A small step for man, a giant step for Chang-kind
Claim to fame: Trottoir-terroir, new flavors developed in an urban lab.
Reason to go: Frozen foie gras with lychee, pine nuts and riesling jelly.
To look out for: David Chang’s invention, Hozon, a fermented chickpea “miso” paste.
When David Chang, the intrepid pioneer of Asian-tinged comfort food first opened Momofuku Ko it was the hottest ticket in town, getting a reservation here was about as easy as breaking the sound barrier. His East Village 12-seater was a first of its kind, a sputnik of gastronomy nestled among dive bars and delis, adding the thrill of adventure to gustatory pleasure. Despite Ko’s hefty price tag and the impossibility of getting a foot in the door, all self-respecting gastronauts managed to nab a resy and scramble loose pocket change to visit this new supernova. At the time, his culinary experimentations were daring and stupendous, teetering on overwhelming; there were Jupiter-sized dishes and jagged edges, but also genius, like the famous mountain of frozen, shaved foie gras.
Chang’s otherworldly endeavor has since landed on new ground, in a larger space, with a gleaming open kitchen and generous counter-seating. The menu bears traces of the chef’s previous expeditions, but his footsteps are smaller now. The portions have shrunk to a more palatable size, gone are the rookie moves, what remains is a meditation on familiar flavors piloted into new territories, bringing unexpected dimensions to old favorites. Pomme soufflé, a thumb sized, cream filled potato pillow conjures the prosaic sour cream and chive potato chip, lobster paloise alludes to the common lobster roll while steak au poivre, a thin-sliced piece of dry aged beef blows the old bistro classic off the Milky Way with its umami richness. Then there are the typical Chang frolics, like aging butter in a cheese cave for three weeks to make it taste like spores, mold and salt washed cheese rind. His Hokkaido sea urchin is served with a chickpea cream and hozon, it’s a lingering meteor shower of kokumi and his brilliantly rare lamb with roasted white eggplant is luxe, yet simple and grounded. The dish is expertly paired with a Moulin de Tricot Haut Médoc, just as all other dishes get a jet fuel jump from the attentive wait staff’s clever beverage recommendations. Dhont-Grellet “Les Terres fines” was a stellar new Blanc de Blanc champagne acquaintance, Dhon’t miss it! Chang’s desserts, however felt a bit lackluster when we checked in, while it’s admirable that he promotes local cottage industries, his grilled Citizen Pruner from Brooklyn affineur Crown Finish Caves was mostly awkward, it fell flat despite the pickled cherry and truffle, likewise the celery root ice cream was nothing new under the sun.