Editor's note: the restaurant has since relocated to 8 Extra Place, New York, NY 10003.
Momofuku Ko is the fine dining sibling of Momofuku ("lucky peach") noodle bar, though the name means "son of Momofuku". It is the most ambitious of restaurateur David Chang's small group of restaurants. The first impression of Momofuko Ko is that this is not a place that is trying hard to entice diners. Tucked away next to a cafe in an unprepossessing part of Greenwich Village, I initially walked straight past it. There is just a door and an entrance that appears to be boarded up and covered in chicken wire where a window might more normally be; if the name of the restaurant is printed somewhere on the entrance then I missed it. Inside it is tiny, a 12 seat bar surrounding the kitchen area, with barely enough room for the waiters to squeeze by the diners, who sit on wooden bar stools. I was a little early and was offered a copy of the wine list to browse, but there is no waiting area, just a solitary table between the door and the bar. I asked to sit at the bar to read the wine list but was told by the manageress that "we do not seat diners until the person who made the reservation has appeared" - you what now? Bear in mind that the bar area at this stage only had two guests seated, so our 'table' was ready and unoccupied.
This was just one of many incidents this evening that indicate that this is a restaurant where the customer appears to be tolerated rather than welcomed, a bizarre attitude for any business. Indeed their web site gives plenty of clues in this regard, with one section of the site essentially a list of all the things that diners are not allowed to do, such as try to make a reservation for three people, take pictures of the food or ask for any modification whatsoever to the menu to accommodate pesky vegetarians or indeed pesky pescatorians. It does helpfully list the 150 dollar charge that will be levied if you do not turn up or cancel at short notice.
The wine list itself is not lengthy but does have well-chosen growers, such as wines from JJ Prum and Fritz Haag from Germany. O'Shaughnessy Estate Cabernet Sauvignon was listed at $220 for a wine that costs about $87 retail, but there were plenty of more modestly priced wines, and markups seemed reasonable We opted for the wine pairing, which costs $95 per person. The menu itself was $125 per person. I say menu, but that in itself is an elusive concept here: there is no choice offered, and when I asked if the dishes would be written down received in reply a curt "no". The style of cooking is described as American, though there is clearly a heavy Japanese influence (owner David Chang has Korean heritage).
The dishes that appear are handed across the counter by the chefs, with a brief verbal description. In my notes that follow there are undoubtedly some gaps and possibly errors, since at times it was hard to hear the chef's descriptions, and after asking for one description to be repeated was given the kind of look that suggested that this was not a wise thing to ask again.
Some pork rinds appeared at the start of the meal, and had reasonable taste (14/20), though these were not a patch on those of, say, the Sportsman. Next was a grilled maitake mushroom glazed in soy and yuzu, the glaze well balanced and the mushroom accurately cooked (15/20).
Japanese sea bream with whipped buttermilk was good, the fish itself not having the texture that I was expecting (when I have eaten this as sashimi in Japan even the freshest bream can have a certain chewiness about it), and the buttermilk was a good accompaniment (16/20). Mackerel, beets and kombu (seaweed) did not have especially dazzling mackerel, though this is a fish whose flavor is strong enough to stand up to beetroot (15/20). Bone marrow was served on home-made brioche with a Gruyere broth poured over it. The bread was good, and while for me the Gruyere broth could have a little more taste of cheese, it went well with the bone marrow (16/20).
Next was smoked egg, caviar, potato vinegar and fingerling chips. This was very enjoyable, the egg and caviar going together well, the chips providing a texture contrast and the vinegar balancing the richness of the egg (17/20). Cavatelli pasta had good texture, served with beef tongue, horseradish and sauerkraut (16/20).
I was impressed with the next dish of skate with cauliflower, an almond milk foam, water chestnuts and crunchy olives, the fish having excellent flavour; skate is a fish that can be lovely but if it is not of high quality it can be quite unpleasant: here it was very good indeed (18/20).
Foie gras was served with lychees, pine nut brittle and Riesling jelly, all under a coating of crumbs of foie gras torchon that have been salted and frozen. This was a lovely dish, the Riesling providing a flavour balance to the dish, the pine nut giving a little firm texture balance and the foie gras and cheese a lovely, rich flavour (19/20).
The main course was Muscovy duck with braised turnip, turnip leaves and pumpernickel bread. The duck was nicely cooked but this dish was not in the same league as the previous course (16/20). The meal concluded with Japanese peppercorn sorbet and apple soda, which was pleasant but no more than that (15/20).
Overall the cooking level was between 16/20 and 17/20 as an average with a few genuine highlights above this, and a consistently high level of cooking technique. It is hardly cheap at $242 per person, but compared to, say, Masa, I suppose it is a relative bargain. This is certainly some of the more capable cooking in New York, and it is a great shame that they choose to spoil this with ladles of attitude. The Seinfeld episode "the soup Nazi" kept running through my mind throughout the meal.