Má Pêche Midtown 8 October 2010
eat: Beef Seven Ways
sip: Bayerischer-Bahnof Leipziger Gose
This is Sammy. He is holding a rib which glistens with crispy fat and tender meat. This isn't just any rib, nor is it the only meat he will devour tonight. He is midway through the gluttonous feast, aptly titled Boeuf Sept Façons, offered at Má Pêche, David Chang's French-Vietnamese restaurant. Last week, I was graciously invited by my fellow foodie friend, Jeff (who is Sammy's dad), to celebrate my birthday - and our shared carnivorous worship - along with his girlfriend, daughter and her friend.
Má Pêche is the first restaurant in Chang's empire located away from the East Village. In spite of it's Midtown location, it still bustles with the same downtown energy as his other restaurants, albeit in a brighter, slightly more upscale environment. I tend to prefer beer to wine when dining on Asian cuisine, so I order a Bayerischer-Bahnof Leipziger Gose, a citrusy, herbal wheat beer that is refreshingly bubbly - almost champagne-like - and yeasty. Gose beers are brewed with the non-traditional addition of coriander and salt, so I find it to be a tasty meal-accompanying brew, but some non-salt addicts may find the saltiness overbearing.
After reading the Beef Seven Ways Menu, which honors the meat's provenance by listing the farms where the beef is sourced, we decide to order a salad to supplement the veggies in our meal. The Heirloom Tomato Salad (Eckerton Hill Farm, PA) features last-of-the-season tomatoes and watermelon rind with an Asian influence of basil and yuba, dried beancurd. It's a bright palate-cleanser that is the perfect start to the sumptuous meal.
Tongue (Creekstone, KS). Admittedly, even I, the adventurous meat-lover, find that the idea of eating tongue makes my stomach queasy; consequently, my previous experience with tongue was limited to lingua tacos, which were smothered with spicy salsa that disguised the meat. However, this dish has made me a new fan of tongue. In fact, the entire table was all surprised and impressed with the tasty tongue, who's heft and texture I would liken most to Jewish deli meat. Served with a mountain of spinach and whole basil leaves, crunchy peanuts, and a plum vinaigrette, this savory salad is an encouraging omen for what's to come.
Wagyu (Imperial Beef, NE) America's version of Kobe, the exquisitely-marbled, high-quality Japanese beef, is seared slightly and served with radishes, scallions, ginger, and cilantro. This uncomplicated presentation highlights this magnificent meat; like fatty tuna, the Wagyu's richness is heightened when barely cooked.
Cote de Boeuf (4 Story Hill Farm, PA) and Sausage (Niman Ranch & Imperial Beef). Next, a mouthwatering platter of meat arrives with succulent, bone-in rib-eye (featuring the aforementioned rib), roast garlic, and amazing, house-made sausage that bursts with flavors of Thai lemongrass, basil, and shallot. A tray of accoutrements - pickled veggies, chili paste, fried garlic, homemade hoisin and fish sauce, bunches of fresh cilantro & basil - plus a head of butter lettuce accompany the meat. This is when the meal truly evolves into a festive, family-style feast - we are laughing , sharing our favorite flavor combos, eating enthusiastically with our hands, and licking our fingers as if we're at home rather than in a public place.
Oxtail and Shank (Pineland Farm, ME) The piece de resistance is the Flintstone-size beef shank that has been braised all day with crab paste and chili and arrives smothered in onions. The shank is so tender that no knife is required - a set of tongs is all you need to pull the succulent meat off the bone. Nestled next to the shank are plump oxtails packed with flavor from soy, sherry and apple juice. If you have always been hesitant to try oxtail, I urge you to taste these, which are, like the rest of the meat, outstanding. When we finally wave the white flag of food surrender, Jeff asks to take the mammoth shank bone for his homemade ragù. Turns out this is a common request - though the waiter warns us of stuffing the greasy bone in a purse (!) which has been the regrettably inane choice for previous diners.
Consommé (Pineland Farm, ME) The meal concludes with a delicate, short rib consommé brightened by the traditionally Vietnamese melange of cilantro, lime and basil. Although we are all stuffed like sausages at this seventh and final course, this simple soup is surprisingly, stomach-soothing. As I sip the savory broth, I'm reminded of the Bull Shots (Bloody Marys made with Beef Broth instead of Tomato Juice) I served as a hangover cure in my bartending days. Like that restorative cocktail, this consomme relieves our bursting bellies.
No dessert is offered for the meal, nor at the restaurant a la carte - though a massive wheel of stinky Epoisses is available if you're craving a non-meat finale. However, you can get your sweets fix upstairs at Milk Bar, Chang's decadent, dessert wonderland. There, the desserts are so damn delicious, that we ignored our full tummies and ordered their trademarked Cereal Milk Ice Cream and Birthday Cake Truffles (think Funfetti cake donut holes). Unfortunately, no photos were taken since we were busy gobbling up the goodies, but take my word for it, there's a reason that Milk Bar has a cult following.
All in all, Boeuf Sept Façons is one of the most memorable meals I have ever had. Singularly, each dish is a bovine masterpiece; together, they are beefy bacchanal that needs to be put on everyone's bucket list. Indeed, the $85 price tag may seem high for a Vietnamese, family-style meal, but how many tasting menus involve finger-licking, chin-dripping, mouth-watering wow?