Momofuku Ko is a holy grail so get your reservation today

Do yourself the favor and just keep diligent with trying to secure a reservation. You won’t be disappointed … unless you’re a vegetarian.

Momofuku Ko is one of a kind. Reservations can only be booked online at 10am every morning and good luck, they’re gone in seconds. There is no menu, just the chef’s tasting so one better have an open mind to food. The restaurant is smaller than the counters at most sushi bars seating only 12 people in two dinner rotations, so its really intimate and uncluttered. Plates are prepped, cooked and crafted right in front of one’s view and personally handed to the diner by the chef. Dialog and conversation with the cooks are normal course throughout the 2+ hour meal.

Momofuku Ko is an uniquely awesome experience and tasting

Clearly this place is not for everyone but for me is a holy grail. We’ve all had tasting menus in which specific courses just fall flat or are innovative but unbearable to eat or delicious but not too outside the box aka “safe”.  Momofuku Ko must have made a pact with the devil and to date, there has been no other tasting menu in which each course not only blew my mind away with its creativity but also left me licking my plates clean — twice!

I was not part of NYC and knew little about renown restaurants in 1998, but David Chang’s rise to dynasty emperor must be analogous to that of Mario Batali’s. Obviously, not a bad chef to be compared too. Chang opened up Momofuku Noodle Bar in 2004 (because all Asians love noodles, it’s true, it’s true) and except for the Asian burrito mishap, which eventually became Momofuku Ssam Bar, everything he has touched has turned red hot. Chang rules NYC with his laid-back restaurants that churn out amazing, raw, and honest fare. Also, there aren’t too many restaurants in which one can rock sandals and tees while eating at a place with Michelin stars – although there should be.

David Chang and his Momofuku empire embodies a philosophy of food that just tastes great

I hate to label anything “fusion” as for me, that has a negative connotation and normally associated with lackluster food. Chang’s food  is an homage to Asian cuisine. Noodle Bar and Ssam Bar serve solidly eclectic Asian inspired dishes that are prepared with a dizzying array of French and Asian cooking techniques while using mainly local/seasonal ingredients – giving it that New American vibe. It is genius. My Korean mother said, while flipping through his recently released cookbook, “this isn’t real Korean or Asian food”, I’d argue that’s the point. Chang, as a Korean-American (and from Northern Virginia I may add, holla represent represent), is reinterpreting his culture and intelligently integrating in it techniques/ingredients that he respects and admires. In this process he has and continues to create something to is truly changing the modern-day culinary landscape. Perhaps I’m thinking too much into this and I may be a bit biased as a half-Korean, but it all absolutely works and does so phenomenally … but it’s not fusion.

Momofuku Ko is more than buns and noodles it is Chang and his team’s interpretation of intelligent, Asian and French inspired New American eats

Momofuku Ko is clearly Chang’s avenue to show the world he’s more than steamed buns, noodles, pig parts and bo ssams. While his other restaurants could be characterized as serving Asian-inspired dishes using French techniques, Ko is New American cuisine using lots of Asian ingredients. Ko is a front that allows Chang and his chefs/staff to continually play around and keep innovating in the kitchen. One of Chang’s mantra is to become a restaurant group that also allows its employees to remain creative. It is hard to continually reinvent and switch up menus at restaurants that receive world-wide recognition such as Noodle Bar and Ssam Bar as customers come to expect certain dishes. Ko, because it is and only is a seasonal tasting menu, is free to be a maverick and switch things up when appropriate.

Every course at Ko just makes me smile. They are intelligently prepared, look like works of zen art, and are littered with  ingredients that I am not well-versed with. As a person that likes to cook for fun, I can further appreciate the thought and creativity behind this madness and it makes me laugh in such awe.

Library collection in Ko's bathroom from noreylee's flickr stream

Small amuse bouche and fluke pack flavorful punches

The meal started off of a tasting of amuse bouche: a form of beef and broccoli, beet with crab & black garlic, fried pig skin with Shichimi-togarashi Japanese spice blend sprinkled on top, and a homemade biscuit laced with lard. No starter at Ko is complete without pork fat. The biscuit was an out of body experience as I’ve never had one so savory and rich. It was a worthy replacement to the bread with whipped lardo that I had the first time at Ko. The amuse bouches all were fantastic and got the palate anxious for the coming ride.

Fluke is a fish found across the Momofuku empire and one of my favorite raw fishes. This time around, it was served as sashimi and rolled with garbanzo beans in its center. On top was a delecate topping of sea beans that brought a crisp texture and added an extra layer of oceanic taste to the dish. The bed of basil puree of sorts that this crudo/sashimi “roll” sat on rounded out the plate, gave it that fresh and cleansing taste. Brilliant and I could snack on it all day. The first time I was at Ko, the fluke was raw and paired with poppyseeds – also incredible.

Cheese plays an integral role in the Ko dining adventure

What came next was an absolute home-run, a beef carpaccio with grated quark cheese, lines of horseradish sauce, pig crisps, an olive oil mixture, and micro-greens. The quark cheese, which is a soft curd cheese must have been aged like a ricotta salata before grating, was the ingredient that made this course sing. The horseradish sauce had an Arby’s, yes the fast-food chain known for the Big Montana roast beef and my dad’s favorite fast-food, secret sauce like taste – which I mean in the utmost of compliments – and made me think that if an Arby’s sandwich was deconstructed, made much more sophisticated, and served raw that it could taste like this. It was banging.

The cheese themed continued with brioche topped with melted bone marrow that was toasted in the oven. On it rested a mild onion of sort and all of this resting gently in a gruyere cheese broth. The gruyere smell was tantalizing and permeated the taste buds. The toast and especially the bone marrow was slightly lost in the stronger gruyere broth, but oh well, the broth was that good. The toast did however successfully provide the contrast in texture, giving this dish a fun mouth feel.

Cuddled egg with fish roe is taken to new levels

Following the effervescent gruyere broth was the first repeat dish I had from Round 1 at Ko, – the soft boiled/coddled egg with a healthy dollop of Paddlefish caviar, onion soubise, chervil, and homemade potato chips.  Who doesn’t love yokey soft boiled/coddled eggs? What takes this dish to the next realm is that the egg is smoked. The smokey caviar with the smokey & yokey egg is amazing, especially with the sweet onions. No wonder this dish continues to remain a staple on the tasting.

Egg course from scaredy kat's flickr stream

All Asians love noodles ergo all Asians love pasta. The next course was the pasta course. Hand-torn noodles served in a chicken broth with plenty of cheese. Tossed with the pasta were cubes of a homemade chicken and snails sausage. The mild taste of the snail was something truly unique. What was also off the wall and excellent was serving chicken cracklings in the pasta. I’ve never had pasta with fried chicken skin and it worked well.

Momofuku Ko’s shaved foie gras on lychee & Riesling jelly is genius

What came after the pasta was  the only other dish I had the first time at Ko – the shaved foie gras on top of lychee & Riesling jelly with pine nut brittle pieces. Crazy insane delicious and intriguingly seductive. Who thinks of these things? A torchon of of foie gras, which alone could be good enough, that is frozen so it can then be shaved on top of what is a densely complex lychee jello for adults. Lychees are making its way onto menus but mainly in original boozy cocktails. I love lychees, particularly as a gummy candy. Lychees are sensual and very sweet, reminiscent of roses and muscat grapes (like a dessert wine). Combined with the offally shaved liver, that just melts once it hits the mouth, is unbelievable. The pine nut brittle is a further enhancement on this already perfect dish providing it important texture contrast with its salty, sweet crunch. I’m certain this dish will forever remain on Ko’s tasting. Talk about East meets West, at its finest.

Shaved foie gras and lychee/Riesling jelly from scaredy kat's flickr stream

It is hard to follow up shaved foie gras on lychees, so its the perfect time for the fish course. The fish course was the most Western item of the tasting. It was a skate topped with almonds and served with an almond milk foam. Simple, slightly dated perhaps with the foam, but the milkiness of it paired well with the stringy skate.

David Chang loves his meat

One thing Momofuku does particularly well is serve meat. The roasted duck breasts were unbelievable. The fat was perfectly rendered and the skin crispy. What was truly amazing was that it had an dry aged taste to it like a steak. And with the duck were steamed turnips and sauteed mustard greens. Two very Korean vegetables that accentuated the glorious duck.

Chang has clearly demonstrated that he has a sweet tooth with the success of Milk Bar. No meal is a meal without dessert. The first time I was at Ko, it was his rendetion of the McDonald’s apple pie, a pizza pocket like vessel for gooey sweet apples. Ko’s version was of course more refined, but loaded with even more sugar and cinnamon and served with cinnamon ice cream. This time around Ko went Italian serving a panna cotta of some kind with root beer ice cream and other delectable goodies. For those that love A&W root beers, this dessert is a must.

Momofuku Ko is crazy delicious, that’s the review

One has to admire the genius and hard work the staff employs. While the first dining experience at Ko will always be more memorable (b/c David Chang himself was behind the counter cooking and serving the dishes to us), the second round was no less awesome and inspiring. One leaves the tasting full but not overstuffed and in a sense of whirling wonderment at what just transpired. Forgo the tasting menu pairing with alcohol, as the mix of sake, beer, and wine are all great at a karaoke bar but do not bode well for appreciating Ko’s craft over its 2+ hour tasting experience.

Jose Andres, one of the best chefs of America and a master of the DC dining scene sums it up pretty well in a Munchies video on about David Chang – “Only a crazy guy via Korea, Japan, China…whatever…only a crazy mind would come up with a coffee-mayo bullshit with ham…and it is unbelievably good. You’re sick!…These guys are insane. Nice kid…but man it’s good!”

The rest of the video is above and well worth watching for any Momofuku fans. I’m oddly in the mood for a fried chicken breakfast. Momofuku Ko may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for me it is a serious religious experience.

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