Ma Peche was one of those places I really wanted to experience with someone else. Although Chelsea is my usual lunch buddy, I was lucky enough to have my wonderful boyfriend Dan in town visiting me this weekend. Thankfully, he indulges me, and shares in (although at a lesser intensity), my obsession with cooking, eating, and talking about food, so I always try to take him somewhere special when he visits.
Ma Peche, or My Peach, is a member of David Chang's Momofuku empire, which includes Momofuku Noodle Bar, Momofuku Ko, and Momofuku Ssam Bar. A departure from his typical downtown location, Ma Peche is located in Midtown in the Chambers Hotel, and features a menu filled with a fusion of Vietnamese and French food.
Typical of many of Chang's restaurants, Ma Peche is mostly filled with walk-ins rather than reservations, but only open for a short, two-hour window for lunch, I was anxious to get there earlier rather than later. Luckily, Dan's flight arrived before noon on Friday, and by 1:15 we were walking into the Chambers Hotel. The hostess informed us that the restaurant, including the bar where smaller parties typically sit, was full and the wait was 25-45 minutes. We agreed to wait and settled ourselves into the hotel lobby. By 1:45 my stomach was growling and we were still waiting. We decided to check how much longer it would be, and also to give the hostess a little reminder since we were way out of her line of vision. Thankfully we were seated immediately, although I have the sneaking suspicion that she had forgotten about us. When we asked her about an available table, she went downstairs to check the main dining room and then checked around the corner at the bar. She offered us a seat at one of the communal tables downstairs, or a cozy booth upstairs. Dan and I looked at each other, quickly agreed on the booth, and were seated.
"Was that even a choice?" Dan asked, as we sat down.
"Only if by communal table she meant I could sample everyone else's food," I said, laughing a little.
Now, I've dined out a fair bit since I've been in New York, sometimes at casual spots and occasionally at fancier fine dining restaurants, and across the board I have found a universal truth about service in New York: it's either the best (Eleven Madison Park) or the worst (Butter). Sadly, Ma Peche was the latter. Sitting at our cozy booth, we had a view of the (full) bar, which it seemed overlooked the lower dining room. The light was low and amber and the room was void of windows. This made for a nice, warm atmosphere that we had the pleasure to enjoy while we waited to be greeted by a server, handed menus, and poured water. We were waiting for at least 10 minutes. Finally, after glancing at the only bartender a few times, she came over and abruptly slapped two menus down on our table before walking away. No hello, no nothing. Ok, fine. I was too happy that Dan was here to get annoyed.
Dan went with the pre fixe menu, which of course included an appetizer, entree, and dessert (a Momofuku milk bar cookie, but we'll get to that later). The entree I really wanted to try sadly wasn't on the pre fixe menu, so I went a la carte. We both got appetizers; Dan chose a venison and pork terrine, and I chose the pork summer rolls. By the time we ordered, we had thankfully been poured ice water although still had no napkins or silverware. Once we ordered, I realized that the sole bartender was also the only server on our level, taking orders from all 5 tables plus the full bar. This was really unfortunate, both for her and us, but at a place with such a notorious reputation, I expected better service. And although I felt bad that she had such a heavy load, the restaurant's inadequate staffing isn't my problem. If one person can't handle the whole dining area herself, she or her management need to figure something else out instead of making their patrons endure poor service.
Thus endeth my rant. Dan's terrine came out first, very quickly in fact. Served with two slices of bread, a sweet (mungbean?) sauce, and some pistachio and mushroom garnishes, the terrine was certainly interesting. Dan likened the texture to that of a sausage, but as opposed to a sausage which is put into a casing, a terrine is built in a rectangular pan and then thickly sliced. I wasn't a fan of the texture which was sort of spongy, and the temperature (cold) was a bit unpleasant for me. We were both also underwhelmed by the flavor of the meat which was pretty subtle, but really liked slathering the sauce on the bread. By the time my summer rolls emerged, Dan was already more than halfway through his appetizer. Not great timing, but since we were happily sharing everything, we didn't really mind. The lack of silverware and napkins on the other hand... It was at this point that I got up, went to the bar, and helped myself to a stack of napkins and two sets of chopsticks, the only flatware I could readily get my hands on.
My choices for summer rolls were pork, shrimp, or tofu. I immediately ruled the second option out since I don't eat shrimp, and, trying to be a little adventurous, I went with the pork. In hindsight, this was, I think, a mistake. Also filled with fresh and crunchy lettuce, carrots, and cabbage, the pork portion of the rolls had the same temperature and texture as the terrine: sort of spongy and very cold. Although it did add a nice smokiness to the entire thing, I was just as happy removing it from the roll and enjoying a vegetarian version. Probably the highlight of the whole dish is the spicy peanut sauce that accompanies it, which was FAN-TASTIC. Could have spread it on toast and been a happy girl.
For our second courses (which arrived while we were still polishing off my summer rolls and still with no silverware), Dan ordered Lemon Sole and I ordered Pork Ribs, an unorthodox choice for me since I rarely ever eat pork or ribs, and they had a whole list of sandwiches on the menu! But given the chef's reputation, and a review I read which specifically mentioned these delectable caramel pork ribs, I just couldn't resist. The Lemon Sole was accompanied by golden raisins, and was a little fishy for my wussy palette, but Dan enjoyed it pretty well. My pork ribs were every bit as delicious as I hoped they would be (and fingerfood so my lack of silverware was overlooked. Dan made do, quite well I might add, with his chopsticks).
The ribs, which were served as a generous portion, were so tender and flavorful. After my first bite, I was in love. Which was sort of awkward since Dan was sitting right. there. I felt like I was cheating on my boyfriend with my lunch. They were sticky and sweet, with traces of thai basil and lemongrass, and just a hint of spice. The sauce in the bottom of the plate was so incredibly delicious I could have eaten it with a spoon (if I'd had one!). For the most part, eating meat right off the bone was perfectly enjoyable. A few squishy bites of cartilage left me feeling a bit uneasy, but the delectable-ness of the rest of the meat was too enjoyable to be overpowered by some unfortunate texture. Being the good girlfriend I am, I lovingly shared a rib and a half with Dan, who wholeheartedly agreed with my tasty assessment.
Dan's pre fixe menu came with a cookie from Momofuku Milk Bar, which we shared. He had his choice between a chocolate or corn cookie, and after taking stock of who he was with (Me), he wisely chose chocolate.
We were not disappointed. It was chewy and intensely chocolatey, but not in a bitter way, which I really dislike. It was big enough for us to share, or to satisfy a serious cookie craving for just one. The true chocolate flavor made it one of the best chocolate cookies I've had (besides the ones I make myself). I had every intention of raiding Milk Bar's whole stock of goodies before we left, but since we were so stuffed, we decided to return after our visit to MoMA, just a few blocks away.
A couple of hours and six floors of Modern art later, we returned for a chance for me to satisfy my sweet tooth and curiosity. Milk Bar is famous for a few things: the Compost Cookie, Crack Pie, and Cereal Milk. While the restaurants in Chang's empire have a decidedly Asian influence, Milk Bar serves up American treats, but in unique manifestations. I've been dying to visit ever since I started hearing more and more about it. Call it research, if you will. This time, we entered through a door next to the Chambers Hotel to discover Milk Bar up front, and Ma Peche in the back (you can see the amber light in the left of this photo).
Trying to contain myself, I quickly filled a paper bag with five different pre-packaged cookies: Corn, Compost, Cornflake-Chocolate chip-Marshmallow, Peanut Butter, and Blueberry Cream. At the counter, I asked for a taste of their Cereal Milk frozen yogurt, since I was curious about the flavor but was still full from lunch. Dan and I each had a little spoonful and were intrigued and surprised by the flavor. Up until then I hadn't really understood what was meant by "Cereal Milk" but after just this small taste, I got it. You know when you finish with your cereal, there's that little pool of sweet milk left at the bottom of the bowl? That's exactly what this tasted like. Although I was impressed with the uncanny similarity, Dan and I both agreed that it wasn't exactly appealing. It sort of felt like we were finishing off someone else's leftovers from breakfast.
To round out my loot, I also snapped up a slice of their famous Crack Pie (packaged in a neat little cardboard container) and a slice of Candy Bar pie. Happy as a little
Frankly, I could devote an entire post just to the products from Milk Bar, and maybe I will eventually, but for now, I'll give you the highlights.
Let's start with the Crack Pie.
From what I've heard (and from the ingredients), this was mostly just a lot of sugar. After taking a few bites, I could see where it gets its name though, as it was a bit addicting. Of course incredibly sweet, it still had layers of flavor and a nice, soft texture. The crust was nice and tender, not too crunchy against the very soft filling.
Next up, the Candy Bar Pie.
This pie was a layer of chocolate crust, gooey caramel, peanut butter nougat, and chocolate glaze, garnished with pretzels (although contrary to this (borrowed) picture, my slice only had one). With the gooey caramel and peanut nougat, this pie was certainly reminiscent of a candy bar, but was actually too sweet for my palette. I really loved the texture and flavor of the peanut nougat and the chocolate crust was also great, but the caramel was way too sweet and overpowering. Perhaps had there been more salty pretzels to add some dimension to the bites, I could have polished off the whole thing, but as it was, my pretzel was a bit soggy, and I ended up scraping off about half the caramel layer.
As for the cookies, I already told you about the chocolate one, so here's the cliff's notes about the other five, which all have the perfect soft, chewy texture and beautiful flat circular shape:
Compost Cookie: Delicious. There are coffee grounds in the mix which adds so much dimension to the cookie without being overwhelming. Like a true "trash" cookie, there are also ground pretzels and potato chips. It's sweet, chocolatey, and wonderful.
Corn Cookie: Like the best, sweetest corn muffin you've ever had, all packed into a neat little cookie.
Blueberry and Cream: This one was a little weird. It basically had the flavor of a blueberry muffin but the white chocolate that added the "cream" to the cookie was too sweet for me.
Cornflake-Chocolate Chip-Marshmallow: This one had the worst texture out of the bunch in that it was a little sticky and tough, sort of similar to toffee. I suspect the baked marshmallows are to blame. I was a little let down by this one since it sounds so unique and I was looking forward to some crunch from the cornflakes, but the flavor was still good.
Peanut Butter: There seemed to be little pockets of peanut butter throughout this cookie, although the peanut flavor was a little muted for my taste, and a little too sugary. It was also a little greasy, no doubt from the oil in the peanut butter.
So you want my verdict? Go to the Chambers hotel, but skip dinner (or lunch) and go straight to dessert. Momofuku Milk Bar's confections are so worth it.