Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Breaking and Entering – Getting Into Momofuku Ko

Like many other gay men, I spent my childhood being told by my little league coaches that I have poor motor skills, later in life only to have men (often dressed like coaches) say that I’m fantastic with my hands. Well the proof is in the pudding, and when I got a reservation recently at the highly-coveted Momofuku Ko, I found out that I am, in fact, quite dexterous.

Momofuku Ko, which means “son of lucky peach,” is everything one looks for in the hottest new NYC restaurant – incredibly inventive food, famous new superstar chef, quirky rules that don’t quite make sense, and absolutely no way to get in. Ko is the upscale flagship in David Cheng’s growing Momofuku empire. The James Beard award-winning chef plays primarily with Asian-fusion food, has an affinity for small minimalist restaurants, and deplores all of the pomp and pretense surrounding traditional fine dining. Ko is no exception. The restaurant is one stark, long wooden bar with 12 stools (without backs), overlooking the kitchen. Ko’s chef’s cook your food and pass it right to you, explaining as they pass. Before we get into any more detail about the dining experience, first we need to find a way in…

In a world still full of racism, sexism, and homophobia, Ko has risen above. It knows no color, no race, no sexual orientation, Ko excludes all. In all seriousness, the nice thing about this system is that Momofuku Ko is tough regardless of who you know, how much money you make, or what movie you’ve been nominated for. The restaurant has a very strict and somewhat complicated online reservation system that allows guests a chance for reservations up to a week in advance. I’ve been lucky enough to eat at Ko twice now, so let me share some helpful hints to getting in.

First, you need to visit Ko’s website to create a profile here: (no, really, I’m not making this up). Once you’ve filled out your information, including your credit card, the dance can begin. Everyday at 10 a.m. Ko opens it’s website to accept reservations for lunch and dinner 6 days in advance. That is, if it is a Monday then you’ll be fighting for next Sunday. And a fight it will be. Without a doubt, by 10:01 a.m. all the reservations are gone and most likely, they’ll be gone in the first 30 seconds.

There is no secret backdoor or promotional code that I can give to ensure you’ll make it, but a few simple ways to increase your luck. First and foremost is persistence; it took me three weeks to schedule my first dinner. If you spend your day bound to your computer as I do, set a reminder everyday at 9:55 and take a moment to log in. When the moment comes, give the website your undivided attention, no one is so busy they can’t sit and hit refresh from 9:59 to 10 and then get back to work. Second, there is no room for decision making. You don’t ask your friends what nights they’re free; you find the night and see which friends are free. The same applies to the time of the reservation, any hesitation while you think and it’s too late. I know this all sounds crazy, but take it from someone who’s tried on countless occasions - when you see that green check (indicating an opening on a calendar grid) you click, end of story. It’s also worth noting that reservations come for 1, 2 or 4 in a drop down menu.

Once you're lucky enough to get through the system there is a whole process of e-mails and verifications and charges if you don’t show, but nothing that isn’t simple if you follow the (“quirky, don’t quite make sense”) rules. I won’t try to take you through the food or experience of dining and Ko other than to say it is unparalleled. The dishes were so complex and foreign, that I would assuredly butcher (pun intended) most ingredients, and I also don’t want to ruin the mystique.

Below are just some of the stats and facts about dining at Ko as well as a few of the superstar dishes you may get to sample.

Dinner is 10 courses for $100 dollars with an optional wine pairing and lasts about 2 hours.

Lunch is 18 courses for $160 dollars with an optional wine pairing and lasts about 3 hours.

Lychees, Riesling gelée, and pine nut brittle, topped with a powdered frozen fois gras terrine

Duck tongue confit atop a rice cake

Daikon soup with sautéed mustard greens, lamb belly and fried lotus bulb chips

Momofuku Ko
163 First Ave., NYC 10003
Btwn 10th & 11th

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Best Little Rib House in Texas

I’ve decided to kick off the Glitter Gourmet with one of the most surreal and unexpected gay dining experiences in New York City, a brand new restaurant called Marfa. Named for a town in “the high desert of far West Texas,” this place had “tar & feather” written all over it. This past Valentine’s Day my fabulously single (read: bitter and jaded) friends and I decided to toast our freedom somewhere with virtually no chance of seeing the love that dare not speak its name and thought the pulled pork and finger-lickin’ ribs of Marfa would fit the bill.

After a few vodka-sodas and some champagne (we needed a little fabulousity and a lot of booze to get us in the door), we bounced into Marfa around 9:30. Seeing the dingy concrete walls and
eclectic clientele, we knew we were in the right place and moseyed up to the bar to wait for our table. After skimming the drink options, we figured “when in Rome…” and ordered some Marfa Specials. I hate to admit this publicly, but a Marfa Special is a shot of tequila with a PBR for $6. After the shot and the beer, I was able to convince myself I was in some fab homo country-western bar and began to enjoy myself. And then we saw it, at the other end of the bar - intertwined legs, fitted t’s, True Religion jeans….it was a happy gay couple. I would have turned on my heels and ran, if I hadn’t been so bloated from drinking beer.

Luckily, just before we started throwing our chewed up limes at the couple, our table was ready. We wasted no time and ordered a big fat platter of big fat “I eat my emotions” food including things like chipotle chicken wings, mini corn dogs, barbecue shrimp, macaroni and cheese, and chicken pot pie. However, when our spunky waitress came back to take our entrée order, there was still no platter. She sized up our table with one long glance, smirked and knew exactly what would turn our frowns upside down – free round of drinks. Within minutes, we were happily sipping our new cocktails, still foodless. This time we needed something in a martini glass, so we opted for the Marfarita, which is essentially a margarita with just enough chili to make your lips tingle. Unlike my Premier Cru PBR, the Marfarita was fantastic, inventive, strong, and well, free.

The moment of truth had arrived and we got a platter. The mini corn dogs were to die for (we’re not size queens), the chipotle chicken wings were crispy, tangy and just spicy enough and the macaroni and cheese was one of the best I’ve had in a long time. It was cheesy, but not heavy with a crunchy breadcrumb crust. Now, you’ll note that a few things were missing from that list – bbq shrimp and a chicken pot pie. I caught the eye of our forlorn waitress and we had another free round before I got through my weak attempted at a complaint. As the service got worse, our night got better and better.

Eventually our entrees arrived and I was faced with dry rubbed baby back ribs with coleslaw and more mac and cheese (it was that good, and the baked bean
option wasn’t happening). While I do prefer my ribs, like my men – wet, these ribs were delicious and somehow seemed healthier because they weren’t dripping in sauce. They were moist, flavorful and, yes, they had the quintessential “fall off the bone” texture.

Finally full, drunk, and happy, I thought our night couldn’t get better when a drag queen/tranny fluttered by. After a quick double-take we found out that these ladies often flow through from the transgender bar, Lucky Cheng’s, which is right upstairs. I knew this place wasn’t as straight as it seemed! Feeling a little ballsy partly from the Marfarita, partly from the tranny, I marched up to the bar to “get some change” and as I’m waiting, I look over that the love birds and blurt out “my friends and I hate you.” As I waited to get my ass kicked, they just laughed and started chatting with me – fuck, they were cute, happy, AND nice. As I sat back down with my swallowed pride and my 10, 5, and five 1’s, the happy couple walked over to our table with a tray of shots for all of us.

As I downed my red-headed slut (never thought I would say those words), I inexplicably lost my animosity, bitterness, and sass. I looked up at those guys, was genuinely happy for them, and ready to tackle another gay bar for another shot at finding love. Of course, I didn’t find “the one” that night, I didn’t even find “the one night stand,” but after a night of great food and good company, it was a pretty great Valentine’s Day. The culinary moral to this story is that every restaurant has its issues (especially in its first few days), but if you make sure your patrons are having fun, you can get away with murder. I walked away from Marfa with a smile on my face and I will definitely walk back in.

101 E 2nd St
New York, NY 10009-7943
(212) 673-8908