Yeah, I know, the title is really cheesy but I left my gift for words on the subway platform somewhere around Canal street after a banh mi chase. Anyways, for better or worse, this NY trip has pretty much turned out to be completely dominated by everything Momofuku and I feel like me and the Changer should become BFF or something. Although he probably wouldn’t want to hear what I have to say about his Southern style fried chicken at Noodle Bar or the grilled octopus at Ssam.
Over the course of 10 days, I went to Noodle Bar, SSam Bar, and Milk Bar (and PDT for the Momofuku dog) and have generally been satisfied with my visits but not blown away because the food was uneven, some great stuff and some so so. I was starting to think that the hype was just a hype and we were all just following the Pied Piper out of town to drown in a river of kimchi and other pickled vegetation.
Let’s not mention the fact that the man did not make it easy for me to get to his food. Running to make a fried chicken reservation? No way, won’t catch me doing that again. Anyway, back to Ko. JN had been monitoring the Ko reservation board for me and found a sitting for 9:30pm on a Monday night that very morning, but since I was helping the Korean move during the day, I decided I would be completely wiped out and I foolishly turned it down and spent the next three days lamenting the fact. But then, as luck would have it, I scored a last minute dinner reservation to Ko, which has a notorious reputation for being difficult to get into, something about 12 seats and only being able to reserve one week in advance (forget about trying to get into lunch). Someone out there with other priorities canceled his/her Friday night reservation, which I promptly snatched up around 11am on Thursday morning. I had been so used to seeing the red Xes that the green check mark nearly blinded me. Even worse the countdown clock they give you is completely nerve wracking. You have 60 seconds to accept the reservation and then another 150 seconds or so to enter in your credit card information.
“Aaahhh!!!!! Where’s my wallet?!! Who else can I take to KO?! (JN shouts in the background, “Take Les! Take Les!”) Okay okay! What do I do? Oh my God, oh my God, a hundred and twenty seconds left, security code? what?!” I ended my little hissy fit by texting a command to Les, “You are coming with me to Ko tomorrow!!” Like there was ever even a doubt that she would decline. We knew where our priorities lay.
We show up the next night and placed ourselves down at the the long bar where all the diners can watch the chefs mill about in a small cooking area. The experience is similar to sitting at a sushi bar and watching the chef prepare each course. It’s great for voyeurs like me who like to watch their dishes being prepped and plated. The bar at Ko is a zen like setting with random music coming from the speakers overhead mingling with the hushed voices of diners. The lighting is clear and bright, a refreshing change to other fine dining establishments, because I can actually see my food and appreciate the visual presentation. Of course, with lighting seemingly made to be conducive for food photography, Ko has a no picture policy. And I am perfectly okay with it because at the end of the day, eating takes priority over blogging.
Here’s how the dinner proceeded.
Crisp, deep fried chicharon with togarashi salt was presented next to a dense yet fluffy black pepper biscuit with mirin glaze. I loved the biscuit/muffin thing because it was warm, crumbly, moist, buttery, and peppery. The mirin glaze was fantastic and added a touch of sweetness and tang. Chicharon was alright, I couldn’t taste too much of the togarashi seasoning but anything made of piggy and deep fried works for me.
Then we had a ceramic spoon containing a mouthful of fried calamari, pistachio puree, eggplant puree, and a little sprig of dill. Great texture and flavors together.
Up next was sliced raw diver scallop, crisp watercress chunks, crispy ham bits, with pineapple vinegar. The scallop was sweet and fresh and the ham added the salt the dish needed.
One of my favorite dishes was uni with shiso leaf in a cool dashi broth with charred grilled vegetables that I suspect are pea shoots/vines. I call them dou miao in Chinese. The dashi broth was light and it was complemented by the smokiness of of the pea shoots. In a flash of whimsy, they placed the pod of snap peas laid open on the dish and in the pods, were what appeared to be peas but were really just tiny little balls of cucumber.
And then the oft mentioned and blogged about egg dish. THE egg dish that I had heard so much about from Les. I can’t even begin to say how good it was. A smoked egg cut open so the yolk spills out topped with a briny dollop of caviar. Then it’s served with an onion soubise, tiny little chips made from fingerling potatoes, chopped chives, and a sweet potato vinegar. This is a dish where you need to put a little bit of everything on the spoon to get the full impact. Oddly enough, it was like eating a mutant version of sour cream and chives/sour cream and onion chips if that makes sense and then egg and caviar flavor just float happily on your tongue.
In an homage to everything summer, they plated up a dish of sweet corn and sour cream ravioli in a buttery sauce of diced Spanish chorizo, corn, cotija cheese, pickled tomato, and lime zest. The sweetness of the corn mixed well with the soft sour cream and complemented the smokey, spicy chorizo. This is where I really appreciated the intimacy of sitting at the bar and watching the chefs (the one stationed in front of us was really cute! I was told I had to mention that.) prepare the meal. We watched the preparation of the dish from sautéeing the diced chorizo in butter and the plating of each layer of flavor with the corn, the cheese, the diced tomato. We could see and smell all of it, down to the faint whiff of lime as they grated it over the microplane. It really builds the anticipation for each dish and enhances the experience.
For our fish dish, we had grilled caper-brined baby trout, potato risotto, baby swish chard, and radish. The fish was melt in your mouth tender and the caper brine did not overwhelm the delicacy of the fish.
Of course we also had the famous frozen foie dish. Shaved torchon of foie over riesling gelée, lychees, and pine nut brittle. The treatment made the foie so fluffy and light and the remaining components added sweetness and bitterness to the dish which offset the richness of foie. This is also another dish where you’ve got to put every ingredient in a spoonful to appreciate the overall effect. Les didn’t like foie so they gave her nicely cooked piece of bass with teeny little onion ravioli. She said it was good and I’ll take her word for it.
The final course before dessert was this amazing deep fried short rib on top of pickled pearl onions (the dude is sooo Korean, pickles everything he can get his hands on), a preparation of onion using some French word I don’t know (miqui or something, someone please educate me), grilled leeks, and my arch nemesis…a huge bed of pureed of scallions. If you’re looking for irony, this is it. As Les so eloquently put it, the definition of irony is when the best dish of the night contains scallions and yet, you hate scallions. Take that Alanis Morissette! However, back to the subject. I ignored the evil greenery and focused on the delectable short rib. The skin was nice and crisp and any external fat was nicely caramelized. The inside was so tender and melt in your mouth, reminiscent of wagyu beef.
We had watched them trim the cooked short rib on the cutting board and both Les and I were aghast at the chunks of meat being cast aside and wasted. Granted, a lot of it was fat but a LOT of it was meat!!! I was so tempted to reach over and rescue those perfect, crackling, tender pieces of beef and help them achieve their life purpose of satisfying my tummy but decorum held me back. Plus I didn’t want to get banned from Ko as the Changer seems to like to have things just so, down to the music that plays in the restaurant…so I’m told.
The first dessert was animal cracker ice cream, diced peaches, and peach soda. It really did taste like animal crackers and it was light and refreshing.
The final bit of the evening had a savory kick to it. Black pepper ganache with black pepper crumble, macerated blueberries, and topped with ice cream made from olive oil and creme fraiche ice cream. I loved this. It was akin to eating yogurt with granola, a breakfast favorite of mine. And I do like ending a great evening with breakfast.
Ko completely won me over. It was such a great meal — elegant, whimsical, creative, and absolutely delicious. There wasn’t a single dish that was subpar or that I didn’t devour to the last lick. I don’t know what kind of mojo David Chang has got swimming around in the water he drinks but I’ll gladly join his army and help expand the empire. We’ll deep fry and pickle everyone that gets in our way.