I’m neutral on David Chang, no hate, no love. I’m naturally turned off by hype, though. Obviously, or I would’ve eaten at Momofuku Ssam in the evening by now but I just can’t be bothered.
I was kind of fascinated by all the Ko hoopla and the gone in sixty seconds reservations game didn’t even bother me. At least it’s democratic, if not glitchy. And trying to score a spot did get me to work at 9:55 instead of 10:05 for a week. Um, and today post-Momofuku Ko I didn’t even make it into the office.
I do wonder if the newness has already worn off. On my way to the East Village for pre-dinner drinks (a few shots of Maker’s Mark at Otto’s, which was probably a mistake. Not the tiki bar so much as over-imbibing. But I’d been home alone all weekend and by 7pm on Sunday I was antsy and bored out of my mind) I received a call presumably from a hostess asking if I’d prefer an 8:45 to my 9:15. Sure, why not.
Tipsy and running late, my friend Sherri and I completely missed the extremely subtle entrance, marked with the signature peach but obscured by metal latticework, and had to pop into the noodle bar a few storefronts down for directions. Normally, I’m anal about addresses and luckily, this was the only misstep of the evening.
Well, and maybe ordering a bottle of the private label sake. I wasn’t feeling flush enough to spring for the wine pairings ($50) but we didn’t realize the bottle was going to be so large. Those little juice glasses start adding up and next thing you know you’ve forgotten half the things you just ate. Thank goodness for photos and the internet.
By now you’ve already seen a cavalcade of photos and descriptions, but that’s never stopped me from adding my Johnny-come-lately perspective before.
Pork Rinds with Togarashi Pepper
I’ll concede that the cracklings were better than the over-salted puffs you normally buy in a bag. Very light and airy but gone in seconds.
English Muffins with Pork Fat, Sea Salt and Chives
Hmm…I couldn’t determine if the rolls at Allen & Delancey were amazing or if I’m just bread deprived. I know now that they were amazing because these mini muffins were certainly good but they didn’t bowl me over. The pork fat could’ve been more assertive. Maybe my taste buds had been dulled but I expected a richer more unctuous flavor.
Fluke Sashimi with Spicy Buttermilk and Chives
I’ve been on a sashimi kick recently so this was fun. The creamy chile-spiked sauce was a welcome diversion from soy sauce and wasabi, and I would never think of adding poppy seeds into the mix. Yes, more chives.
Kimchi Consomme with Beau Soleil Oyster, Pork Belly and Braised Cabbage
The kimchi was so mild that I forgot it was a component of the broth until looking at other's photos. I think the food could remain refined and still punch up the spice a bit. I hate the word luscious (I promise never to say succulent) but the soft, barely fatty pork belly definitely was. I also like shellfish paired with pork, which I usually associate with Portuguese food. There’s definitely nothing Iberian about this presentation, though. The pork-seafood combo definitely seems to be a recurring Chang touch.
Coddled Egg with Hackleback Caviar, Onion Soubise, Potato Chips and Chervil
I notice other reviews mentioning osetra, but I’m fairly certain this was hackleback (or was it paddlefish?). I also notice sous vide coming up in conjunction with this dish but I don’t think anything was cooked in that manner. Perhaps soubise, a slow cooking process in butter that enhances sweetness, sounds like sous vide? A printed menu would be appreciated by introverted freaks like me who need to know every little detail but hate to be all pretentious and chit chat aloud about every minute ingredient. No matter, this was very luxurious and the sliver-thin crispy potatoes added nice contrast to the softness of both chicken and fish eggs, and I don't even like potato chips.
Scallops with Nori and Bacon Dashi
I can’t remember what the white swipe is to save my life and I even asked. I also don’t see this exact dish on any blogs so I can’t jog my memory that way. The porky broth and sweet scallops complemented each other. The seaweed was a little chompy.
Shaved Foie Gras with Lychees and Wine Gelee
This was the nuttiest dish by far, and by nutty I mean creative and unexpected. All you can see in this shot is a pile of fluff that’s actually shaved foie gras. It totally does melt in your mouth but that’s one of the foulest metaphors in world history. The liquid underneath softens the shavings into a mousse-like consistency. The sweet perfumey squishiness of the lychees didn’t seem like a perfect match for the liver but I did like eating this.
Deep-Fried Short Rib with Pickled Carrots, Daikon with Mustard Seeds and Grilled Scallion
Throughout the meal I was transfixed on hunks of meat getting deep fried (they were using the same deep fryer that I own) and sliced into thirds and wondering when this decadence would come our way. The proportion of crispy exterior to rare insides was wonderful. I now resolve to deep fry meat more often. The mustard seeds weren’t overwhelming at all. And you kind of have to love all the bright colors—they felt kind of Uniqlo and the pickling punched up what could've been an overly rich dish.
Grilled Rice Cake on Pickled Turnips and Cabbage with Miso Soup
I ended up dunking my rice cylinder into the soup, which caused it to fall apart. That probably wasn’t the optimal eating style. My powers of observation were long shot by this point but this seemed like one of the tamer courses, simple and soothing. I would've been fine with skipping this course and going straight to the sweet.
Pineapple Sorbet with Dried Pineapple
The transitional palate cleanser of double pineapple. It's not very often that I get excited by sorbet, and this was no exception. Sure, it was fruity and cold with some concentrated chewy bits but I was looking forward to the apple pie.
Fried Apple Pie with Sour Ice Cream and Toasted Miso
Ah, wake up call. I remember the cool mouth-freezing sensation more than the fruity taste. This is where I freaked out. Not because of the food (though I will say the sour cream was a distinct touch) but because of the music. I couldn’t concentrate on my apple pie because They Might Be Giants's, “Ana Ng” was making me laugh. It was an accumulation of the entire evening’s soundtrack enhanced by too much sake. Rush, Luna and the Stone Roses didn’t throw me into fits as much, though.
The song that really pushed me over the edge was “Take the Skinheads Bowling.” I’ve never felt more thirtysomething in my entire life. I didn’t feel sad and nostalgic (my default state of mind) but rather kind of incredulous and peaceful (which was short lived since I started a fight when I got home).
In the ‘80s I wouldn’t be able to fathom sitting on a stool in NYC spending over $100 on dinner while listening to Camper Van Beethoven. But then, as a teen I had zero idea what the future might be like so nothing would surprise me. As a senior in high school I used to joke with my sister whenever seeing then strange and new, space age-seeming minivans, “wow, it is the ‘90s.”
Inventive tasting menus paired with the sweet strains of decades-old college rock is the ‘00s.
Momofuku Ko * 163 First Ave., New York, NY