Seder eve, the beginning of Nutella week (I only eat Nutella with Matzah), I’ll start with a question I’ve been asked many time. How can Jesus be the son of David! Jesus was born 1000 years after David, and yet he is repeatedly described in the new testament as the Son of David. Was David the first ever sperm donor? I didn’t think so. Mmm, a moment of silence as I reflect on the fact that I haven’t and most likely never will produce sons. I get this moment every now and then, bare with me. But the answer to our questions is that its just a Messianic title, like “Son of god”. Jesus, born in the city of David, Bethlehem, was the long awaited Messiah, deliverer, the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies.
Coincidentally (or not) “Ko” means “Son of” in Japanese, and Momofuku Ko is the son of David Chang, the long awaited Messiah that came to free us from French dominance, and who broke all the rules and then some, like an inspired blogger suddenly writing with run-on sentences. Chang like Ko, is a trend setter that continues to reinvent himself. In a recent editorial piece by Chang about the flux state of ramen in NYC, I couldnt help but notice the extensive profanities in the piece. Some may say Vulgar. I say fucking inspiring!
The best way I can describe Ko is like this. A religious experience for non-religious food geeks. A rather indescribable event that perhaps you should not read much about beforehand, like the back of the Netflix white sleeve envelope. Even the cuisine itself is not something you can categorize. The default “American (new)” is perhaps the closest but only because its the default, and not because its comparable to anything else in its category (with the possible exception of Atera and a few more). Yelp lists it as “Korean, American (New)”. Might as well say “Turkish, Uyghur, Fried Chicken”.
You almost need to become religious when you try to make reservations. You have to open an account with fuku, set a reminder exactly two weeks before the date you want at 9:55 am and start flexing the fingers. At 10:00 am reservations open, and at 10:05 they pretty much close. If you miss your big chance, they can put you on a calling list in case someone cancels on the same day. For me it required a small village, with “fuku” texts from friends reminding me after many failed attempts.
Its counter seating, with ample room between you and other guests. The 2.5 hours meal costs $175 and features a set menu of 18 or so dishes. Overall it felt like what a 2 Michelin star in NYC should feel. Professional, efficient, yet not too stuffy at all, even though you cant drop a napkin without someone handing you a fresh one within seconds. Part of the enjoyment is sitting there watching the cooks do their thing, including someone we dubbed Momofuku Eddik who looked like our friend Eddik.
Describing the dishes at Ko can be as complicated as describing Japanese elder porn. I dont usually take notes while I eat so I will try to do my best describing and will omit some that were not so memorable, like the millefeuille, the only photo not taken (probably around the time I spotted Mr Chang. I’m glad he didnt recognize me because I was having way too much fun with Mrs Z and didnt feel like being bothered)
Lobster Paolise was the highlight of the early round of small bites, served in a cylinder shell like a shot glass. Paloise is essentially minty Barnaisse. A terrific Vegetable Roll followed by less memorable millefeuille and pomme soufflee. Madai (Japanese Snapper looking Sea Bream) served raw with clear jellied consomme and shiso was a nice little transition to the lightweights. Razor Clams swimming in basily pineapple dashi was perhaps the first wow moment, only to be followed by much bigger ones. Sunchoke (Jerusalem artichoke) aided by dry aged beef fat was meaty yet delicate. Then comes a sensational Venison tartare with fermented black bean puree and shredded fried brussels sprouts providing a nice crunch. One of the best dishes of the night
The Mackarel Sawarazushi that we saw our new friend Jay torch time and time again during the meal, was well balanced, and not as strong as mackerel can get sometimes. Surprisingly, in a way I preferred the dashi (soup) they made with the mackerel with shredded King Oyster Mushrooms and Asian Pears. Like the sickest Miso soup you will ever eat. Soft scrambled eggs with Osetra caviar and breadcrum-like fried potatoes was quite the dish. Add the homemade bread and radish butter and you got a triumph. Like breakfast at Putin’s. Momofuku, change the name to Breakfast at Putin’s
The Pilmeni/ravioli like Kaboocha squash dumplings were light and springy. A nice transition to the heavyweights of the meal (perhaps its a good time to say, skip lunch). The lobster dish was another winner. A few pieces of lobster tail with sweet potatoes and some sort of lobster espuma which was like the greatest lobster bisque on the planet. When you make the sweet potato almost match the lobster in taste, for this sweet potato hater, you are doing a lot of things right. The best way I describe the pork piece is steroid injected, beefed up incredibly delicious Canadian bacon. They brine that thing for 6 days. Add some Kimchi and onions and you got yourself an Ooooboy! If you didn’t have your religious experience by now, it will probably arrive with the frozen foie gras liberally shaved on top of Lychee, candies pine nuts and Riesling Jelly.
The desserts, while perfectly acceptable, did not carry the similar oomph you get with the rest of the menu. A Huckleberry sorbet with bee pollen, minty chocolate tart, some mignardises in a form of tiny macaroons. The best thing was the last warm dessert that’s not on the menu but reminded me of a sticky toffee pudding.
Needless to say, put this Momofuku high up there on your NYC bucket list. The first slot sounds about right.