Chef David Chang is one bad momofuku. His taste in music isn’t half bad either.
Earlier this month, me, Mister M and four of our other foodie friends had the good fortune of eating at Ma Peche, one of Chang’s NYC restaurants located at The Chambers hotel in midtown Manhattan. Ma Peche, I had been told, is most the most formal of Chang’s concepts, but don’t be fooled by the restaurant’s austere décor. Once the communal tables fill up, it’s as comfortable as can be.
Besides high culinary standards, the outspoken chef also has a steadfast belief that a restaurant’s attitude is defined by its music. The eclectic music played at Ma Peche is from Chang’s personal iPod. Allman Brothers, Wu-Tang Clan, Luna. Van Halen, Tesla. Yes, Tesla. But somehow, in this environment, Tesla makes total sense.
Apparently, NO ONE touches Chang’s iPod.
Our party of six came ready to eat and early on, relinquished control to our server. We were raucous table, even by New York standards, but the kitchen loved that we were game for anything, and we were told that the menu was created for people to try a bit of this and that. (This is NOT to be confused with tired Tapas or “small plate” concepts.)
If pressed, the Ma Peche cuisine leans towards French-Vietnamese, but the food really can’t be pigeonholed.
We started with a seafood plateau with two types of oysters and a thai basil mignonette, fluke, squid salad with scallions, ginger and peanuts, and king crab with a calamansi mayo. It was some of the freshest seafood anyone at the table had ever tasted.
The consensus was that we wanted the crispy pig head—which was recommended by just about everyone we talked to about Ma Peche. Bracing ourselves for an outrageous presentation of an actual pig’s head, we were pleasantly surprised when the pig head packages arrived. The meat inside the crispy puck was moist and complimented by a tangy mustard. And, underneath was a tasty pile of stewed lentils. Another slam-dunk.
The remainder of the evening was a gluttonous parade of fried chicken salad, pork chops with peas, carrots and chili jam (seen above), black bass with plums, swordfish with smoked romaine, summer bean salad, and corn with scallions and togarashi, which is a peppery Japanese condiment.
The crack pie is a notorious option on all of Chang’s menus but the light and airy peas and strawberry dessert is what really tickled my fancy. Candied pea shoots, light pea mousse, macerated strawberries and sweetened “gelatinous” cream cheese amounted to one of the best things I’ve eaten in a long time. One of our dinner companions wouldn’t even try it, evidence I am convinced, of his closet manorexia.
Chang enjoys practically a demigod reputation in the New York restaurant scene. But it’s hard to slight a guy who appears to only tackle quality projects he’s passionate about and can commit to wholeheartedly. Look elsewhere for sellouts resting on the laurels of their celebrity chef status.
This attitude is further evidenced by Chang’s most recent collaboration, Lucky Peach. This magazine is published by another quality outfit, McSweeney’s, started by a genius of a different breed, writer Dave Eggers. (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is one of my ten books of all time, but I digress) Named for the English translation of Momofuku, the first ramen-themed issue weighs in at 174 pages – and nary an ad in sight. No fluff here, and there’s at least 40 pages devoted the subject as well as rants about mediocre American food.
Chang has paved the way for inventive new riffs on traditional Asian flavors. Edgy, cool and something that’s outside of the box, dinner at Ma Peche was just the kind of meal we were looking for in Manhattan.