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Feb 6, 2012 09:23 AM

Momo Ko, wd~50 or elsewhere?

I'm trying to decide where to take my girlfriend for Valentine's Day. Due to work schedules, we're not going to formally celebrate on the 14th, but either the weekend before or weekend after.

Anyways, I currently have reservations of Momofuku Ko and wd~50. Valentine's Day is a holiday that I always seem to mess up (I won't go into my blunders, but I'm sure a lot of guys can relate), so I'd definitely appreciate some input, even if people have other suggestions.

Part of my problem in selecting a restaurant is that I'm a bit of a food snob. My father lived in Italy for five years while he attended veterinary school and learned to cook from his grandmother in Rome and hence his cooking is amazing! We also have some other very talented Neapolitan and Sicilian cooks in the family. So, I tend to expect a lot when I eat out at nice places but lately, I have been struggling to find food that is just not good, but exceptional. I want to be excited by what I'm eating. I look over menus of restaurants and while I don't doubt the food is good, how many different ways can sea scallops, filet, chicken or salmon be prepared? To give an example, I thought Bar Masa was just ehh, uninspiring, overhyped and overrated. I thought Eleven Madison Park was the tops, but I can only afford places like EMP (or Ko) on special occasions.

I also tend to make reservations but then end up worrying that what I booked won't be good enough and end up canceling my reservation, ex SHO and Bar Room at the Modern, tho after eating at SHO for Restaurant Week, I can't say that I regret canceling the original reservation back when.

Regarding Ko, I'm wondering if maybe the 10 courses would leave us so so stuffed? Is the loud music that plays at lunch also playing at dinner? With wd~50, there seem to be a lot of reviews where people either loved it or hated it. I don't want to bomb out again this year. Last year, I took her to Zenkichi which was decent, but looking back, was too far of a haul for what it was.

Ok, so I have some issues. I clearly accept that. Please help me :)

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  1. I adore Ko (in fact I'm having dinner there again this week). I'm also looking forward to trying WD-50 in a few weeks. The same type of music is played lunch and dinner at Ko, so if you didn't like it at lunch, you won't like it any better at dinner (I actually don't even notice the music anymore at Ko). I am not a large person, and have no difficulty in getting through the 10 courses at Ko. At WD-50, you'll be able to order a la carte (if you don't want the tasting menu), so you would be better able to control the quantity of food.

    Momofuku Ko
    163 1st Ave, New York, NY 10003

    1. While I like Momofuku Ko and WD-50, both restaurants are very polarizing. You would love it or hate it based on your food preferences and expectations. My sense, from your aversion to Bar Masa and your description of EMP as "tops", is that you wouldn't care for either WD-50 or Momofuku Ko.

      It would help if you could give us a few more examples of restaurants and tasting menus that you, and particularly your GF, have enjoyed in the past.

      50 Clinton Street, New York, NY 10002

      Momofuku Ko
      163 1st Ave, New York, NY 10003

      9 Replies
      1. re: Riverman500

        I actually had the exact opposite reaction.... I would think that someone for whom EMP is "tops" and Bar Masa kind of meh would be a prime candidate for Ko or WD. Like EMP, they lean towards bigger flavors, with a sense of playfulness and whimsy. Masa is all about the subtlety of exquisite ingredients prepared relatively simply - in fact, I remember an interview where Chef Masa insisted he wasn't so much a chef but a "curator" or something.

        But to the OPs question: Given that the cooks in your family seem mostly of the Italian, which is more ingredient-driven than technique-driven (which are what Ko and WD are all about), you'd have a very different experience than what any of the best cooks in your family could or would serve you. You're comparing fairly rustic cuisine styles to people who play with liquid nitrogen. It's apples and oranges. Might as well compare Bruce Springsteen to Philip Glass or Van Gogh to Jackson Pollock. One is not inherently better/worse than the other - they have different aims and serve different purposes, and they either speak to you or they don't.

        Ko isn't terribly romantic in setting, at least not in a traditional sense - you're eating at a bar - but it is intimate, and the food is certainly lusty. Their most famous dish, the foie gras "snow", is like eating a bowl of dirty sex. (I mean that in the best possible way...)

        Also, my 94-lb girlfriend had no problem consuming the 10-some-odd courses. They're well-paced, and don't forget that some of them are amuses, intermezzos, etc - just a few bites. And the music isn't as loud as it's cracked up to be - I think to some people, any rock music is too loud or "inappropriate" for dining. You can talk at a perfectly normal volume.

        WD-50 is also not ultra-romantic, at least not in a fancy four-star kind of way. It's a fun downtown vibe, irreverant, unpretentious, and casual. You'd have more control over your meal there, being able to go a la carte. I'd say the food is a less hearty but more playful than at Ko.

        All in all, between the two... I'd go with Ko, mainly because it's one of the harder rezzies to get - who knows when the next time you'll have a chance to dine there will be? WD-50, on the other hand, not only is easier to get a table at, but you could try without as big an investment - pop in on a weeknight without a rezzie, sit at the bar, have a couple cocktails and split a few apps without commiting to a big meal. If you like what you start with, keep ordering dishes to share until you've reached your $ limit. In fact, you could order, say, six apps to split, or four apps & two desserts - which would make a nice light meal and give you a good "tour" of the menu - for less than the cost of ONE person having dinner at EMP or Ko. You can find out if you like what Dufresne is doing for a much lower investment.

        As to how many different ways sea scallops, filet, chicken or salmon can be prepared... the answer is: a lot. Alotalotalot.

        50 Clinton Street, New York, NY 10002

        Bar Masa
        10 Columbus Cir, New York, NY 10019

        10 Columbus Cir, New York, NY 10019

        1. re: sgordon

          Thanks for your repines, I really like it. While it is true that many of the cooks in my family are Italian, perhaps I conveyed the wrong message. I really like your note about how I am comparing Sprinsteen to Philip Glass. I like both artists. I'm saying that because Springsteen is good, I'd expect Glass to be good, but in a different way (maybe I'm biased tho since I like both of them). I'd except the liquid nitrogen cuisine to be good in the same way that rustic Italian cuisine is. Not all Italian food in the city is good tho... don't get me started, haha. I haven't had much experience with liquid nitrogen tho, save for a delicious frozen cocktail that was made for my gf and I at EMP. If only I knew what was in it... they used liquid nitrogen to freeze gin and the put apples in it or something.

          I guess you could say I'd like to give my gf an amazing culinary experience. Her mom values ambiance more and ambiance does play a part, but it's not the whole deal.

          I live in NJ so it's not like going to NYC for a meal is a big challenge, so I could always try for Ko again if I opt to cancel it. I know if I asked my gf which she'd prefer, she would tell me it's my choice. She's Korean and is really into the whole "guy planning everything" thing.

          It's interesting that you say wd~50 is easier to get a table at. Sure, I could go into NYC on a weeknight, but it's a bit of a hassle. When I tried to make a weekend reservation last night, just on a whim, I was lucky that I found something on a Sunday. Weekends are totally booked there for quite a while.

          I'd also like to try ABC Kitchen, but they are also pretty well booked.

          And while there may be tons of ways to cook scallops, filet, chicken, etc, maybe another one of my faults is that I pay more attention to the main ingredient than the preparation. "Oh, more chicken? Boring.... etc"

          Menus these days that tend to excite me are over at Daniel or Jean-Georges, both the flagship restaurants and some of the smaller ones too. I'm trying not to consider every single restaurant in the city tho and trying to keep things not so formal as they'd require.

          1. re: willscarlett

            The atmosphere at Ko is the polar opposite to what you find at either Daniel or Jean-Georges. Ko is the rare restaurant that serves exquisite (and I might say "haute") cuisine in the most casual of environments. Most of the guests wear jeans and t-shirts. If you are planning to wear a suit (or even a sports jacket), you will definitely feel over-dressed. I echo RGR's recommendation of Corton. Excellent and creative cuisine in a lovely setting and attentive service (not at the level of EMP, but still very good). Not as formal as either Daniel or JG. You won't need to wear a jacket.

            1. re: ellenost

              Corton easily surpasses EMP in my opinion, but to each his/her own.

              Eleven Madison Park
              11 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10010

              239 West Broadway, New York, NY 10013

              1. re: Riverman500

                In terms of service, food or both?

                1. re: Riverman500

                  When we ate at EMP, it was shortly before they were bumped from one Michelin star to three. I don't doubt the service is excellent, but maybe they just upped it a notch for that reason?

                  1. re: willscarlett

                    Service hasn't changed at EMP since they've been bumped to 3 Michelin stars. It's always been (IMO) the best in NYC.

                2. re: ellenost

                  Cool, thanks. In 2010, we did eat at One If By Land, Two If By Sea. Can it get much more romantic than that? The food was quite good as well and the service was not snotty or pretentious.

                  One If By Land, Two If By Sea
                  17 Barrow St., New York, NY 10014

                  1. re: ellenost

                    Regarding attire, if I were to go to JG or Daniel, then I'd dress up, but for Ko, def casual. Doesn't look like you'd have to get too dressy for wd~50 either.

            2. Momofuku Ko is one of my favorite restaurants in the city, so my votes goes to them. I'm sure you're aware of the dining format at Ko (bar seating around an open kitchen, very casual). If you think this is suitable for a romantic Valentine's dinner, then definitely go for it.

              >> Regarding Ko, I'm wondering if maybe the 10 courses would leave us so so stuffed? Is the loud music that plays at lunch also playing at dinner?

              I've never found myself stuffed from the 10 courses. Each course is small, a couple of bites really. So, it's very managable.

              They do play rock music, but the volume is low and you can easily engage in conversations with people.

              Momofuku Ko
              163 1st Ave, New York, NY 10003

              1. I was at Ko last night and actually, the music surprised me in its relative softness -- lots of John Lennon, Big Star, Kinks, current indie pop bands -- kind of like a Wes Anderson film. And it wasn't terribly loud either. My husband and I think maybe they switched up the playlist from our last visit, which had a lot more aggressive rock (closer to Ssam's playlist).

                The 10 courses last night left me satisfied but not overwhelmingly stuffed, which I prefer.

                And if you're worried about "my family could make that at home," I think you might be interested in the sous vide egg or shaved frozen foie gras dishes as well as the gruyere consomme.

                Ellenost, hide your eyes for the following :)

                Our dishes last night included (to the best of my memory):

                Four amuses:
                Fried puff pastry triangle of eggplant and other root vegetables
                Mini uni chawan mushi with fried broccoli and broccoli puree
                Boneless chicken wing with sesame seeds
                House made pork chicarron with togarashi
                1. Spanish mackerel tataki with tiny puffs of rice cracker
                2. Raw scallops in spicy buttermilk with poppy seeds, chives, and white soy
                3. Gruyere consommé with brioche, roasted pearl onions, bone marrow
                4. Sous vide egg with hackleback caviar, fingerling potato chips, soubise onions, chives, red 5. vinegar
                5. Ricotta cavatelli with horseradish and beef tongue
                6. Oven poached trout with rutabaga, crispy panko, radishes
                7. Frozen foie gras shaved over lychee, pine nut brittle, and riesling gelée
                8. Duck breast with mustard greens, turnips, rye bread crumbs, turnip top puree
                9. Apples, apple cake, with dehydrated peanut butter "soil"
                10. Passionfruit meringue, coconut custard, compressed frozen banana, Thai basil

                Momofuku Ko
                163 1st Ave, New York, NY 10003

                5 Replies
                1. re: kathryn

                  Thanks Kathryn :-). I am thrilled that the duck is back on the menu. The passionfruit meringue sounds lovely. I see a lot of new dishes on the menu from my last visit at the end of November.

                  1. re: ellenost

                    Everything at Ko was delicious tonight. My favorites (in addition to the always spectacular egg and foie gras courses) were the new trout dish and the two desserts (especially the passion fruit meringue). I've been to Ko close to 40 times in the past 3 1/2 years, and all of my meals have been nothing less than stellar. Service continues to be warm and attentive. There is something so marvelous when I can go to a restaurant have fantastic and creative cuisine served by attentive and friendly staff, I can dress casually, and there is no false formality.

                    Momofuku Ko
                    163 1st Ave, New York, NY 10003

                    1. re: ellenost

                      Thanks for the update. I'm still undecided about where to go. I've looked a bit into Corton, but not too deep yet.

                      Maybe I'll choose wd~50 this time and do Ko for her birthday? Sigh... decisions

                      1. re: willscarlett

                        I'm trying WD-50 for the first time in a few weeks. Corton is excellent too. I think you will be happy with any of Momofuku Ko, Corton or WD-50.

                        1. re: ellenost

                          Thanks you. Regardless of where I go, I just want the food to be original and yummy :)

                2. Might I say that if I was your GF, I'd just be happy that you were taking me out anywhere. Would she really be mad if you picked the "wrong" place? Of course not! (If so, well, that's not for me to judge) But I'm assuming she'll be thrilled that you even care enough. Even if the food isn't too her (or your) taste, I'm sure she's more into the company anyways.)

                  But if you think that you'll be in a bad mood if the food isn't good, I would suggest going to a place that you already know you like or a place that has special meaning to you.

                  For the record, we always order in on V-Day and have a quiet, intimate night, instead of trying too hard.