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


  1. OK Matt, you are my new favorite blogger!! I am sending your blog to all my coolest friends. From now on, you will be my official NYC restaurant reviewer. Keep eating and know we are drooling as we read your stories. Hugs, Aunt Terry

  2. Wow... I took your word for it that the food was incredible and the dining-experience one-of-a-kind... but hun, that is too much work for this queen. I'll wait for someone else to invite me than do the grunt work.