Taste of Prague Travels: Momofuku Ko, NYC

Two Michelin stars. The foundation of David Chang’s status as a chef and empire as a businessman. 13 courses. A bill for two equal to more than one half of the monthly average income in the Czech Republic. Worth it? Would we go again? Yes please!

We’ve always wondered what it takes to get the second Michelin star. Better food? Improved service? Purer silver alloy in the silverware? We have a feeling it must be, first and foremost, consistency, but we know one thing. It’s not added stuffiness, because Momofuku Ko was one of the most casual fine dining restaurants we ate at. Zuzi was afraid she would be underdressed for the occasion. She wasn’t. You can walk in in a pair of jeans and t-shirt, and no-one would mind. Sure, the place looks beautiful and pulls of being modern and cosy at the same time, but it’s not stuffy at all.

vegetable rolls

We love open kitchens, and the Ko delivers: unless you are a large group, you sit at a spacious counter and look directly into the kitchen. There’s one thing Momofuku Ko does not have: waiters. Just the sommeliers and someone taking out the dishes. All the interaction is with the fairly young chefs who present and explain the food and later on talk just about anything you want to talk about. The room is lit fairly low, and the prep kitchen/food lab is separated from the dining room by see-through fridges full of dry-aging beef and poultry and other produce, incl. Parmigiano Reggiano, allegedly donated by no other than Massimo Bottura

uni-chickpea, hozon paired with dom pérignon, champagne, france 2004

There’s nothing to choose from the menu: Momofuku Ko offers a set menu only, with optional alcoholic or non-alcoholic pairing, so that’s about the only choice you get. The wine list is extensive and very nicely designed. So you sit down, choose the pairing - or not - and the show starts. The chef asks about your food allergies and then presents the first amuse bouche dishes. The whole dinner took nearly three hours, and the pacing was just right: we never felt rushed or neglected. At the end, we got a small tour of the restaurant, too.

sawarazushi, wasabi, ginger paired with shimaoka shush, izumi, yamahai junmai

So, how was the food? It was delicious. We wanted to single out some highlights, but it is kinda hard. The uni with chickpea puree? Well, we like anything with uni, really. The razor clams with apple dashi and basil seeds? It was tangy and fresh and a rainbow of textures. The burnt sun choke with blood orange and tarragon? Rich and earthy. Or the fried halibut with paprika and cauliflower? The lamb with the nori and chili glaze? We’d love to point out our favorites, but what’s the point? You can’t choose a la carte, anyway, and we honestly did like it all. 

razor clams -apple, basil paired with two wines from peter lauer 'unterstenberg' and 'stirn', both saar, germany 2014

The menu does change, but the food clearly has an Asian influence while being rooted in the French style of cooking. And the context makes it even better: when you observe how your dish is prepared, and when the chef who prepared it gives and explains it to you, it just ends up tasting better we think. This is foodie heaven: when the patrons and the chefs talk about food, make jokes and communicate in a relaxed atmosphere, you just feel a part of it all. 

siberian sturgeon caviar, potato paired with béreche brut reserve, champagne, france

A note about the alcoholic pairing: it was was fantastic. Sure, it is pricey, and you could do away with a bottle of something nice, but we think it was worth splashing out. Every drink complemented the food really well and rounded an already excellent experience. From the introductory cocktail to the two Champagnes, the whites, the reds, the sake, the beer (a fantastic sour ale from Jura, Switzerland), to the Marsala and vermouth, it all made sense. Until the finishing courses, when we started getting drunk, that is. But hey, we’re on vacation, okay?

dessert 2: pistachio-apricot paired with doling blanc, chambéry, france

Any complains? Not really, only small nitpicking. Perhaps the dinner was one or two courses too large. And the bill was undeniably high: this was one of our most expensive dinners to date. But we were leaving happy, entertained and inspired. And that’s what good restaurants are all about. Is it for you? We don’t know. But if you’re the kind of person who'd rather spend the money on a fine dining experience rather then, let’s say, a pair of high-end skis and boots, a new TV, or a sightseeing weekend in Paris, we think you’d like it. We know we did.