Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Ma Peche

The Minx wrote about Chef David Chang's Midtown Manhattan restaurant Ma Peche a few years ago, but the menu has changed since then to a dim sum-style format. Given the menu change and the fact that I had never been there, we decided to give it a try. The restaurant is located in the basement level of the Chambers Hotel. Amber light filters through walls covered in muslin, creating a quiet and serene atmosphere quite apart from the bustling world outside.The old communal tables have been replaced with conventional two- and four-top tables so the dim sum carts can be maneuvered around the room.

Like traditional dim sum, the diner is provided with a sheet listing all the small plate dishes that will be brought around on carts. When a cart comes by, the diner selects whatever items he or she wants, and the server marks it off on the sheet. Larger entree-style dishes can be ordered from your waiter. When the meal is over, the items marked on your sheet are added up and the bill is tallied. Unlike traditional dim sum, however, the selection  is smaller and more eclectic.

The first cart to arrive offered a broccoli salad with toasted pine nuts and a mayo-based togarashi dressing. A pleasant, light start to the meal.

Also on that same cart was an avocado crab dip with toasted Cassava crackers. Hey, it's creamy avocado and crunchy chips! How could you go wrong? The slightly spicy kick helps as well.

One item the Minx definitely wanted me to try was the pork bun, so we ordered two. Slabs of tender pork belly are wrapped in a pillowy steamed bun. The Minx said that these were less fatty than the ones she had eaten before, but that was just fine with me since I'm not a fan of fatty pork. At the same time, the lean pork did not have as much flavor as I would've liked.

One of the chef's specials that we ordered was the lamb noodles. The noodles and shredded lamb are topped with scallions, cabbage, chili jam, and a soft egg. Stir all the items together with your chop sticks and you have a thick, spicy, and thoroughly unctuous soup. The lamb flavor is prominent and the noodles are silky smooth. This was something I could have eaten as a meal by itself.

There was still more dim sum, however, and one must do what one must, so we also chose the fritters and jerk chicken wings. These were recommended by one of the attendants in the hotel lobby and they turned out to be solid choices. Surprisingly, neither dish was terribly spicy, so it's possible Chef Chang is toning down the heat factor for the Midtown crowd.

Since my eyes are always larger than my stomach, I decided to order the spicy rice cakes as well. This dish truly was spicy in the best possible meaning of the word. Crunchy shallot bits top a bed of soft rice cakes about the size of small gnocchi. Underneath is a pork ragu and water spinach.

Would I prefer this form of dim sum over the traditional dim sum found in a strip mall Chinese restaurant? Probably not. But for sheer inventiveness, Ma Peche is worth the experience. I can honestly say that I've never tasted anything like the lamb noodles or the spicy rice cakes, and I'm always quite happy when a restaurant can introduce me to a new taste experience.

Ma Peche on Urbanspoon

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