David Chang’s Momofuku Ko concluded years ago

David Chang's Momofuku Ko concluded years ago

David Chang is “ceasing operations” to momofuku next week, according to a post on his company’s Instagram account. It continues: “We won’t be saying goodbye to it, but Ko will no longer operate in the way it has.”

What this means is unclear, but it certainly sounds like some kind of goodbye given about three weeks ago mr chang turned off the lights For good at Momofuku SSAM Bar. The strange thing about both announcements is how slow the response has been. The sheer number of restaurants that have closed since the pandemic began may have desensitized us to such news.

10 or 15 years ago the response would have been different – ​​more intense and apocalyptic. Then, a change Ko’s no-camera policy or SSAM bar Ruined Korean-Burrito Menu Will highlight food blogs whose reporters chased scraps of Momofuku news, like Woodward and Bernstein. If you weren’t living in New York at the time and weren’t eating out, it’s hard to imagine what the early days of those restaurants were like, especially.

This was the restaurant where we first saw A frozen torchon of foie gras The salty pink snow is being shaved to form a mountain. Where we tasted our first spoonful of panna cotta like milk at the bottom of a bowl Of cornflakes. Where we sat at a counter and listened to Yo La Tengo while staring at the backs of Mr. Chang and his cooks, until one of them turned from the stove to hand us a plate and muttered something like, “It’s an English muffin. There’s bay leaf butter and melted pork fat” or “You’ve got a soft-boiled smoked egg with potato vinegar, fingerling potato chips and, uh, Tennessee caviar.”

Ko was also the first restaurant that made us cry and gnash our teeth at the difficulty bordering on impossibility. Securing an Online Reservation, There were only 12 backless stools at the counter, and they were all offered at the same time on Momofuku’s website, by 10:01 a.m. they were all removed. Rational people began blaming nefarious bots and scalpers for their inability to score, a preview of things to come.

But the biggest and boldest thing Ko did was to go head-to-head with the city’s most expensive and highly respected venues, Le Bernardins and Daniel and Jean-Georges, without the benefit of a reservationist or maître d’hôtel. , or a deep wine list, or a printed menu, or chairs with lumbar support, or coffee or tea. Ko will stand or fall on the strength of his cooking alone.

Mr. Chang’s hypothesis behind this was that fine dining settings – not only white tablecloths, but perhaps even the tables themselves – had become disorganized and outdated. Mr. Chang, who was 30 when Ko opened, realized that for many young diners the old, formal style did not provide much enjoyment; This was possibly standing in the way of happiness. In Ko, all the thrills were edible. You paid $85 for its 10 courses. “Cook’s prices,” as Mr. Chang was heard say,

was a guerrilla rebellion against fancy-pants restaurants and everything they stood for. It was food’s punk-rock moment. At least, that’s how it felt in the spring of 2008. It didn’t seem crazy to believe that even high-performing restaurants could change, eliminating all the folders that drove up prices and inconvenienced people.

As I said, there may have been an element of paranoia in it. Anyone who has studied the history of revolutions can tell us that it doesn’t take long for rebels who aim to overthrow the old order to dress and behave like the former ruling class.

Momofuku, which will serve its final meal on Nov. 4, looks different these days. It went a long way in 2014 More spacious and luxurious quarters Off East First Street. The seats were farther back, there was more than one toilet, and among the servers scurrying on the floor there was a sommelier who could help you navigate a wine list that ran to more than 250 pages.

In other words, Ko rejected almost every fine dining item, including those with high prices. Today’s tasting menu costs $280.

When I reviewed the second location in 2015, I was amazed to see how much more sophisticated and accomplished the cooking had become. One thing I wanted was a solid through-line on the menu, a unified sensibility linking together dishes that ranged from modernism to surprisingly contrasting bursts of old-fashioned French classicism. On my last visit, earlier this year, the through-line had disappeared completely. There were very few adventures, and how it all came together no one had any idea.

Mr. Chang moved to California a few years ago. As he closed restaurants in Las Vegas, Sydney and Toronto, and eliminated the herd in New York (Cavi, Bar Wayo, Nishi and Fuku+ were all shipped out), it became increasingly clear that he was that way. Overseeing the high-flying, inventive kitchen where he was making his name is no longer his top priority.

We now know that when Mr. Chang was creating SSAM Bar & Co, he seemed to have a keen understanding of modern dining sensibilities, but he often got out of control. According to his own and others’ accounts, he punched walls, kicked furniture, threatened staff. His restaurants seemed to promise a new take on the entire culture of eating out, but they were built on some of the worst and oldest habits in the business.

I can see now that I was wrong about Ko’s garage-band asceticism in 2008. I thought the purpose of abandoning all the frills was to make the restaurant accessible to people who typically can’t afford fancy restaurants. This may have been an added advantage, but I now suspect that the explanation was much simpler: David Chang was in a hurry to get to the top. Waiting until he was able to purchase the 250-page wine list would have slowed his pace.

Hannah Selinger, Co’s beverage director in its first year, told me in an email that the list was initially “thin,” but that it was “geared toward a higher price point” with grower Champagnes and flagship cru Burgundy. The restaurant was never meant to serve fine dining to the public.

Such is the cultural reach of Mr. Chang a podcast host, TV producer, talk-show guest, packaged-goods dealer And Noodle Philosophers that you can’t really say that losing a restaurant or two has diminished its stature. The strange thing is that losing Ko and Ssam Bar doesn’t seem to be particularly missed by the city. If you had said that in 2008, you would have been wrong.

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