So, finding myself recently unemployed and unable to get too excited by more of the same over at the new Shake Shack Midtown, I ended up getting pretty darn excited when I found at that David Chang's "midtown Momofuku" Ma Peche had a lunch special that would cost me only 10 bucks and even came with a diet coke! Chow-ish, I thought. And while I am an occasional fan of Chang but not an enthusiast (I liked Ko and Milk Bar but go to neither frequently), I had had pretty good experiences with low-end fare from high-end restaurants (prix-fixe lunches, Tabla Cart, The Burger Joint-- i know, debatable). So, I had pretty high expectations going into Thursday... which were immediately dashed when I found out that the Midtown Lunch special was "reservation only" and that I had to have placed my order by 11. When I ended up placing my order Friday morning, none of the sandwiches were sold out and I went for the "Bahn Mi Au Poulet", which described itself as "lemongrass, lettuce, mint." I even got excited by my Diet Coke coming with.
So, I woke up Friday morning. Made the most of my fun-employment, getting up around 11 and grabbed the train uptown. When I reached the swanky Chambers Hotel, I was pleased to see that the Ma Peche people were dressed casually like me and they directed me over to the Mini Momofuku Milk Bar they had in the front of their restaurant. There, my order was waiting for me, hanging in a bag behind the counter with my name checked off on a list. I was surprised that there weren't more bags hanging there, but I was psyched. I got semi-permission from the restaurant officials to eat in the Chambers hotel lobby (Me- "Think that would piss them off if I went and ate in the lobby?" Them- "Uh, what?") and sat down to take a bite of what was to be my sandwich.
Well, I'm sorry. That was a knee-jerk reaction.
Let me elaborate:
It was not the best chicken bahn-mi I've had in New York City.
In fact, it was nowhere near as good.
Now, the bahn mi I like best from NYC are the ones from the Baoguette chain and Nicky's Vietnamese (I feel like Saigon Bahn Mi uses too much mayo). Both of these places use dark meat chicken, off the bone, along with some good vegetables (daikon and/or cucumber is usually involved) along with liberal helpings of Sriracha sauce, the stuff of the gods that makes a Bahn Mi work (for me at least), as well as some cilantro for flavor. They're both around 4-5 dollars for a big ol' Sammy.
By contrast, the Bahn Mi I got from Ma Peche seemed to be a processes (in-house?) chicken patty, comprised of reconstituted chicken. There was indeed, lemongrass and a profusion of lettuce, though I didn't notice any mint, some carrots, and... not much else. It was just a big bland patty and some roughage.
The Diet Coke was good.
But the sandwich was bland and edible, like the sort of "bahn mi" one might get in an airport, if an airport sold such things. It was patently not offensive, which almost felt worse than it tasting bad to me. By not adding sriracha or mayo or any sort of seasoning, or using fresh or sauced meat, they seemed to be pandering almost telling me "this is how people in Midtown like their food."
Now I can understand philosophically the idea of the "composite" chicken I ate in the sandwich. I know a Bahn Mi traditionally includes pork roll, a similarly processed product. But chicken is not pork and does not have the same flavors. Nor did my sandwich have the pate to give depth to the processed meat, that is traditionally on a bahn mi. It was an "homage" of sorts, I suppose (much in the same tongue-in-cheek, ironic/nostalgic fashion as many of Milk Bar's items, like a Grasshopper pie), but it just, well, it didn't taste good. It wasn;t interesting.
Both Baougette and Nicky's use dark meat chicken (Baoguette "BBQs" it apparently too) in order to get more flavor out of a traditionally less flavorful meat. Here, I felt like got more a symbol than a sandwich and suffered for it.
On the bright side, I got a chocolate-chocolate cookie on my way out that was not full of snark, but only chocolate and enjoyed that in delicious fashion.
But it's a sad day when you wish you could click an "undo" button on your lunch, and the Ma Peche special did not deserve any sort of time to pre-order. I wouldn't have even waited in a Shake Shack-style line.
Chang should get on this as it's summer time and if the other big-dogs can offer a decent lunch special, so should he, arguable the biggest dog, be able to too.
118 W 57th St, New York, NY 10019
Madison Ave and E 23rd St, New York, NY 10010
15 W 56th St, New York, NY 10019
Momofuku Milk Bar
15 W 56th St, New York, NY 10019