Please click here for Part I of A Very Momofuku Weekend.
Saturday, April 24, 2010: Ma Peche and Milk Bar
If you want to experience Momofuku but are allergic to people, might I suggest Ma Peche and the Midtown outpost of Milk Bar. There you’ll find some excellent food and, on the weekend at least, you’ll see tumbleweeds and you can hear pins drop. It’s Momofuku for agoraphobes.
Being the prompt (read: neurotic) individual that I am, I arrived for lunch at Ma Peche at 11:30 a.m. I expected lines but in reality I was the first guest. And when an old friend arrived shortly thereafter to meet me, we were promptly seated in the dining room. It was a bit lonely in there and it only filled up slightly by the time lunch had ended, but I’m getting ahead of myself. You didn’t come here for a headcount.
Two brief observations before I get to the food: (1) the bar is a great place for a liquid lunch; the seven spice sour (togarashi infused “momofuku” honzojo, yuzu, lime, simple syrup) lived up to its name for it was both spicy and sour; and (2) the Met and MOMA have nothing on Ma Peche; at Ma Peche you can see the greatest piece of artwork ever painted.
Unlike my adventures the prior evening at Ko, I didn’t get to sample a broad swath of dishes. In fact, showing a level of restraint that I don’t actually possess, I ordered just a single dish: the steak frites (12 oz ‘juliet’ steak, rice fries). This particular steak is sourced from Creekstone Farms, which I had begun to fetishize after reading this article in the New York Times just prior to my trip. I sought this beef out like it was the antidote.
And that steak was incredibly marbled. These cows died valiantly, they’re the real heroes.
In what may become a recurring theme (depending on what I write in part III about Momofuku Ssam Bar), I must mention that David Chang can do amazing things with rice. Sure, there’s that guy at Epcot who can write your name on a piece of it. That’s all well and good when you’re a child and the ride at Norway seems frightening. But the “rice fries” at Ma Peche, which are crisp on the outside and soft on the inside (if we’re splitting hairs, they remind me more of yuca fries than French fries) are noteworthy. Seriously, note it in your notebook.
And while nothing about this weekend was “vegetarian friendly,” I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention this: vegetarians, you are not welcome at Ma Peche. If you dare subject them to your presence, you will be greeted with a simple salad (it is such a depressing salad that they dare not even soil their menu with it) plus scorn and ridicule, in equal parts. My tablemate made the mistake of caring about the wellbeing of animals and his fate was sealed. I, on the other hand, care so much about animals that I want to eat every last one. I fared well and nearly achieved my goal.
My biggest regret in life: not trying more interesting dishes showcasing the Vietnamese flavors at Ma Peche. I left with the sense (much like I experienced at Ko) that I had just finished a “Contemporary American” meal. But don’t pity me. Redemption came in the form of pork buns and kimchi on day three.
At the front of Ma Peche lies Milk Bar. If Milk Bar laid at the foot of my apartment, I’d lay at the foot of my tombstone. So it’s best that it is a couple thousand miles from where I reside. In the name of science, I tried the soft serve (a swirl of Salted Pistachio Caramel and Cereal Milk), along with a slice of the Crack Pie. The Salted Pistachio Caramel exhibited each of those three flavors in a pronounced way. Pastry chefs long ago discovered that salt amplified the satisfaction and taste of chocolate (this was sometime after the molten cake era). But to integrate that saltiness into ice cream, I had only experienced that from the buttered popcorn ice cream at Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink (courtesy of pastry chef Hedy Goldsmith).
Like actual cereal milk, the Cereal Milk got lost in the dish, its flavor masked by the Salted Pistachio Caramel.
Finally, the crack pie. It’s been a week and a half since I had a slice of crack pie. I’m itching a lot, my mouth is dry. I sold all my belongings and a TV crew from A&E is following my every move. There are stiff federal sentencing guidelines for this sort of stuff but it’s worth it. The crack pie is incredibly good. Broken down to its component parts, crack pie is a toasted oat crust with a “gooey butter filling.” Put together, it destroys neighborhoods and leads you to a life of crime. It’s reminiscent of a stick of butter on a graham cracker, and I mean that as a compliment.
As you’ll see in Part III of this adventure, my afternoon in Midtown was a different experience than I’d subsequently have in the East Village, not only in the folks you see on the street (more suit and tie, less leather suit and cat of nine tails) but also in the way I experienced Chang’s cooking. Stay tuned.