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On The House: Momofuku Ko, The Full Reveal

On the House is our regular column written by the owners and operators of the great food and beverage establishments of New York. Today, your proprietor is Mr. David Chang of Momofuku Noodle Bar and Momofuku Ssam Bar.

2006_09_onethehouseA.jpgSo, yes, we’re opening another restaurant.

It seems that somebody on the staff got ruffied at one of the Beard afterparties and let it slip: Momofuku Noodle Bar is changing into something else. Something called Momofuku Ko, which all you attentive students of Japanese will recognize as “sewing circle.”

Why try to keep it under our hats and reopen like a bunch of silent ninjas in the night?

Because if we – me, Quino, all the guys in the crew – have learned anything, it’s that we’re terrible at opening restaurants and really good at making mistakes. We’re okay with that – learning from our mistakes has helped us grow as cooks and restaurant operators – but it’s harder to change and learn and grow when you’re constantly under a microscope.

Also, too much in the restaurant business is about hype right now. (I know we are lucky in that department and, trust me, we are thankful for the opportunities the attention has afforded us.) But chefs are not rock stars and are not cool. Restaurant openings are not movie premieres. All the bullshit distracts from the real task at hand – cooking – and from the food, which is what we’re in it for.

So how about this: I’ll tell you every boring detail of everything that’s happening with Momofuku and then we’ll all be quiet about it for a while? Deal? Pinky swear? Okay:

Noodle Bar as it exists right now is bursting at the seams. Not just with people waiting for a stool (sorry about the waits, but there’s good news ahead for you) but with water, electricity, everything. We need to do 200 fewer covers a day for that place to be operating comfortably. To do that, we need to take out a bunch of seats and control the number of people who eat there, which means taking reservations (or maybe taking reservations: part of the frustration with people blabbing about restaurants that don’t exist yet is that the restaurants don’t exist yet, so hard and fast policies are not in place.)

We have absolutely no aspiration to make it into a “fine dining” restaurant, but we’re shortchanging our baby, our spiritual home, by running it too hard right now. No mas.

At Momofuku Ko, we’ll showcase everybody’s cooking, to make it work as a collaborative kitchen. I’d like to be cooking more than I am right now, but I’m the asshole who runs around and answers the phone and poses for photographs with Martha Stewart now. Nobody else on my staff wants the job.

Announcement Number 2: Momofuku Noodle Bar will be moving up the block to 171 1st Avenue, into the space that was Krystal’s Café for the last few years. This is a picture of our provisional floor plan:

Click for full size

2007_05paul%27s.jpgHow much did we want people not to talk about it? So much we came up with an alternate restaurant concept (We thought what’s less interesting than a sports bar opening?) and hung the menu in the windows of the space (right).

At the new Noodle Bar we’re going to have more seats (55 versus 27) and more kitchen space (not that you care). The menu will probably grow a little bit (Will Kevin Pemoulie make daily specials for Larry Bird? We can hope. Will there be cutlets on the menu? Almost certainly not) and we hope that waits will shrink and the food will improve.

When will all this happen? This summer. When exactly? We have no idea. Honestly. Restaurant openings are notoriously tricky to predict the timing on. Trust me, when we’re ready, you’ll know.

Okay. There’s my end of the bargain: all the noodle bar news you can handle. Here’s yours: shut up and eat.

—D. Chang

· On the House [~E~]

Momofuku Ko

8 Extra Place, Manhattan, NY 10003 (212) 203-8095 Visit Website