In a Ko-hole
David Chang’s Momofuku Ko
Perhaps you’ve heard of a K-hole? Well, I can’t speak to its charms, but I can tell you what it’s like to be in a Ko-hole, because that’s where I am as I type this: supine, stupefied, rapturous. It’s delightful.
I am recovering from an umpteen-course lunch at Ko, David Chang’s twelve-seat omakase alley, thanks to a last minute invitation from my dear friend and fellow foodie Chris Miller. (THANK YOU CHRIS!!!)
Slightly precious by definition, a chef’s choice tasting menu of lots of little dishes can be frustrating and exhausting. Not so here. While the portions are petite, there is such an unpretentious feel to the room and clarity to the flavors, and the pace of the meal is so relaxed, that I never felt restless or as if I was being maneuvered. My taste buds were massaged certainly, and teased and toyed with, but never tricked. And that’s how my taste buds like it.
I’ll spare you a play-by-play of all 17 courses (I could have lived without the halibut with “everything” bagel spices) but I must share a few highlights:
A porcelain spoonful of smoky sturgeon with pear and shiso foam. Some of my favorite flavors together in a fluffy-turned-frothy mouthful. (“Hi, my name is Tarajia, and I am a shiso addict.”)
Long Island fluke with grated pistachio and pistachio miso soup. This amuse bouche was seemingly simple, but shows off the chefs’ skills. The temperature of the fish—neither chilled, nor feverish—was perfect, and the salty-sweet pistachio was so suited to the fluke that I’ll never want to eat fluke without it again.
Nantucket bay scallops rolled in nori with ponzu sauce and wild rice puffs. A roll of nori is stuffed with the bay scallops, which essentially presses them all into a uniform shape and size, then quickly smoked (to lend flavor and tighten up the seaweed wrap) and then cut, like a sushi roll, and served with a glorious ponzu broth and lovely little fried wild rice kernels.
Millbrook venison tartare with toasted quinoa, crispy shaved brussel leaves, and black bean sauce. Possibly my favorite course thanks to venison from my homeland upstate, Millbrook. I’d never had venison tartare before, but why not? The chef seasoned it subtly, which is to say, perfectly, letting the texture and depth of flavor speak for itself. In wonderful contrast to its smoothness was the dusting of toasted black quinoa and crispy Brussels sprout shavings, all tied together with a rich black bean sauce. Killer!!
Puffed egg with bacon dashi broth and braised kobu. My new favorite way to eat an egg: “Puffed.” The chef used a pressurized canister to squirt the egg into gently simmering water. The result has the texture and color of a soufflé but with the soft rounded edges you’d expect from poaching. Sitting in a pool of dashi (fish stock made from dried bonito) and accented by scallions and braised kobu, this dish is David Chang’s version of comfort food. I could eat this every day for lunch.
Duck breast + sausage with a daikon “potato” and olive crumble. Chris and I were stymied by the height of the duck breast in the sauté pan as the chef crisped the skin under the salamander. “How can that duck breast be so thick?,” we kept asking each other. It turns out that they peeled back the skin and stuffed leg meat sausage under the skin of the breast. Audaciously rare, clever, and extremely delicious.
Shaved foie gras + Riesling gelée, lychee and pine nut brittle. The pièce de résistance of the meal, the last savory course and, according to one chef, the only dish that is a constant on Chang’s ever-changing seasonal menu. I had thought I was stuffed after the duck breast, but I had an extra pocket in my stomach for this foie edible artistry and, in fact, could have put away a second helping. Chris turned to me to tell me that he was considering licking the plate and he noticed that I had a tear rolling down my cheek. It was a tear of joy. This dish literally made me emotional. It was everything I love about food. I didn’t want to take another bite after it, as I wanted to taste the lingering Riesling, lychee and foie forever. It was, for lack of a more apt description, orgasmic (and if the hollering from the other end of the bar was any indication, that guy thought so too).
If you can swing it, go to Ko.
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