Má Pêche is a departure for the Momofuku brand, not in the food so much as the address. To understand the magnitude of this change, one must first understand that the island of Manhattan as concieved of by native New Yorkers is actually a lot more like dozens of islets, and that the East Village, home to Chang's three other restaurants, might actually have more in common culturally with, say, the area in Cologne from which Can sprang than Midtown Manhattan. Midtown is home to restaurants like Red Lobster and the Olive Garden. Má Pêche is fewer than five blocks from the TGI Friday's on 53rd Street and 7th Avenue.
Some other interesting new developments at Má Pêche (sometimes called "Momofuku Midtown") with regard to Chang's other restaurants: the dining area is cavernous—it seats more than 100; the staff is huge, too—Chang nearly doubled his overall number of employees for this one place; and there are hints of Uptown stuffiness creeping into Momofuku's Downtown vibe: the waitstaff is all in uniform, and coffee and tea service is offered. (Not such a big deal, but neither the uniforms nor the tea service will ever, ever happen at Chang's properties below 14th Street.) But here we are, in Midtown, in a space large and high-ceilinged, with a name that translates to Mother Peach in the French-Vietnamese slang lingo known as "Tai Boi." The naming is clever and apt: this is the Momo' for your Mama.
Of course, once you sit down, things aren't so different from Chang's downtown spots. Blind Faith is playing on the PA ("Can't Find My Way Home," a particuarly good cut), and several of the cocktails are named after Sonic Youth tunes. The only object d'art on the wall is a huge painting of fearsome-looking ATV-ers in tribal masks. It's from Wes Anderson's "The Royal Tenenbaums," from that scene where Owen Wilson's character tells Richie Tenenbaum he's just taken some peyote, and he says this as he's sitting in front of the painting, staring at the camera, at us, along with the masked ATV riders.
At Má Pêche, we stare back for a while, and, at the server's suggestion, my dining buddy and I order oysters with a Thai basil mignonette, a frisée salad with tripe and poached egg and pork jowl croutons, pork ribs in lemongrass caramel, and a 12-ounce steak from Kansas. The seating is still mostly communal, so we are (almost) elbow to elbow with the epicurian luminaries in the house, and the food is still great, in the high-brow-meets-low-brow way that has made Chang famous. The steak comes with "fries" made entirely out of rice, and we try a plate of fried cauliflower in curry, mint, and fish sauce that is absolutely bonkers—reminiscent of the caramel popcorn that comes in large metal bins around Christmas, but this is light, slightly fluffy, and not too sweet. Chang is the junk food master for food junkies.