Trip report: Momofuku Ko, Lincoln, Bouley
My wife and I were in NYC the last couple of days so I will be posting my quick reviews of the three restaurants in the title. Originally I had also planned to do a lunch at EMP before my dinner at Lincoln but the left side of my brain kicked in and realized that my eyes are bigger than my stomach. A good thing too because the service sizes at Lincoln are HUGE. So EMP will have to wait for my next trip. But really quickly though, all three restaurants exceeded my expectations. What I am starting to realize is that the Manhattan board contributors are some of the most opinionated of all the boards! I am a pretty experienced diner of finer restaurants including Per Se, Le Benardin, Alinea, Daniel, Bar Boulud, Avenues, Robuchon, etc. At this point I am pretty jaded so it takes a very good experience to get me excited. I can say that this was a very memorable trip and New Yorkers are a lucky bunch.
My reviews will follow.
So first up, Momofuku Ko. I should start by saying that my personal preference is for french food. I appreciate asian food but have just never been a fan of some of their flavors. Japanese cuisine is often a challenge for me given that I almost dislike miso and dashi broths. But given all the positive and negative hype about Ko, my wife and I made the decision (it was easy for her since she likes asian food) to visit. In fact we left our home at 2 AM and drove 7 hours to make it for our Sunday lunch reservation.
I should also mention that my wife is gluten intolerant. Before our arrival I had been communicating with Hillary at Momo's office who was an absolute pleasure to talk with. She was so concerned about about my wife's allergy that she suggested we should reserve at Ma Peche instead. This in fact says a lot to me since obviously the restaurant group profits more from the more expensive meal at Ko. I also communicated with members of this board (sorry again puddingcup for hijacking your thread) and pretty much raised a storm of comments. But to summarize:
The seats were hard on the back for a fit 36 year old.
The chefs were EXTREMELY nice and the big guy with tattoos loved to talk about the food and the preparations.
The restaurant went out of their way to remove gluten from my wife's meal.
Oh and the music was not as loud as some posters led me to believe.
As for food, obviously there is a no picture policy and I did not take notes so everything is from my spotty memory.
First course: Savory rice crispy square.
Second: Potato puff filled with gruyere
Third: Raw oyster
Fourth: A variety of six different crudos. I don't remember them all very clearly but there was fluke, mackerel, scallop, uni, wagyu, and something else.
Fifth: Bento box of grilled rice, duck meatball, fried brussel sprouts
Sixth: Lobster tail (I can't recall the preparation of this dish)
Seventh: Puffed egg in a bacon broth
Eigth: Ravioli with a skin made of turnip I think, and stuffed with red onion puree
Ninth: Orecchiette with butter and truffle (for my wife they swapped with orecchiette with a rice cake)
Tenth: Brioche with bone marrow and powdered, burnt onion served with a gruyere broth (my wife was given a potato crisp instead of brioche)
Eleventh: Sous-vide squab breast covered with grains and a fried squab leg
Twelfth: Shaved foie gras
Thirteenth: Oatmeal ice cream with burnt apple sauce, apples, and apple gelee
Fourteenth: Miso ice cream with sweetened rice and some sort of rice cake
There may have been other dishes that I don't remember and the order could be off.
My favorite dishes were probably the pasta course and the puffed egg. That egg was just incredible. The other dishes were all very good but not spectacular.
The crudos were good with the uni one being particularly amazing. The uni was layed on top of a square of eggplant which I normally dislike.
The bento box was very good. The duck meatball was soft and flavorfull, the rice was very good (grilled in pork fat you can't go wrong right?), and the fried brussel sprouts were sweet and crunchy.
The lobster tail was the biggest disappointment. I feel it was overcooked and I don't even remember its preparation.
The brioche with bone marrow was smoothe and delicious.
The squab dish was very very good but I have had better. They applied some sort of paste to the breast for the grains to adhere to and I found this paste somewhat mealy.
The foie dish for the all the hype did not blow me away. The texture was certainly unique though.
Deserts were just ok. I thought the oatmeal and apple was ok except that I did not really like the apple gelee.
So that is it. It was a very fun afternoon after driving seven long hours. The friendliness of the service really surprised me and I wonder if those that have had bad services maybe were served by one of the other crews. The big guy told me that they work in teams and this team in particular was great. I didn't interact too much with the other cooks but I saw them conversing easily with the other diners. Maybe this team also preferred the music quieter which might explain some of the complaints others have had. Finally, I can't stress enough how happy I was that they took my wife's allergy seriously. Other posters had me worried as hell that she would not be accomodated. Ko team if you read this post, thank you for the experience!
163 1st Ave, New York, NY 10003
Well for the bone marrow dish they gave my wife a sort of cracker made of potato instead of the brioche and for the pasta course they gave her a rice cake that was kind of like a gnocchi. You should be aware of the soy sauce they use in most of the courses. I know that most glutent intolerants can't eat soy. My wife can though if it is naturally brewed. I don't know if Ko's is but she did not have any problems after the meal.
On day two we originally planned on going to EMP for lunch and then Lincoln for dinner. Better sense told me though that two such rich meals back to back would ruin my evening so we unfortunately cancelled our EMP reservation. That one will have to wait for my next trip. Instead I had a 1/2 lb Kobe burger from Zaitzeff which was a pretty good burger. Incredibly juicy but lacking a bit of the distinct Kobe flavor. Anyways, we arrived at Lincoln and were blown away by how striking the restaurant and location looked.
Now about the meal. I will start by saying that this restaurant was both truly great but also truly disappointing. The first strike happened when my wife and I walked into the restaurant and were greeted by two receptionist. As one took our coats, the other literally looked my wife up and down in a very odd way before leading us to our table. We were NOT underdressed and my wife was wearing a beautiful evening dress. But this was just very rude and made us uncomfortable.
After we were seated, a server came by and offered me flatbread and bread sticks. Both had good flavor. Making our reservation a week before, I mentioned to the reservationist my wife's gluten allergy and nothing more needed to be confirmed as we arrived so she was given some very good potato chips.
Next up was the bread service. I was offered a very very good integrale bread, a white bread, and a delicious foccacia. My wife was given some spicy nuts.
After that, our main courses would arrive with slow but still acceptable tempo. Here is what we received:
First course: A trio of crudo - scallops with olive oil and house cured bottarga, sea trout with blood orange, spanish mackerel with peppers and basil. I thought the mackerel crudo was a bit marred by the peppers. They were too spicy for my taste.
Second course: Linguine with peeky toe crab, sea urchin and meyer lemon sauce. My wife was given quinoa pasta instead of linguine. This dish really rocked. The linguine, dry I believe, was probably the finest quality pasta I have had. Our captain told me it was not made in house but this restaurant sources very well.
Third course: Strozzapreti neri with bottarga, capers, and olives. This was a pasta made in-house in the very expensive machine. I thought it was very good but too oily. The pasta was nicely chewy and the bottarga flavor very pronounced. My wife was given a perfectly cooked flounder with pearl onions, cauliflower, currents, and pine nuts. Now this was when the second strike happened. The food runner that brought our food gave me my wife's dish and she received my pasta dish. He also did not explain the dishes so we both sat staring at them not sure if there was a mistake as in the dim light it was hard to make out exactly what the pasta dish was. Finally we waved down the sommelier who called over our captain who apologized greatly. But this is a serious service error that could have been much worse had the diners had a life threatening allergy.
Fourth: Veal breast with polenta, black trumpet mushrooms, and spring onions. This dish was just incredible with the veal fork soft but still juicy. Here again though was a service error as the food runner deposited the plates and simply said that it was veal.
Desserts: Chocolate cake, grapefruit, and espresso gelato. My wife received a chocolate gelato with hazelnuts and whipped cream. Both were delicious.
So far I have only pointed out service issues related to the receptionist and a couple of runners. I have to say though that the other receptionist was super friendly as were the captains. If not for them I would say that the service killed this meal. Our captain was fun to converse with and was more inline with what I would term fine-American service. She was as knowledgeable as the servers were at Per Se only slightly less formal.
Now as for the food, everything was good to excellent except for two problems. I found almost every dish to be on the verge of being too salty. I think I drank about a glass of water with every plate. I still really enjoyed every dish but less salt would have been better. The second issue is that the dishes are just too big. For the first time ever I returned a plate only half eaten because I just could not fit anything more. This is a tragedy as the veal dish was second only to the linguine dish. I know that the restaurant was criticized in the past for having too small portions but I think they increased the sizes too much. These portions to me should have been a la carte sizes with tasting menu sizes half this. Some will surely argue this point but if I have to stuff myself to taste everything I can't enjoy everything I taste. In the grand scheme of the evening though I suppose this was a minor quibble.
So in conclusion, I feel that this restaurant has the potential to be great. It is still very young and I have a feeling that I will be back maybe in a year or two. The service issues were very disappointing and I really hope that they can be worked out. But a tasting menu of this caliber for 85$ is such a bargain that I would not pass up an opportunity to give Lincoln a try.
One last note, to my great dismay the foie terrine with eel is no longer served either a la carte or as part of the tasting. Hopefully they will add it back some day.
18 Avenue B, New York, NY 10009
142 W 65th St, New York, NY 10023
Alright, the last review. On our last day in NYC we made our way south for a lunch at Bouley. From the outside it was not easy to see. In fact I think 2 doors east there is the Bouley kitchen that you can see into with a door. We actually almost walked into it until I saw a sign that said employees only. Opening the correct door we were hit by the amazing sight and smell of hundreds of apples. The interior of the restaurant is beautiful. I had seen pictures of it on the internet prior but thought it looked kind of dainty. But being in the room is a much different experience. As this was a fairly early lunch the room was only occupied by one other table but the room filled up throughout the rather long 3 hour meal. Maybe I shouldn't say long as it didn't really feel long but I was aware of the time as I was hoping to leave NY before traffic started.
We placed our orders although the one item I most wanted, the venison with black truffle gnocchi, was unavailable. The crab in the porcini flan was also replaced with lobster.
Bread service on this day was disappointingly limited. Only a raisin, olive, and nut bread were offered but all were good. Butter was of fine quality but too cold.
The first amuse was a pumpkin soup with a cheese foam and chestnut. It was a nice soup and a good start to the meal.
First course: Asparagus in a comte cloud for me and carpaccio of kampachi, tuna, and amberjack for her. Both dishes were excellent and I would later notice that the comte cloud was a common theme in all the dishes.
Second course: Scottish salmon cured and smoked for me and the porcini flan for her. The salmon was very good but the porcini flan was great. The truffle in the flan was really intoxicating but still subdued.
Third course: Things got interesting here. When we placed our orders I asked if I could add the organic farm egg with ham and polenta to my meal and specifically said I would pay for the supplement. Our server, a very kind and funny guy, paused for a few seconds and said yes. My wife who was not so hungry after the dinner the night before did not ask for anything. So when the egg dish came out they presented her with a great black cod dish and said it was compliments of the chef. Thinking back now, I suspect that this could have been more compliments of the server. In fact throughout the meal I saw several diners receiving complimentary items with my neighbour scoring an uni and caviar dish. In any case, the egg dish was super although I think the egg white should have been set a bit more.
Fourth course: We both ordered the long island duck with truffle, honey, chanterelles, and porcini puree. We were also given a delicious mashed potato. I actually preferred this mash to the one offered at Robuchon. It had the same strong buttery flavor but the texture was less waxy than Robuchon's. It is more what I would consider a North American style of mash.
Fifth course: Coconut soup with a pineapple granite and yogurt sorbet. Very nice dish and a good transition to the desserts.
Sixth course: Chocolate Frivolous, Chocolate Brulee, Chocolate Parfait, Hazlenut Daquoise, Chocolate Walnut Spice Bread, White Coffee Ice Cream, Prune Armagnac Ice Cream. My wife was given a chocolate souffle due to her allergy.
Seventh course: The restaurant surprised us by sending out a creme caramel for our birthdays.
Mignardaises: Finally they brought out the mignardaises which was comprised of some macarons, almond tuiles, sesame snaps, and chocolate balls. We took them home actually.
When we received the bill I was fully expecting to see at least the egg dish charged but it was not there. I guess I should not have been surprised having read some other recent reviews of this restaurant. As a parting gift they even offered us a very large pound cake. Truly I was impressed with Bouley and don't know how they are able to dish out so many comps when the lunch itself is so reasonably priced. I would definitely call this meal even without the freebies, for this class of restaurant, the best deal I have ever had. Service was traditional french but friendly and fun at the same time.
David Bouley is doing something very good here.
163 Duane St, New York, NY 10013
Thank you ellenost.
Bouley was really great as was Ko. The crew that served us at Ko was really fun and I did not come away from there with any regret. I am used to a different style of service even when eating at the bar like at Avenues in Chicago or numerous sushi places. Ko is a different type of restaurant but the experience was still enjoyable. And although I did not have any alcohol it seemed to me that the server knew enough about the beverage choices to assist with pairings. I mention this because I know some have complained about that aspect of the dining.
And about Lincoln, I realize that I may have been a bit harsh in my review but I still think it is a worthwhile destination. The food was very good but just a bit salty. Portions are too big but I am not a big eater. Service from one of the receptionists and one or two of the runners was was disappointing but the captains and the other receptionist were great. And the price was a bargain for the food we received.