At the Kitchen Counter of Momofuku Seiobo

I first sampled the delights of Korean-American David Chang’s cuisine on a New York trip last August. In fact, during the 4 day stay I visited the nearby Ma Peche on 3 separate occasions, tasting items from the dinner, lunch and Milk Bar menus.

Post my NYC experience, and a brief chat with David at last year’s Crave Sydney International Food Festival, I’d always intended to get to his new Sydney restaurant, his first restaurant outside of the US. However, it was a chance meeting with Momofuku Seiobo Sous Chef, Chase Lovecky, at a Ben Shewry (of Attica fame) cooking class, that reminded me that I needed to get there soon. Chase had volunteered his services to support Ben in running the class and we got chatting about the new restaurant opening, what they were doing with the Seiobo menu etc. Yes, had to get there.

Now getting a seat at Momofuku is no simple thing. They don’t take reservation calls, rather customers must participate in an online auction system. Firstly, you register an account, then await the daily 10am opening of the booking system. The second the hour clicks over, there’s a rush to grab any available timeslots over the coming 10 days. After several bids I manage to secure a “temporary booking”, that is, I’ve got 180 seconds to enter my credit card details and complete my booking. They even have a counter ticking down as you try to finalise your booking. I’ve put the expiry date in the wrong format, try again, I forgot to change the type of card, wrong again.. gee that time clock is counting down fast. Panic levels starting to rise.. fortunately, I manage to conclude the booking process in time.. my dining buddy, Tony, and I are confirmed !

Arriving at The Star, the casino precinct is abuzz. Our dinner evening has coincided with the launch of The Star’s new nightclub, Marquee. Initially, I walk past the restaurant, distracted by the Willy Wonka-like Adriano Zumbo patisserie with its “dessert train” of sweet things tracking around on a conveyor belt. A touch-screen directory sends me back and I find Momofuku Seiobo with its minimalistic “Peach” emblem signage (Momofuku is Japanese for Lucky Peach).

The maître d’ takes us inside and seats us at one of the tables in the restaurant proper. While there’s a chic modern decor inside, I’m amused to see posters of Angus Young, AC/DC guitarist, hanging on the wall.. it reminds me that I’m in David’s place, the restaurant of an anti-establishment, independent thinking, “rock and roll” chef.

The other half of the restaurant is dominated by the bright, stainless steel kitchen, it’s huge. David really looks after his chefs, it’s all about the food isn’t it ? We look jealously at that people sitting at the kitchen counter, able to watch the chefs wield their magic. Wonder how you get a seat (actually a stool) there ?

Our enthusiastic waitress takes the order. Yes, we’ll have the 15 course Seiobo Tasting menu ($175) with the paired beverages ($95), the full experience thanks.

We ask the waitress if we can receive copies of the tasting menu and beverage matching list for the evening. No problems, but they’ll hold them to the end of the night.. don’t want to spoil the surprise. So if you’re about to dine at Seiobo, you might want to delay digesting this write up to maintain that “surprise factor” for yourself.

Our sommelier for the night, Alex, introduces himself and the opening beverage match, we’re starting with sake. The procession of tasting dishes begins.

Snacks: Shiitake crisp, nori, mochi, smoked potato – with matching sake: Mutemuka Shuzo 2011, junmai muroka nama genshu, kochi, japan. The opening dish is a mini selection of little Japanese styled “crisps”, several with an intense flavour or unusual texture, the others less so. A solid-ish start.

It’s actually Chase (ex Michelin star Jean Georges, later Momofuku Ko) who brings out and explains the first dish to us. Chatting with Chase, he recalls our prior meeting and welcomes us to Seiobo. I ask “how often does the menu change ?” Chase explains that it gets tweaked daily, but over several months it will evolve quite a lot.. and “how much discretion do the local team get over the menu?” Well lots. While David might drop by every few months, the Seiobo chefs have a fair degree of discretion to play with the menu and local produce (I recall reading something about chefs at Momofuku having to experiment, regularly bring in new recipes to taste test with their colleagues). Thanks Chef, we’re looking forward to the taste treats ahead.

Soon after, we have a pleasant surprise when our waitress advises that we’ve been invited to join Chase at the counter. Yes, thanks. Best view to watch the kitchen action first hand (as you can see below). Chase, you’re the man !

Steamed bun, pork belly, cucumber, hoisin. The much hyped, signature dish. I’d been fortunate enough to sample these on the lunch menu at Ma Peche, so knew they were good, especially with a smear of Sriracha chilli sauce. Am surprised that they’re out so early in the tasting, it piques my curiosity as to what will follow.

Sea Mullet, lemon aspen, pistachio – with matching wine: Sato petillant naturel Riesling 2010, otago, nz. Supremely fresh raw fish, lemony essence, texture contrast with the nuts, and a super wine match. The bar is starting to be raised.

Marron, burnt eggplant, rhubarb – with matching sake: Mukai shuzo ‘ine mankai’ red rice sake 2010, kyoto, japan. Sublimely cooked marron and that black burnt eggplant, smoky, intense.. almost too much.. wow.

Beef, radish, fermented black bean – with matching wine: dario princic bianco trebez 2007, collio oslavje, italy. Pretty dish layered with thin wafers of radish. Sliding aside the top you reveal diced wagyu nestled in a dark black bean and burnt watermelon sauce. A surprising, different dish.

Smoked eel, jerusalem artichoke, pink grapefruit – with matching wine: Phillipe Bornard ‘le blanc de la rouge’ chardonnay 2009, arbois pupillin, france). Tasty bite with a little citrus hit. It is served with a side dish of eel dashi and you alternate a mouthful of the food with a sip of the dashi. It actually works really well.

Mud crab, old bay, yorkshire pudding. An exciting match up, a rich bisque-like sauce served with a miniature Yorkshire pudding. One of the highlight dishes of the night.

Egg, toasted rice, brown butter – with matching wine: mader pinot gris 2009, Alsace, france. An elegant “westernisation” of the layered, sweet omelette, Atsuyaki Tamago, that you find in Japanese sushi bars.

Pea agnolotti, parmesan, ham. Piedmont style pasta, crisp vegetables and parmesan foam. Some great textural contrasts. A simple, clean dish, almost a pallet cleanser as we move through the tasting menu.

Mulloway, smoked roe, lettuce – with matching wine: Gilles Azzoni ‘le raisin et l’ange’ syrah 2010, ardeche, france. Presentation excellent again, what strikes me is the perfection of how the fish is cooked. Crisp skin, yet moist, flaky, falling apart.

Pork neck, onions, turnips, stormshells. Tender pork neck, clams (stormshells), Japanese style pickled vegetables, in a tasty daikon broth.

C2, honey licorice, bee pollen – with matching wine: Eric Bordelet poire ‘granit’ 2010, Normandy. france. An intriguing dish. The C2 is a hard, cooked curd cheese that’s been finely grated into the bowl sitting atop honey infused with liquorice root. It works for me, especially with the bubbles of the accompanying French white.

Pear, yoghurt sorbet, sultana miso, whey. Yummy, western styled dessert dish, infused with Asian flavours.

Malt, brown sugar, smoked butter caramel – with matching wine: toro albala ‘don px 1985’, montila, spain. Sweet, sweet, sweet and smoky. I’m as sucker for a good Pedro Ximenez which rounds out this dish for me.

Finishing the penultimate dish, I look across the counter and notice this most succulent roast (looks like pork) being tended to by the kitchen staff.

Given we’re well into desserts I wonder if we’ve missed something along the way. Checking with Tony, he smirks, he’d done his research, I hadn’t. There was still a little twist to finish.

Caramelized pork shoulder. The final dish of the tasting menu, a sweet, sticky petit four of pork is placed on a plate in front of us. No cutlery, we use our hands to tear the portion in half and lift to our mouths, juices dripping through our fingers. It’s sweet, fatty, and melts in your mouth.

We’re done. The tasting menu has been excellent, the food fun, highly inventive, with a wide variety of quality, and sometimes unusual, produce showcased. The Korean and Japanese influences are evident but often intermixed with western style ingredients and techniques. While the beverages seemed to be an eclectic grouping of sake as well as old and new world wines, the pairings work well. I’ve particularly enjoyed the continuation of my sake “education” and will definitely try to track down some bottles of that Red Rice Sake (will hunt for it via www.blackmarketsake.com.. thanks for the tip Alex).

Watching from the kitchen counter has been entertaining. Through the evening we observed Chase working with the kitchen team, attentively tasting and seasoning dishes. There was a surprising calmness in the kitchen, a testament to the pre-service preparation. The other aspect that shines out is the quality of the staff. They’re fun, very knowledgeable and anticipate what the customer is looking for.

Our degustation drawing to an end, the sommelier reminds us of the dining options at the walk-in bar (no bookings required) for when we next visit. Now that’s a good idea ! So much so we reply that we might just have a look right now. We’re already here after all. Alex relocates us across to the well stocked bar (they’re not so keen on serving bar food at the kitchen counter).

As we peruse the bar food menu, the maitre comments that “a lot of people have threatened to do the bar menu after finishing the degustation, but you guys are the first”. Should we feel proud or ashamed ? Are we gourmets or gluttons ? We convince ourselves that the correct terminology is something like “pioneers” and order away.

First up we grab another order of those moorish Steamed Pork Buns. Then it’s the Confit Chicken Wings, a serve of the Spicy Roasted Rice Cakes, Lamb and a bit more of that NZ Riesling. All tasty, but not necessarily the neatest of finger food. We’ll be back to try more.

While you’re at Seiobo grab yourself a copy of David’s Lucky Peach Magazine, an edgy quarterly journal of food and writing with contributions, interviews, rants and recipes from various top line chefs, particularly from NYC. The magazines have turned into a collector’s item, the first issue is out of print, selling online in the US for plus US$150 (they still have a few copies at Seiobo). They also have the Momofuku and Momofuku Milk Bar cookbooks for purchase. Colourful reads, they give some Momofuku history as well as some of the signature dishes from the different restaurants.

All dined out (yes, the tasting menu is probably sufficient for most normal people) we settle our account and head off. Sorry Adriano, no room for the Zumbo patisserie tonight.

Momofuku Seiobo
The Star
80 Pyrmont Street, Level G Sydney NSW Australia

 

Having mentioned some repeated visits to Ma Peche, thought I’d close off with a postscript of my NYC Momofuku experience (albeit camera-less).

Dropping in on a Monday night I’m given the option of dining in the restaurant or going to the upstairs bar. Dining alone, I thought the bar would be an interesting option, which proved to be the case as the bartender, Joey (a great guy), entertained me on a quiet evening. He picked some amazing sake matches for the food. From the menu I enjoyed the Black Bass – lime, plums, bay leaf, the Beef Tartare – soy, scallion, mint and the Potatoes – basil, fish sauce, chilli aioli. Also grabbed a couple of the specials, the Fried Chicken and a King Crab dish.

A lunchtime dash from the office the next day sees me sitting at the Ma Peche bar again. I grab a serve of the Steamed Pork Buns – hoisin, cucumbers, scallion as well as a Banh Mi Maison – three terrine sandwich, cilantro. Both dishes are good lunch fare; the soft pillowy buns with sweet fatty belly pork, hoisin sauce and cucumber are a highlight, especially with a hit of Sriracha chilli sauce.

My final visit to Ma Peche was with a serious sweet tooth to sample several of the signature dishes from Momofuku Milk Bar (there’s a counter at the front of Ma Peche). Had to try a soft serve of the Cereal Milk Ice Cream. Who thinks to take the milk dregs of a breakfast bowl, with its sweet, corn flavour, and transform it into an icecream ? It reminds me of my primary school days. I like it. I also grab a takeaway serve of the Crack Pie (that almost accidental dish, named for the sugary high that it gives to its “users”). It lives up to its name and is just the kicker for an afternoon in the office. Christina Tosi, Dessert Empress of Momofuku Milk Bar, you have excelled.

Ma Peche
15 w. 56th Street
New York City 10019 USA
+1 212 757 5878

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Comments for this article

5 Responses to “At the Kitchen Counter of Momofuku Seiobo”

  1. Rebecca Varidel
    Rebecca Varidel says:
    April 24, 2012 at 3:11 am

    brilliant! jealous!!

  2. Nic@diningwithastud says:
    April 24, 2012 at 5:14 pm

    Oh I want to go to Seibo SO bad. This looks amazing! What a view :)

  3. Chopinand @ ChopinandMysaucepan says:
    April 25, 2012 at 2:03 pm

    Dear Kurt,

    I haven’t been but I have had the pork buns … at home :)

    http://chopinandmysaucepan.com/momofuku-pork-buns

  4. Archie Pascoe says:
    May 2, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    Sat on the counter at Momofuku in Sydney last night. The food was exactly as in the pictures in this article. We chose our own wine – bottle of Phillipe Bornard ‘Le Blanc de la Rouge’ and a sensational 06 Pizzini Nebbiolo from the King Valley. Seriously impressive evening. 10/10 service, food and wine.

    The whole evening was exciting. Such food I have never tasted; as the author above said – the man hours put into the prep must mount into the thousands! Don’t miss this act, it is the best I have experienced in Australia!

  5. Louise says:
    May 15, 2012 at 1:53 am

    Kurt, this looks and sounds divine. Mmmmm mmmmm

Leave a Reply