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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Momofuku Má Pêche (New York, NY)

Vegetable Sampler
Má Pêche is an odd juxtaposition of downtown, lowdown diner and midtown haute. As a former patron of Town, the elegant restaurant that previously occupied the space, I still see its ghost (a ghost Town?) at Má Pêche. The three-floor expanse of back wall remains, intact, though dramatic gold-lit panels have been replaced by a smooth, taut sheet of textile. The white tablecloths have left the room altogether and particle board-like tables, left nude, are set with a jar of chopsticks and a soy sauce dispenser. However, the food (and prices) are all-out haute. It's presented in the same high/low aesthetic spirit as a Chinese banquet hall.

On a recent evening, LPG and I decided to check out this newest addition to the Momofuku empire. The restaurant encourages patrons to share plates, family style. Between the two of us we ordered two small plates, a large plate, and a sampler of the three available vegetable sides. LPG is something like six feet tall. I am approximately 11 inches shorter than she is. We split everything pretty much equally. I left a bit hungry, but LPG left full. Go figure. Maybe I eat too much. :)

Mackerel
Anyway. The first dish we received was the mackerel with horseradish, black garlic and lime. The yellowy flakes were a trompe l'oeil that looked like bonito, but were actually shaved, freeze dried(?) horseradish. Mackerel was very fresh, barely seared and wisely left alone, for the most part, in terms of flavor. There was only a light hint of lime and sweet black garlic sauce. The horseradish was similarly muted. The dish was made or broken on the quality of the fish. Luckily, it was delicious. (4/5)

The next dish, served at the same time as the mackerel, was the Niman Ranch beef tartare with soy, scallion and mint, a dish Má Pêche borrows from Ssam Bar. This was a very, very, very good composition -- probably the best one of the evening. The flavor of beef was perfectly lucid as only very, very fresh, high quality meat can be. It wasn't flaccid in texture as beef tartares sometimes are; it retained some bite and some chew, and all the other components served to highlight the pristine meat. Beef was served with nicely fried, non-greasy shrimp chips, which were muted enough in flavor to allow the meat to shine. The textural contrast of barely-there, airy chips and chewy meat was wonderful. (5/5)

Niman Ranch Beef Tartare
After a brief rest, the kitchen brought out our "large plate" and the three-vegetable sampler. The sampler plate included, from the upper left of the picture at the top of the post: (1) Brussels sprouts with chili vinaigrette, cranberry and scallion (3/5); (2) sunchokes with beef tongue, basil and fish sauce (4.5/5); and (3) carrots with bone marrow, chili and lime (5/5). Based on these dishes, I'm ready to accept the David Chang mantra that meat makes everything better. The carrots and sunchokes were some of the best renditions of these vegetables I can remember having. Tiny baby carrots (real babies, not baby cut) were sugary sweet and nearly fresh out of the ground, with a satisfying depth of flavor I assume must've came from the bone marrow. There was a stray white carrot (or parsnip) in there, too. Sunchokes were juicy and nicely caramelized, mixed with delicate slices of richly flavored tongue. The only vegetable dish I didn't love were the Brussels sprouts. I love roasted Brussels sprouts that have been roasted low and slow for so long that the sugars really develop. But here, the method left the sprouts dry and burnt, not caramelized.

Cod
Our "large plate" was the Chatham, MA cod with leeks, coconut and shellfish-ginger broth. I wasn't sure how I'd feel about this dish given that I often don't love coconut milk-based foods. Coconut milk can be a cloying ingredient. Not so in this dish. The flavors were as refined and balanced as ever, with only a touch of coconut milk for fragrance, and a restrained hint of ginger to wake up the palate. The dish included two mussels, which were small and as sweet as candy. The cod was positively silky, an adjective I probably hadn't really appreciated when used as a descriptor for fish, until now. In texture, it brought to mind tofu. (4.5/5)

LPG and I also had a cocktail each, which we picked off a lengthy, ginger- and citrus-heavy list. I didn't try her Moscow Mule, but my provocatively named Wallbanger, Version 1, was fantastic. It's one of those drinks that's so delicious and goes down so easy, you find yourself banging into walls (or banging walls, alternatively, I suppose), before you realize it. It included Absolut 100 vodka, Yellow Chartreuse, and grapefruit. And the ice cubes were the large, square kind favored by bartenders, everywhere, since the lower surface area to volume ratio allows them to melt more slowly into your drink than more proletariat ice cubes.

All in all, this was a wonderful meal. I'm glad we went, except that now I know there is so much more on the menu I want to try. Hope that crispy crispy pig’s head dish sticks around.  

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Since prices seem to be difficult to find online, I'll post them here:

Moscow Mule (cocktail): $14
Wallbanger, Variation 1 (cocktail): $10
Mackerel: $14
Beef Tartare: $16
Cod: $28
Three Vegetable Sampler: $18

Our meal (a light one) was an even $100, before tax and tip. 

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15 West 56th Street
New York, NY
(212) 757-5878
http://www.momofuku.com/restaurants/ma-peche/

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