A continuation of the ‘Momofuku for you odyssey’.
Far from being Momofuku ‘lite’ Má Pêche is like the French-Vietnamese cousin of the clan. The cousin who irons their jeans and remembers to say please and thank you. The cousin who gets on slightly better with the more straight laced friends of the family.
How much you like your time there might depend on how important you feel a funky vibe, music with a significant volume, an east village location and a preponderance of pig fat all are to your meal.
But first, it’s hard to get past the room. If you’ve been doing the Momofuku rounds, then the difference at Má Pêche is so marked that it can take a minute or two to get your bearings. It’s the soaring 30 foot ceilings. It’s the floating wall hangings. It’s the fact that you’re underground. It’s being annexed to a hotel. Sure there are the familiar accents of pine and sriracha chilli sauce on the tables. There are glasses filled with chopsticks set at intervals on the communal tables in the centre and at the banquets that hug the walls. But as you come down the stairs from street level into the cavernous, egg shaped room, you’ll encounter a much more hushed, civilised vibe than any of the east village outposts.
Má Pêche feels much more like a ‘Restaurant’ than any of the other Momofukus. The more conservative vibe might not be to everyone’s palate, but what it does do is give you a little more breathing space to concentrate on the food.
Here in Midtown, Má Pêche is in the hands of former Ssäm Bar head chef Tien Ho. As co owner and executive chef Tien brings to the table his classical training and Vietnamese heritage. This then combines with the continuing Momofuku commitment to using produce from local farms with sustainable practices, whenever it’s possible.
The menu is divided into options from the raw bar, small plates and then vegetables, meat and fish. At both lunch and dinner there are good value prix fixe options. There’s a gutsy wine, beer, cocktail and sake list, with two sakes and 16 wines by the glass. For anyone floundering, a glass of Copain, “tous ensemble,” pinot noir rosé is a pretty darn delightful way to start a meal.
The food follows in the same pattern as the name. Má Pêche translates as Mother Peach in a mix of French and Vietnamese, and the menu cherry picks the best from each culture. To start rice paper rolls are the size of a fat sushi log.
In the centre there’s a compound square stick of shrimp. There’s the kick of pickled carrot and some freshness from mint and lettuce. The sauce is gluggily thick and studded with peanuts. It’s gobsmackingly good stuff.
If colonialism is going to have a positive legacy, it’s found in Tien Ho’s take on beef tartare. Here the best of French and Vietnamese make friends with each other on a plate.
The beef from Niman ranch is presented in a beautiful brunoise dice. It’s slicked with soy and there’s mint and bean sprouts for fresh faced charm. And instead of croutons, there’s the audible delight of prawn crackers. They pop and shiver against your lip and give a snap and crackle as you eat them. It’s a very clever pairing- with the sweet lilt of the prawns amplify the meatiness of the beef.
The carnivorous joys don’t end there. Pork ribs come sticky with caramel. Eating them is like a bumper car collision between a candy store and a butcher. There’s lemongrass and Thai basil for extra fun and a confetti of fried garlic for crunch. If you can eat them without swiping your finger across the plate for the last drips of the spicy sweet sauce, then you’re a lot stronger than I am.
Those who are really after a hefty dose of meat should consider the communal dining special of ‘beef seven ways’. Unfortunately I didn’t come with the requisite five other friends to eat a menu made entirely of beef. If there’s one regret we take away from our Momofuku odyssey- this is probably it.
Instead we made do with rice noodles with spicy pork, which are exactly what an Allagash white ale from Maine was made for. The noodles are like straight macaroni, the size of a 6 year old’s index finger. The pork is similar to the rubble of a bolognaise. With it there’s a chiffonade of sawleaf and a sprinkle of fried garlic which has the texture of a slightly stale pringle. Like the course before the serving size is generous. The portion of noodles is equivalent to a bowl of cereal consumed by a man in training for something.
There’s no dessert available at Má Pêche. Before you get too hot and bothered remember that there’s a Milk Bar just upstairs where you can eat crack pie, cake truffles, compost cookies and whacky soft serve to your heart’s content.
To close the meal there’s another fantastic pairing of French, American and Vietnamese culture. A selection of farmhouse cheeses are served with hunks warm baguette and a loose spiced plum jam. A glass of Napa Cab Sauv and it’s a delightful way to wind down a lunch.
There’s so much to like about Má Pêche. The staff are amiable and charming. The crowd are largely well mannered suits and the occasional food tourist, struggling to get their cameras to focus in the low lighting. But there is something strange about the space of Má Pêche. It’s almost casino-like. Downstairs, away from natural light it could be any time of day. But then it could just be the quality of what you’re putting in your gob that’s making you loose track of time.
15 West 56th Street