Saturday, 27 October 2012

Momofuku Ko, or why does everyone want to go there?

This is a review of Momofuku Ko, one of the most difficult places to get into in NYC. And I ask why?

I have been trying to get into Momofuku Ko. The trick is nimble fingers. Reservations are taken on line only, 7 days in advance for dinner, 14 days in advance for the weekend lunch. Reservations open daily at 10am, NY time. No matter how prompt one is, there is invariably either nothing available or one place. I made it for a Saturday lunch at 12:10pm. I thought I was lucky, and in a sense I was, since I learned a valuable lesson...

Here are the rules: payment of $150 via credit card; reservations taken for one, two or four only; if reservation must be cancelled, the deadline is 48 hours in advance or you will be charged; if you are 15 minutes late, your place will have been forfeited and you will pay (they don't fill your place); no photos; no phone.

And for all this, you have a seat at a counter with a backless stool for a meal that takes more than three hours.

What does the meal comprise? It is a surprise and there are no choices. I counted 17 dishes. The servings are so tiny that you eat everything on the plate so, as an astute restaurant critic noticed, the chefs never know what has or has not been appreciated.

This restaurant has two Michelin stars and is very well thought of by the critics in general. New Yorkers rave about it. I thought it was a whole lot of nothing.

Here are some of the things I had: barbecued kale leaf; Kumamoto Oyster with Spicy Scallion (very spicy and well balanced); hush-puppies with spicy mayonnaise; pomme soufflée filled with a cream flavored with brioche and onion which they whimsically call French onion soup.

Following these comes a suite of crudo (raw fish): diver scallop with tomato seed in tomato water; tataki of Spanish mackerel with black sesame and watermelon; sliced fluke with fennel and soy; uni with chervil stem, grated green apple, and masago; and others.

Next came the cooked dishes: grilled octopus, pistachio, turnip, sweet potato, red wine vinegar, herb mayonnaise (a tiny one-bite portion); puffed egg in bacon broth (very interesting preparation); honeydew melon soup with hen of the woods mushroom, cucumber, steel head roe, nasturtium leaves.

Next comes Lunch Break: which is grilled romaine salad, ranch dressing, smoked pumpkin soup, chicken fingers with spicy mustard, popover with grape and jalapeno jam. This is followed with grilled rice and squid, potato chervil, smoked garlic (that I apparently liked); roasted Maine lobster with lobster mushrooms, grated chocolate (!) and orange rind; paté en croûte, burnt apple mustard, apple butter.

There is more!! A specialty that is always on the menu is Hudson Valley Foie Gras which has been frozen in a thick tube formation and then grated over lichee, pineapple, Riesling jelly and hazelnut. The foie gras makes this a rich dish.

I am starting to get indigestion as I write all this down. The dishes follow endlessly without rhyme or reason, and without balance or attention to what would go with what. Needless to say, the meal was copious despite the size of all the dishes, and I was not able to eat for an entire 24 hours after it. I had a few glasses of wine, recommended to me by one of the servers.

Of the strange desserts that were often quite unpleasant, I did enjoy the tiny donuts that had been injected with huckleberry jam, and served with maple syrup ice cream.

And after a meal like that, I had no energy to do anything more for the rest of the day.

The lunch is the largest meal they serve and, as a result, is the most expensive. It came to $175 whereas dinner costs $125. With wine and tip, one pays a pretty penny.

For me, it was well worth it. This is the price I paid to be totally over the molecular food movement and any restaurant with a set menu without choices, stringent rules required for reserving and appearing, and the HYPE!! In all the years I have been following the movement, I have had two good experiences. One was at the first restaurant where everything started: El Bulli in Rosas, Spain, and the other was at Franzen-Lindberg in Stockholm (which I recently wrote about). I would go back to the latter with my camera and the former has since closed.

But in the end, give me delicious food that is comprehensible, well balanced and which marries well with what came before and after. A hodge podge of everything but the kitchen sink just doesn't make it in my book!

Two New and Spectacular Restaurants in NYC

This is a review of NoMad, a brain child of the three-star 11 Madison Park people, and Neta--an off-shoot of the mythical expensive Japanese sushi palace, Masa.

We scrambled to get reservations to NoMad, the brand new restaurant that has taken NYC by storm. With two of us calling at 9am, we snagged seats for 28 days later. And after all the reviews we had read, we were happy to have "gotten in" and excited to go.

This is a wonderful restaurant which lived up to our expectations. Very important, seated in the library--a far distance from the noisy bar and its diningroom--we could hear each other talk throughout the meal.

NoMad means "north of Madison Avenue" and that is the name of the hotel in which is it located.

The meal started with a bang. Pat and I both chose the Tagliatelle with King Crab, Meyer Lemon and black pepper, served in an appetizer portion. It was delicious.

I begged one of my friends to join me in the already iconic roast chicken for two and Pat agreed, whereas Tim chose the roast suckling pig. The chicken is roasted with crumbled brioche under the skin (resulting in a crispy golden exterior) and accompanied with a foie gras-black truffle fricassee of the dark meat which is splendid and rich.

The suckling pig is accompanied with a confit of dried plums, onions and wild greens.

The dessert list looked very promising but each of us made the mistake of ordering the same thing--the dessert that the critics waxed eloquent about: Milk and Honey.

It consisted of shortbread, brittle and vanilla ice cream and was cloyingly sweet. There were so many other appealing desserts on the menu that I don't know what I was thinking. Anyway, I know I'll go back.

The wine list is broad, diverse, full of surprises and Tim ordered very well: A Cabernet Franc from Catherine et Pierre Breton 2010 Bourgveil 2010.


When I read that a chef from Masa (with its famous sushi menu starting at $450) left to start his own, more affordable restaurant, I was thrilled. Calling right away (one month in advance), I asked for a seat at the sushi bar.

From the minute I entered the restaurant (in the heart of the Village), I was surprised. It was noisy with upbeat music (Michael Jackson, James Brown, Rihanna) playing and about ten chefs scurrying around the open kitchen. Usually, Japanese restaurants are extremely quiet and dignified. This place looked like nothing but fun.

It took awhile to seat me but once I was at my place, I was glad to have such a fine view of the activity behind the counter: chefs rolling beautiful maki; creating dishes with glistening fresh fish; and, in the background, steam emanating from pots; ovens working overtime to roast some of the dishes.

Although many people who work here are Japanese, my server told me that he didn't want to speak Japanese with me as he preferred to be professional throughout the evening. That was fine with me. He helped me choose a sake that I would find appealing (and that was on the house as I had to wait 30 minutes for my seat), and I was ready to roll.

I chose the most expensive omakase (chef's choice) at $135: expensive but a far cry from the $450 that a similar menu costs at Masa.

The menu included a number of appetizers from the beautiful crab in Tosaju sauce

to the sublime toro tartare with caviar:

After about five small seafood dishes including a mackerel sashimi, came a parade of wonderful sushi:

Sushi is expensive because a truly fine sushi chef has had years of training: learning the technique for making the vinegared rice and cutting the sushi as it has been traditionally cut over the years. These sushi were perfect: beautiful cuts of cold fish on slightly warm, flavorful rice. In fact, neta means the best topping for a sushi.

After such a copious albeit light menu, one wants to finish with the perfect dessert and they had it here:

a granité of grapefruit with tiny pieces of the pearls of the grapefruit in the ices. The meal was pure perfection, the staff courteous and helpful, and the experience unforgettable.

Mediocre Dining in Copenhagen

I made the trip purposely after having read an article in the New York Times by the food writer, Mark Bittman, saying that Copenhagen is the current foodie destination.

Of course, I was unable to get into Noma,the best restaurant in the world according to the "San Pellegrino Best Restaurant in the World" list. I am sure it is good, but not worth the three months of persistent calling on the day reservations open (you must call three months in advance on the first Monday of the month 10-14 European time)--a thankless job!. I did go to Relae, brain child of a chef from Noma and found the food extremely strange and mostly mushy.

Here are some of the unidentifiable dishes:

These are two different dishes, served in a menu of four dishes including corn ice cream for dessert (there are no choices). In terms of texture, they are identical. The first is a cauliflower dish and the second a potato dish. They should have used broccoli for the cauliflower to embellish the dull palate of the menu. Or better, yet, change the dishes entirely.

And then there is the Kong Hans Kaelder (King Hans' Cellar), a charming beautiful restaurant in a cellar with an open kitchen of which I had full view. It was quite good but achingly classical and extremely expensive. As I was in Copenhagen to find the more modern cutting-edge addresses, it was a disappointment.

My favorite place, recommended by Mr. Bittman, was Schoenemann. It is the best of the smorrebrod places. Smorrebrod are open-faced sandwiches and are best served with the spirit, Aquavit, of which Schoenemann has quite a collection.

I was under the impression that the sandwiches were bite-sized, so I told my waitress that I only wanted four. She replied that I would never finish the meal and recommended a herring dish

and the sandwich of my choice (baby shrimp with dill and mayonnaise)

and, of course, a glass of Aquavit.

Schoenemann is a very popular place (well-deserved), with reasonable prices and wonderful service. Reservations are a must.