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Review Recap: Má Pêche

Today, Sam Sifton drops the expected two-spot on David Chang’s midtown transplant, Má Pêche:

Má Pêche is the first Momofuku restaurant truly suitable for dining with those the Internet calls the olds. (Though like some of its forebears, it takes no reservations.) Eating there is a little like visiting your formerly bohemian artist friend, whom you haven’t seen since he signed with Deitch and bought a double loft in TriBeCa.

The restaurant opened slowly over the course of this spring, not serving dinner for months, gaining its footing, figuring itself out. Now there is even a pre-theater menu. . . .

The food is not quite as precise and magical as it often is in the downtown restaurants, but it is recognizably Changish and strong: big flavors tied together with herbs and acids.

This is a good recovery for a restaurant that stumbled out of the gate, and picked up some decidedly un-Changian mixed reviews. The staff at Eater.com HQ, who are more plugged into the Momoverse than the chef’s own mother, reported that over the last month or so, “Chang has personally been in the kitchen almost constantly with executive chef Tien Ho and that the little tweaks made to the menu have paid off.”

I wonder if Sifton was duped:

Service at the restaurant is of an extremely high standard masked by a casual mien, as is the norm in Mr. Chang’s shops. Cory Lane, who runs the service program for all of them, and Colin Alevras, the antic beverage director, who came to the restaurant from DBGB, patrol Má Pêche with grace and good humor, seeing around corners, anticipating needs. (What, you didn’t realize you wanted to drink some coriander-ish Leipziger beer with your steak and sausage?) Their staff members follow their leads.

Eater says that Sifton was recognized at least five times (I told you they’re plugged in). Maybe, just maybe, the average customer doesn’t get that level of service. I certainly didn’t. The chef who claims his service is more “democratic,” in fact separates his customers into the “somebodies” and the “nobodies,” just like everyone else in this business.

Sifton tweaks Chang’s nose for not serving dessert—a decision that, like the no-reservation policy, I believe is destined to be reversed. It made sense at the perpetually-packed Momofuku Ssäm Bar, where Chang wants to cycle people in and out of their bar stools as quickly as possible—service be damned. If the restaurant is seldom full (as seems to be the case here), they might as well allow guests to linger, and make a bit more revenue per check.

Sifton wonders whether Chang “was aiming for a place at the highest level of the mainstream,” rather than what Má Pêche is now: “a very good restaurant for a Midtown business lunch, a celebratory steak dinner or a drink and some snacks after work.” We’ll find out.

In our view, the main reason for Má Pêche’s faults is that David Chang is stubborn.

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