Every time I visit New York City, I try to squeeze in a meal at a cutting-edge Vietnamese restaurant. It brings me great pleasure to experience the cuisine I grew up on in fresh and innovative ways, even if it means dropping more change than usual.
On our previous visit to the city, The Astronomer and I lunched on the most delectable banh mi at Chef Angelo Sosa’s Xie Xie. We were hoping to experience the same kind of Midtown magic at Má Pêche, the latest restaurant in Chef David Chang’s Momofuku empire.
Opened in 2010, Má Pêche is located in the basement of the Chambers Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. The windowless room is minimally appointed and feels something like a sterile cave. Here, Tien Ho, the former chef at Momofuku Ssäm Bar, dishes up his brand of French-Vietnamese cooking.
While I wanted to try the restaurant’s upscale rendition of bo bay mon (beef seven ways), which is priced at $450 for parties of four to eight, my dining companions weren’t up for throwing down a Benjamin for the experience. So, we came here for lunch instead.
Every table was outfitted with menus, napkins, chopsticks, a squeeze bottle filled with Sriracha, and Maggi seasoning sauce. If you haven’t experienced the umami bomb that is Maggi, you must get your hands on a bottle. It tastes like a dream atop sunny side up eggs.
It was admittedly excessive to order three appetizers to share between four people at lunchtime, but the offerings sounded too enticing to pass up. The Niman Ranch beef tartare ($16) with soy sauce, scallions, and fresh mint came topped with blanched bean sprouts and with shrimp chips on the side.
The meat was tender and excellently seasoned. The crunchy shrimp chips successfully delivered the goods from plate to mouth without distracting from the protein.
The Long Island fluke ($15) with tangerine, avocado, and puffed black rice was hardly Vietnamese, but that didn’t hinder our enjoyment. The tangy marinade complimented the fish, fruit, herbs, and vegetables just right.
The potatoes ($12) with basil, fish sauce, and chili aioli were all sorts of awesome. There were crunchy shoe string fries interspersed with the roasted spuds, creating a textural interplay that I totally dug. All three starters were fabulous, so we were stoked for our mains to arrive.
Everyone in our party ordered banh mi. My classic “banh mi maison” ($10), which came stuffed with three terrines and the usual fixings, was easily the best of the bunch. However, considering the superior ingredients that went into the sandwich and the pedigree inside the kitchen, I expected the product to be heads and shoulders above an average banh mi. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.
The stiff and overly crisp bread assaulted my gums, while the filling lacked any pow. I’d take my usual banh mi dat biet from Bánh Mì & Chè Cali over this sandwich any day of the week.
My mama’s “braised beef hero” ($10) with crab mayo, green papaya, and bone marrow sounded like a winner on paper, but it ended up falling flat. I’m not sure how it was possible, but the ingredients were completely void of any real flavor, resulting in a dry, boring, and tasteless sandwich. I couldn’t believe it at first and kept taking extra bites to be sure, but my first inclination was correct—the braised beef hero was a zero.
The duds kept coming this afternoon. The Astronomer’s “lamb banh mi” ($12) with eggplant, pickled cranberries, and jalapeno was another heart breaker. I was once again left wondering how such promising ingredients could result in such a lame mess. Sigh.
Things started off great at “mother peach” with the trio of winning appetizers. Unfortunately, the momentum couldn’t be sustained, and all of the sandwiches crashed, burned, and disappointed. I expected more, much more, from the Momofuku empire.
Following lunch, we walked to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to scope out the Alexander McQueen exhibit.
We also spent some time on the rooftop taking in the view. I find cityscapes to be the pinnacle of romance.
I also visited one of my all-time favorite paintings, Monet’s “Haystacks.” Sometime in college, my friend Tara remarked that the haystacks resembled muffins. I wasn’t sure that I agreed at the time, but these days, I see it so clearly.
15 West 56th Street
New York, NY 10019