Momofuku Ko: Dinner

18 Jun

Last night, I made my epic pilgrimage to Momofuku Ko.  After such an experience, I must assert that a foodie is to Momofuku Ko as a Muslim is to Mecca.  If one is physically and financially capable of making such a trip, then one must make every effort to do so.  Could this be a first pillar in one of the five (or more) of foodie-ism? 

My reservation was at 9:30, but since I didn’t want to be late, I loitered around in the neighborhood for a while leading up to it.  Finally, around 9:20, two young men walked out of the restaurant.  One of them pronounced, “dude, that was some of the best food I’ve ever eaten.”  Needless to say, I was ecstatic to hear such positive feedback about the meal on which I would soon be dining.

I walked into the restaurant a few minutes early, but I was seated promptly anyway (upon presenting my print-out reservation confirmation, of course.)  Now here is where I wish to say something that is not in accord with other reviews of Momofuku Ko:

Even though there is minimal service, it is not because the staff wishes not to be hospitable.  The space is merely too small to have an extensive waitstaff.  However, as for the service I did receive, it was cordial and prompt.  Furthermore, I believe it a gross exaggeration to say that the chefs who cook and present the meal are at all kurt or hostile.  On the contrary, they were friendly, they were having fun making the food, they did not mind re-explaining the dishes, and they asked numerous times whether we were enjoying the meal.  Could this be the holier-than-thou and cold staff for which I was prepared by so many past reviews and blog posts?

Perhaps an evolution has occurred over time with the response of the diners, but speaking from my own experience, I cannot say I’ve ever met a nicer or more enthusiastic group of chefs. 

Now for the food:

Menu:

Soft Tofu with morels, green market radish with butter and salt, mirin-glazed biscuit with chicharron (sprinkled w/ spicy salt)

Scallop “crudo” with pineapple vinegar and ham

Cold Dashi with charred pea shoots, sugar snaps, cucumber, and Santa Barbara Uni

Lightly smoked soft cooked egg with haggleback caviar, confit onions, sweet potato vinegar, and fingerling potato chips

Rice porridge with Chinese sausage, crawfish, lime zest, and dill

Dredged and sautéed soft shell crab with Old Bay butter sauce, celery “noodles,” and hearts of palm

 Shaved foie gras with lychee, pine nut brittle, and Riesling gelee

Deep fried beef short rib with chive puree, sautéed onion with lavender oil, charred baby leeks from Rosco, NY, and chive blossoms

Cantaloupe sorbet with honey-verbena granite

Rhubarb with olive-oil-crème-fraiche ice cream, black pepper crumble, and black pepper ganache

Where to start?  I suppose the beginning. 

The first course was a trio that I ate in order from lightest to boldest flavors.  The radish with butter was fresh and delicious, and the peppery flavor played well with the butter and salt.  The tofu was soft and beautiful, and the silkiness with the rich flavor of the morels was magnificent.  Lastly, the biscuit with mirin glaze was busty and unctuous, and although it was not as flaky as it was sort of cakey, it was basically like, “here I am, love me or leave me,” and I loved it, eating every last morsel.  The chicharron was a nice nod to the awesomeness of carnivorism and the beauty in life that is pork.  After having eating the biscuit, I thought that the scallop crudo was refreshing and awakening.  The ham was nice with the tangy vinegar and soft, fresh scallop.  Next, the cold dashi was like a tranquil sea after the tangy scallop, so it was a nice progression.  The pea shoots were a textural element, and the snap peas and cucumber were sweet and crisp.  Also, the uni was phenomenal, and it added the proper salty/brine to counter the sweetness from the pineapple before.  Not only did all of the dishes balance and delight, but the progression was logical. 

The next dish may have been my favorite of the ten courses.  An elegantly presented plate, the dish arrives with a soft cooked and lightly-smoked egg partially split open atop a bed of confit onions.   By the split in the egg is a perfect, dark, and hansome cannelle of haggleback caviar.  Sweet potato vinegar is applied minimally, and wee fingerling potato chips adorn the dish.  All the diner has to do to get the full glory is to break the peeking yolk and consume a perfect bite with all components.  The onion confit was comforting and smooth, and although smoke was not a prominent flavor, the egg was cooked just right.  All of the elements in the dish belonged together.  The caviar was like salt for the egg as well.  It all just made sense.

Continuing the breakfasty-inspired jog, the subsequent course was a rice porridge with Chinese sausage and crawfish.  The porridge was homey and original, and the sausage and crawfish were complimentary but kept their integrity, even if the sausage was not a crazily assertive flavor.  Lime zest and dill made the dish a modern interpretation and a more complex one at that.  I was not fond of the small-diced vegetable (celery, perhaps) that topped the porridge; it ruined the soft mouthfeel with too much of a crunch.  Still, this dish isperfect in that Americans do not get to eat rice porridge often, and it opens up new avenues for those to whom it speaks.

The crab that followed was crazy.  I’m already a big fan of soft shell crab.  Here, they dredged it in flour and sauteed it in butter just how I like it.  However, they made a perfect sauce with the unpretentious ingredient Old Bay Seasoning.  The butter sauce was expertly done, though, so I felt that this was a nod of respect or paying of homage to the modest cooks and fishermen who use it to kick up their simply baked or grilled catch.  The celery ribbons were a fresh foil to the rich sauce, and the hearts of palm were crisp.  I believe I will not throw away that ever-shunned container of Old Bay in my spice drawer quite yet…

At this point, I was already in a state of bliss.  However, the chefs brought me to euphoria with their signature dish of shaved foie over lychees, pine nut brittle, and Riesling gelee.  The pile of foie “snow” melted on the palate, screaming foie gras even though the mouthful was so light.  The riesling gelee was like having the perfect wine pairing right in the dish, and the brittle and lychees offered texture and sweet coolness respectively.  I decided then that I would have been a happier child had the ice cream truck brought foie snow cones.  If only…

More, I say!  More!  The course that came next was unfair.  Is it legal to take a tender, fatty piece of meat and then deep-fry it?  Well, I suppose, because that is what they did to the short rib, and no police showed up.  It was probably the best beef I have had in a long time.  The pink, juicy rib was succulent and yielding simultaneously.  The dark crust on the outiside was a carnivore’s dream.  I didn’t think that I could eat a whole piece, let alone the two on my plate, but let’s be serious.  I almost cleaned my plate.  Needless to say, the many ways of onions were amazing, especially the one anointed with lavender oil. 

Dessert is bittersweet.  Not because it has bittersweet chocolate in it, and not because it contains a dark dark caramel, but because it signals that the end is near.  Still, because it is delicious, how can one not love it?

The first dessert was a perfect cantaloupe sorbet over a honey-verbena granite.  Even though sorbet is always my last choice for dessert, this one was ethereal, capturing the perfect essence of the perfect cantaloupe.

Next and last was the rhubarb dessert.  It all worked so nicely, especially the flavor of the olive oil in the ice cream.  Even though one of my black pepper crumble pieces was less crumbly than it could have been (it was like a struessel), it was amazing. 

I sipped my espresso, rather upset but hoping that if I just stayed, they would keep feeding me.  They did not.  The last dessert left me thinking of the rhubarb pies to come, though; it is summer after all, and I grew optimistic.  As I departed, I thanked the chefs for a great meal, and not a trace of exaggeration was present in my remark.  I will go back if I can ever get in again.  After a meal like that to inspire my reservation-getting, I am confident that I will.

 

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One Response to “Momofuku Ko: Dinner”

  1. Jessie June 19, 2009 at 11:18 am #

    Shaina! I’m so jealous. If I wasn’t vegan, and therefore incapable of eating pretty much any of this, I would most certainly make a reservation IMMEDIATELY.

    AHH i love your life.
    -Jessie

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