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Restaurant review: Momofuku Ko, NYC

Angela Gilltrap, Gordo’s buddy, gets to dine in one of the world’s most exclusive restaurants

Written by . Published on October 28th 2010.

Restaurant review: Momofuku Ko, NYC

This is for food lovers who travel.

The dish actually brought tears to my companion’s eyes—and ok, maybe a marriage proposal from me. This was the bento box of slow roasted lamb ribs, korabe salad, yellow wax bean salad and palette cleanser of dashi broth. The tender meat literally fell off the bone, the flavour beyond belief.

It started with a single Kumamoto oyster. Plated on a pristine white dish over a huddle of rock salt, this Washington import came delicately seasoned with a herb-infused vinegar, explained our chef — wearing a Momofuku baseball cap, manoeuvring around two other chefs who would double as our servers.

We toasted with a glass of Christian Etienne, Brut Champagne NV, strangers inexplicably bound by our love of culinary excellence. In a relaxed atmosphere devoid of pretence, seated on bar stools in front of a tiny, unadorned galley kitchen, yet another group of foodies were about to experience Manhattan’s elusive Momofuku Ko.

You can tell from the outset that dining at Momofuku Ko is going to be a distinctive culinary experience. There is no online menu, no a-la-carte menu; in fact there is no menu whatsoever. Everyone in the restaurant is served the same array of dishes, in the same order at the same time; vegetarians cannot be accommodated and turning up more than 15 minutes late incurs a cancellation fee of $150. Add to this that reservations are close to impossible to acquire, and you can see the allure and frustration of this much sought-after establishment.

Opened in 2008 as the third link in the Momofuku chain, this brainchild of famed Korean-American chef, David Chang, continues to garner fans in a city renowned for its fickle food loyalty. A concept geared towards pushing the boundaries of culinary alchemy, it makes no apologies for its strict rules and guidelines.

With only 12 seats available, entry into Momofuku Ko is a well-documented case of luck and tenacity. Eight seconds after seats are released online they sell out, leaving many cursing in their wake. Some wait days; others wait years, which is all part of the allure. Momofuku Ko is not a spur of the moment decision; this is a well-thought out, once-in-a-lifetime experience designed to weed the casual from the committed, the ditzy from the determined, the adventurous from the mundane. And I have to say, in a world built upon instant gratification having to wait — having to plan — creates an inexplicable sense of anticipation and excitement.

The only question is, is the hype worth the anxiety? In a word: yes.

As I had hoped, dining in such an intimate venue created instantaneous friendships. The formality and exclusive nature of the reservation process had conjured up expectations of high-end dining with a regimented service protocol. But behind the heavily-gated front door, sequestered from the world, the atmosphere was more Lower East Side hipster than pompous fine dining.

Here, it’s not the décor, nor the company who come out on top, the real star at Momofuku Ko is the food. And you would be hard pressed to find a more exquisite offering than the 17 - yes, 17 - courses set out in this mammoth weekend offering that lasts three and a half hours.

Mixing a variety of cultural influences with innovative embellishments, the lunch menu at Momofuku Ko starts off simply and explodes into a speechless cacophony of flavours.

The beverage pairing seamlessly follows, mixing wines such as a 2007 Deux Montille Rully from Burgundy with a glass of Dewaakura "Dewasansan" Nama Junmai Ginjo, an unpasturized Sake from the Yamagata Prefecture. A 2009 Copain "Tous Ensemble" Pinot Noir Rose from California’s Anderson Valley proceeds a Lustau Fino Sherry ending in a Little King Cream Ale from Schoening Brewery in Ohio. And it works.

Hen egg

From a simple oyster, to a dainty espresso cup of buttery acorn squash puree with lemon confeit, charred peas and sweetbread, the portions are small yet bursting with flavour. Although, the policy is one of no substitutions, the chefs will make exceptions. The well-seasoned foodie beside me for example, is not a fan of extra spicy food and so his potato “spring roll” ordinarily filled with Korean chillies was done sans heat. Mine on the other hand, kept me upright and attentive for the dishes to come.

From a tender, melt-in-your-mouth, square-inch serving of pork belly to a corn ravioli (mine done with rice noodles) and Spanish chorizo, being able to watch each dish prepared is one of the highlights of Momofuku Ko. The only real complaint came from a well-seasoned couple from Boston who pleaded for just one bad course, even a mediocre one, to bring them back to reality.

The ingredients at Momofuku Ko vary from high-end to everyday fare such as crispy fish scales, something found on the next dish: a sashimi component. Four bite sized morsels of Spanish mackerel with roasted beets, freeze dried soy and mustard oil; Japanese madai with crispy fish scales; Long Island fluke with puffed black rice and tiger scallops with pineapple and New Jersey dehydrated country ham were served in an artistic display.

The textures in all four servings, from crispy bite to buttery texture, balanced the consistent quality of the fresh produce. Surprisingly, the crunchiness of the fish scales proved to be as enticing as the Hackleback caviar found atop our next dish of beef tartare.

There were two absolute stand outs among the endless parade of dishes, the first being a dish served by our chef Cassidy, a Japanese-American chef hailing from California.

After watched him prepare it, we got a jalapeño puree mixed with charred pickles and red onion on a wide, stark white, shallow bowl, Cassidy delivered an impressive array of mushrooms that included white fungus, king oyster and lion’s beard, varietals all provided by the restaurants professional forager in Maine — their meaty, smoky textures remarkably moreish.

The other dish actually brought tears to my companion’s eyes — and ok, maybe a marriage proposal from me. This was the bento box of slow roasted lamb ribs, korabe salad, yellow wax bean salad and palette cleanser of dashi broth. The tender meat literally fell off the bone, the flavour beyond belief.

When you take in the vast array and quality of the ingredients along with the unforgettable experience, it’s worth every penny. Momofuku Ko is a food lover’s dream.

Angela Gilltrap is a New York fashion writer, socialite, bon viveur and foodie. www.angelagilltrap.com

Fluke buttermilk

Breakdown:11/10 food
5/5 service
4/5 ambience
Address:Momofuko Ko
163 First Ave
NYC 10003x

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away

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