It’s 11:45 AM and we have a 12-noon reservation at Ko. We scramble out of our Midtown Manhattan hotel and jump into a cab.
How could I let this happen? This was one of the hardest reservations to get and I give myself only fifteen minutes to get there?
As usual we encounter crazy New York traffic crawling at 5 miles per hour with drivers tooting their horns. I kindly ask the driver, “Can you make it? “ He simply says, “I’ll do my best.”
The driver then turns into Nicholas Cage from Gone in 60 seconds and acted as if he was driving the 67 Fastback Mustang Eleanor. It was quite a ride. At one point we were helping to escort a siren blaring ambulance through traffic.
We arrive at the corner of 1st Avenue and 10th Street and jumped out of the taxi frantically looking for the restaurant. It’s hard to spot so we have to resort to looking for the address number on the storefronts. I spot a small lucky peach on a very small smartly decorated door.
We rush in and find a true hole in the wall. A plywood wall covered hole in the wall. I could not believe how small it was and as stated in other articles it was a bar that only seated twelve people. Ten lengthwise and two widthwise.
The location was actually the first of the Momofuku restaurants that housed the popular Noodle Bar. As the popularity of the restaurant grew of course they needed more space and moved it to a larger location.
As our eyes begin to wander around the room the host/waiter patiently asks, “Did you bring the print out?” I calmly go through my bag and produce what I consider to be Willy Wonka’s Golden ticket that confirms our reservation.
He escorts us to the first two seats at the bar and places in front of us a card that reads:
Lunch Menu $175
Lunch Pairing $95
The lunch pairing wasn’t just a wine pairing. It included wine, sake, and beer. If we didn’t want to do the pairing we could pick from a very extensive list from their bar menu.
Since we’re in New York and I didn’t have to drive we went with the pairing.
As we sat down we really started to look around the restaurant and started to really ponder the vibe of the restaurant and what they wanted to accomplish.
First, it’s all about the food. There’s nothing fancy about Ko everything is minimalistic. You’re sitting at a bar and staring at a kitchen and it’s the staff. And if you’re really into food you’re really going to enjoy it.
Second, cooks rule. When you read the Momofuku cookbook and the various articles about Ko you understand that David Chang felt like the cooks were getting the short end of the stick. As the cook’s slaved away in the kitchen they would make a menial salary while the wait staff in front would make a killing through tips. With Ko being so small and the cooks serving the food all the tips would go to them.
Third, the kitchen is not meant to produce massive quantities of food in short amounts of time. But is meant to be a stage for the awesome preparation, plating, and presentation of dishes.
Behind the bar I saw the following:
A large convection oven filled with dishes set to a 150 degrees.
Two commercial stoves with griddles, burners, and a grill.
The cookware of choice is All-Clad with some skillets that appear to be cast iron.
There are many clear plastic containers filled with ingredients strategically placed around the kitchen in refrigerated drawers under the bar counter in compartments overhead that the chefs used small knives to fit into the container crevices to pull down.
Everything is tight and efficient in this small kitchen,
There are three chefs working behind the counter with what appeared to be an apprentice chef in the back room that peaked his head out ever so often to get instructions. The chef’s would give empowering instructions and I’ll I could make out was: “Just make it taste good and keep it simple. Words to cook by…
The Chef working in front of us was Tyler Lyne from College Station, Texas. He asked us, “Do you have any allergies we should know about? We stated, “No.” He responded, “Great.”
Even the restroom or what they affectionally refer to, as the Office is also all about food. It was probably the coolest little restroom I’ve ever been in. They have a bookshelf filled with all the real cookbooks. Cookbooks written by the best chef’s in the world and of course I had to take a picture. It must be a great place to read.
Now I would love to give you a blow-by-blow recount of exactly what we ate with pictures and mouth-watering descriptions but honestly #1 they don’t allow picture taking which I applaud and #2 I really wanted to enjoy the food and be in the moment. I didn’t want to have a notepad next to me scribbling away about ingredients, taste, etc.. That would be insane since each dish was a fusion – yes I said it a fusion of ingredients. Lots of Asian ingredients combined with the best local ingredients. Each dish was meticulously and thoughtfully planned and prepared and one could tell hours of preparation were invested. To try to capture this would take numerous visits to Ko and on top of that the menu is always changing. What ever is fresh and of the best quality finds it’s way to Ko so there is no set menu. For our lunch they received a call the night before that there were fresh soft shell crab available. It ended up being deep fried tempura style in a bento box. It was awesome. In all we had over 16 dishes. I honestly lost count and the pairing didn’t help either as we had a new wine, beer, or sake with each dish which they generously poured.
Lunch took over 3 1/2 hours. The one dish I had to jot down on my Iphone in my stupor was their signature dish Shaved Foie Gras Lychee and Pine Nut Brittle. As we watched them prepare the dish an excitement started to build amongst the diners. We all stopped talking and starting to really concentrate on what the cooks were preparing and the questions began. What is that?
In a bowl they combined the following:
Canned Lychee – which has been drained and quartered.
Riesling Gelee – Combination of Riesling, gelatin sheets, and rice wine vinegar. They basically make a gelatin, allow it to set and then scrape it out so that appears like shattered glass.
Pine Nut Brittle – combination of caramelized sugar, glucose, and isomalt. Roasted pine nuts, unsalted butter, and kosher salt. Spread out on a parchment paper covered baking sheet and allowed to cool.
On top of this they shaved their personally prepared frozen foie gras. It is a decadent delight of rich buttery foie gras, sweet lychee, and crunchy pine nut brittle. With each spoonful the foie gras delicately melts into your mouth with gentle layers of sweetness and saltiness followed by the ever-important crunch.
To say that we got our money’s worth is an understatement. We had the freshest in season ingredients, prepared with extreme care and style, and plated in the most unique manner. The food is cutting edge and is truly American since it brings together all the best ingredients America has to offer.