Day 1 in New York City. We’ve arrived at the hotel just fine but I am quickly beginning to regret this location. The Sasquatch has twice scaled the Empire State Building in the first few hours here. Then when he spotted the Chrysler Building he began to haul some serious ass towards it. I had just enough time to pull out the tranquilizer gun that The Fancy Actress Lady lent me in case Sassy decided to “get his wild on” and I tag him good in the backside. I enlist the help of a few locals to drag him back to the hotel to sleep this off. I am going to make this simple on myself and mix some of this stuff right into his morning coffee. I had wanted to get some shut eye too after the long drive but I am too excited. Unlike The Sasquatch, I know where we are eating tonight and it’s all I can think about: David Chang’s Momofuku Ko.
We’re here in NYC on a mission to celebrate two things, albeit a little early; my upcoming 40th birthday and his marriage this summer. We already know that our summer is going to be jammed packed so in a rare moment of lucidity Sassy and I decided to party it up in NYC a little early. I wanted to make this a legendary trip and for me that means eating at a legendary spot. Neither of us has yet to eat at a 2 star Michelin rated place and Ko has always beckoned so I figured why the hell not?
Fastbackward a month or two and you will find me sitting at a computer, day after day, doing dry runs to get a spot here. The process isn’t difficult but you need to be fast like lightning to get a spot. This is apparently one of the top 10 toughest tables to get in America. You need to register with them ahead of time by giving your name, email address and creating a password to log onto the reservations page. From there it’s pretty simple; 10 days before you want to go you need to log onto the reservations page at around 9h55 Eastern and keep refreshing the page until it hits 10h. Once the reservation spots open at 10h pick the time you want and fill in the info they ask of you fast as hell. To give you an idea of how quickly the place can be booked up I watched as one Saturday was filled within 30 seconds. So after many practice runs I got in on the day I wanted and the time I wanted too.
Like any food maniac I obsess over food and will research the hell out of places I am going to eat at. I read many reviews on several sites to get an idea of what to expect. Ko had very few poor reviews but there were a few things that popped up that made me slightly nervous. I was able to dismiss the worst review I found because it was someone who tore them a new one and got their panties in a bunch when they were told to put their camera away as they do not allow photos. Luckily for me I rarely wear panties. Besides, it is right in the email you get that they don’t allow photos. That is fine with me since I hate being that asshole snapping pictures all night while everyone stares daggers at you. What I was worried about were a few reviewers saying they left still hungry, that wine pours from the pairing menu were skimpy, and that staff and chefs were cold and unfriendly. I am a growing boy and can pack a good amount of food away and The Sasquatch is no slouch at cramming food down his face either. And let’s call a spade a spade, a hungry Sasquatch is an angry Sasquatch. I had decided beforehand that I wanted to do the wine pairing so I was hoping that the few reports of skimpy pours were grossly exaggerated. I’m dropping big bucks here and I think I should get my money’s worth. Lastly, as I so often say, I hate feeling like staff at a nice restaurant are treating me like I saved up all year to come eat here and they brush me off. I’m paying the same money as anyone else so even if it does hurt my wallet I shouldn’t be treated any worse than the dude with the 10,000$ watch. you know? But like I said, these were mild concerns since the reviews were predominantly overwhelmingly positive.
Sassy awakes from his forced nap relaxed and mellow. We head out for some killer cocktails a few hours before our booking at an incredibly sexy little bar close by Ko. I would tell you more about it but they’ve asked me not to tell. After 3 or 4 pretty strong drinks we sashay on over to the restaurant looking for fun and feeling groovy. Wow, that’s a great line, I should write that one down before someone steals it. We walk up to the door and Sassy seems a bit perplexed. There is no address, only a door and window both covered in metal caging with a simple peach logo on the door. This place doesn’t even look open. I pull open the door, walk through a black curtain and we enter a tiny, simple little place. There are no tables and virtually no decor. We see a long counter looking onto an open kitchen with 12 stools. Simple pressed wood walls, a wooden counter and a glorious stainless steel mecca. Understanding begins to wash over Sassy’s face. He knows something serious is going down now.
We are warmly greeted by a host and hostess and shown to our seats. The chefs immediately begin chatting and any fears I had about cold, unfriendly staff are quickly long gone. There is no menu here which is cool with me since I agonize over those damn things anyway. We quickly order the wine pairing and are informed that it’s an all sparkling affair. Interesting. We’re getting 10 courses of food and it will all be matched with champagnes, sparkling wines, a beer, and a bubbly cocktail or two. Ya baby. The dude next to us can apparently hear my Canadian accent from a mile away and his face lights up when I tell him we’re from Montreal. He rattles off a list of places in my hometown that he loves and I can see he knows what he’s talking about. Head chef Sean Gray overhears the Montreal talk and chimes in that the Pied du Cochon Sugar Shack was his favorite place to eat. Damn straight man! I am feeling better and better about this choice with each passing minute. With our first cocktail we’re served 5 or 6 amuse gueule to chomp down on and everything is great. The highlight there being that one, perfectly fresh and amazingly sweet oyster.
I chose to just let myself get immersed fully into the experience of having some of NYC’s finest chefs cook right before us and chitchat with us rather than frantically taking notes of each dish so I won’t be breaking down every single thing we ate. The food changes daily anyway with a few mainstays so you won’t get exactly what we got when you go. We spent two fantastic hours there that felt like 20 minutes. Dish after dish after dish arrived perfectly timed so that we never really waited more than a minute or two between plates. The highlights for me were a tartare with a gelee akin to a French aspic dish that was so light and flavorful that it just seemed to all melt in your mouth. Next came a tamaki with mustard greens. I can’t recall the fish in this dish since there were so many plates and so much booze but this dish blew me away. Another standout dish was a farfalle pasta with beets and cured beef. The crunchy tanginess of the beets matched with the salty cured beef was one of the more dynamic flavors combos of the night. A scallop dish with lobster and sea urchin made me weep with joy into one of the many glasses of grand cru bubbly that kept coming our way. The signature egg with caviar on onions confit with micro potato chips did not disappoint. A great demonstration of how important it is to match textures in a dish as well as flavors. The final plate before the desserts was a portion of duck breast cooked to a level of perfection I had never seen until that point. I marvelled at how thin and perfectly crispy the skin was. When I mentioned to Sassy that I couldn’t understand how they could get the fat rendered to the point that it was a thin sheet of crackly skin with NO soft fat tissue underneath while still have the breast meat served rare Chef Gray leaned over and said “Sorry, can’t tell you.” Then he chuckled and rattled off the steps they use to get it like that. It is now my life mission to copy that plate.
Only one dish fell flat for me and that was another signature plate: the lychee with shaved frozen foie gras. While the frozen foie was definitely an interesting take on a classic haute cuisine ingredient (it literally melts in your mouth) I am simply not a fan of lychee. I’ve always felt that they taste, and feel, like an eyeball that marinated in perfume. If you think that stopped me from finishing the dish you are dead wrong. Both desserts, a super thin chocolate cake and a meringue with bananas and cocunut ice cream I think, were good but I must say that at that point I was so stuffed that it was tough to polish them off. So I had nothing to fear about still being hungry. What about the wine pairing you ask? I don’t know who the hell would call that skimpy cause Sassy and I were lit up like fireworks at the end of this meal. Hats off to whomever constructed this pairing too. Never before have I experienced the sensation of not being sure where the flavor of the food ends and where the flavor of my drink begins. Much like when vocalists harmonize and hit a note together perfectly and you can almost feel it as well as hear it, this is what the pairing was like. Each glass enhanced each plate that it was matched with.
This night was worth every mile we drove and every penny we spent. Top notch service and the chefs and staff were outstanding and down to earth. The tunes (Beastie Boys, Jimi, Led Zep) rocked. There was no bullsh*t pretension here. No dress code. No snobbery from any guests or staff. Just 12 people sitting in awe as 4 fantastic chefs just set the bar higher for any restaurant we’ll go to after this.