July 16, 2022

I was excited to snag a Saturday night reservation for Ko, which can be a difficult one to get. You can't be around the food scene too long without appreciating David Chang and all he has brought to it. And this is his signature "Momofuku" brand in its highest delivery. 

Let's start with the good. Service is among the best I've seen. Everyone was on point, relational, welcoming. It's not formal and stuffy. From the greeter, to the busser to the 4 chefs, everyone was attractive. Not physically - personality. You were drawn to them. It was impressive.

Our waiter/sommelier Owen was fantastic, bucking a normal Michelin trend with his face piercings and goth/California vibe. But I enjoyed every visit and looked forward to the next one. He was real - not playing a part. It's what you want in a front of house. An A+ service delivery, to be sure.

The wines were also outstanding. Varied and delicious. Vintages were mostly new - I'm not sure we saw a wine older than 2019. It made me wonder about the value being put before us. But they were indeed excellent, and for the most part, well-paired with each dish.

Overall, the food was quite good. Well-conceived and well-executed. There were a few huge misses (the panko-fried monkfish was awful) but mostly, I felt the dishes lacked soul. Kind of Danny Meyer-ish. (See The Modern. Actually, don't.) Delicious dishes that you couldn't really fault, but never really made you beg for more.

Even the really great bites like the caviar fried chicken lacked that little extra that would make you yearn to return for it. Balances and textures were slightly off, preventing full immersion into the dish. The food therefore remained detached, rather than enveloping you into itself.

This odd balance continued through many of the plates. Take the pulled noodle zucchini dish. Presentation was beautiful and the execution was excellent. The sauce had a terrific depth of flavor and just the right amount of heat. Well conceived to balance the lighter, fresher main components. But the two never truly married. The noodle itself was a bit soft and underseasoned. I kept begging myself to love the dish. It's a great idea! The sauce was fantastic! But as a dish, it just didn't reach "that" level. 

The green tomato dessert deserves a quick focus. How insanely inventive to use sweetly marinated tomato where one would expect a pear. They were firm but sweet (from the white wine and sugar marinade), balanced beautifully with the sunflower butter underneath. 

But folks, let me tell you. Watching ducks be prepared over a traditional Japanese fire for an hour before it is presented to you makes it clear that this meal comes down to one single dish. They are all in on it. And holy cow does it deliver! The rub was the star - an insanely perfect combination of salt and char, generously covering a beautiful skin atop a perfect layer of fat. I could not get enough of it. One of the better protein preparations I've ever had.

I guess you could say I appreciated this meal far more than I loved it. Most dishes were excellent, but forgettable. Soul. Passion. Depth of vision and meaning. I was craving them all throughout.

Ko sits a bit higher than 1 star for me, but doesn't deserve the full 2 either. A delicious and generous meal, to be sure! There were substantive misses and a lack of true amazement-causing inspiration that should at pepper a 2 star tasting menu. 

Honshimeji mushroom, daikon, mustard leaf & Dungeoness crab tartlet
Cold fried chicken, tabasco glaze, ranch dressing, sturgeon caviar. This was an outstanding bite, with the unctuous (and dense) chicken cut by the soft, salty caviar and punctuated by the bright ranch dressing. A plating miss - no silverware meant scraping the last bits of caviar off the plate with your finger.
Lemon cured fluke, capers, chile, tonnato sauce (like a mayo with mackerel, Spanish)
Hiromasa yellowtail (amberjack), dry aged in house, radishes, fingerlime, kare (reduce soy, sake, mirren, charred leek with bones and head of the fish), fresh dill. Super delicious dish with the silky umami-laden fish offset by the pickled radishes.
Beef strip loin dry aged 45 day in house, buldock sauce, tarragon, spicy mustard. A super underwhelming presentation was surprisingly rich in flavor...
This shows you a bit of what was underneath. The beef was infused with a ton of flavor, offset by delicious sauces. Served with...
Smoked onion souffle, topped with crispy shallots. Definitely inventive, fun to eat and yummy.
Raw sea scallop, white kimchee juice, confit shitake mushrooms, chrysanthemum flowers
Hand-pulled noodles (made 1 hour earlier), summer squash, tiger squash topped with edible flowers, nori, dashi with thai chili
Panko fried monkfish marinated hot sauce koji. An enormous miss. The over-seasoned breading was too thick overpowered the fish inside, which was dry anyway.
The brought the ducks out to the grill early on and spent a full hour flipping them around on the fire. I kept thinking "There's no way that duck will be good enough to warrant that immense effort."...
I was VERY wrong. Duck, dry-aged 2 weeks in house, marinated overnight, then smoked, and roasted. The rub on that duck was to die for...
With a perfect fat lining underneath, then the meat which almost played a secondary role, the skin/rub/fat was so good. A very generous portion of it as well. (This was for both of us.)...
A closer look at the pieces. Served with...
Kambu roasted radicchio, tomato relish. I always love grilled radicchio (this was over cooked, but still solid). Paired with a cold, bright tomato relish is a unique delivery and worked well. Also served with...
Stir fried rice made with confit neck meat of the duck. I didn't love this but my companion definitely did!
Chamoe (Korean melon - cross between a honeydew and a cucumber) soda with dill, yuzu. Super refreshing. The dill was terrific in there.
Sikhye (a Korean drink made with fermented rice and malted barley) made into a sorbet
White wine poached green tomato, sunflower butter, honeycomb, pulled sugar. One of the more inventive dishes I have ever seen. Really well executed. Absolutely delicious.
Meyer lemon tart, mascarpone. We were totally stuffed at this point, but this was super good.
Quite a nice departing gift set.

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