After only two months, David Chang's Ma Peche has proven itself something of a downtowner's oasis amid high-end power lunch spots and shitshow tourist traps that dominate the midtown dining scene. Tien Ho's French-Vietnamese menu and large format offering, Beef 7 Ways, along with his lower priced bar menu have enticed some surprising below-14th-street crowds to its midtown quarters, and its takeout menu has changed the game for the bored midtown lunch masses. So how are the Ssam-alum front-of-house staff handling the debut? We sat down with Momo Service Director/Ma Peche Manager Cory Lane, Maitre 'D Colby Lehman, and Sommelier-at-Large Christina Turley to find out, and of course, get the lowdown on landing a table.
How does front-of-the-house here differ from other places you may have worked? Any unique challenges? Colby: A lot of stairs! We have three floors. It’s a great space. We have the mezzanine, the bar area, the downstairs, and the Milk Bar. Cory: This is the first Momofuku restaurant where you’re not able to see the entire room from one spot. Christina: The stairs. You can have a completely different feel from the bar versus the dining room.
How many seats? Colby: Dining room is set up for 86. We can fit probably at least 20 more in there. Bar is roughly 30 with lots of standing room. Upstairs in the mezz: 40. Do you find you're busier for lunch or dinner?
Cory: Right now, because we’re so new still it’s really tough to gauge anything right now. I try to guess or figure out what’s going to happen for the day and usually we’re on 90 percent of the time. But then if we think it’s going to be slow, it’s busy and vice versa. For the last week it’s been kind of even.
It's 8 PM Saturday night, what is my wait like?: Cory: Fridays and Saturdays right now are not as crazy as weeknights. Really it's Tuesday through Thursday have felt busier at night anyway but again it’s kind of too early to tell. Last night we had a 20-25 min wait but I have a feeling it’s going to get a bit longer. I doubt we’ll ever have those hellacious 2-hour waits we have downtown because we have so much more space. You can hang out all over the restaurant.
Have a lot of downtown customers made the trek up here? Cory: Absolutely. We’re really fortunate to have a really good base of regulars and folks have been really supportive. If feels really good when they come up. Makes it feel like a Momofuku restaurant when you see these faces that you’ve known for years, on a first name basis. But it’s also really nice because we’re starting to see a new set of regulars. Folks who can't make it downtown and now it’s more accessible. Christina: I see a lot of people from Ko that I haven’t seen in the other restaurants. For some of them it's a much easier spot for them to get to. So that’s fun.
Do you get a power lunch crowd? Christina: More like the younger professionals who if they could go downtown they would, but they work in midtown. It's a good spot, a happy medium sort of. Do you feel like most of your diners are informed before they walk in or are you getting a lot more tourists/randoms?
Cory: A lot of them are. There’s so much information out there. It’s really easy to get a good mental picture of what’s going on in this space. But again we do have a lot of people that are new to us. Hotel guests, tourists, out-of-towners, etc. It's fun because we get an opportunity to lay out what we’re trying to do.
What are the major differences in the wine program from Ssam? Christina: As far as the wine program goes, we’re trying to keep it really small in keeping with Tien’s menu which is really focused and sort of this bistro concept where it’s small but it’s constantly changing. Each wine list is only one page each for white, red, and sparkling. When it’s done it’s done, we switch it out. I also tried to not cater to what I felt like a midtown wine list would looks like because it just doesn’t go with our food. The price point I think is relatively low as well. I wanted to see more wine on more tables rather than just one table with a $700 bottle. We also have a real legitimate bar for the first time and a lot of non-alcoholic beverages. Those are all Colin’s creations.
Has anyone tried to slip you a bribe or name drop at the door to get a table? Christina: I’ve never seen anyone straight up try to slip us money. But some of them do say such weirdo things. Colby: Nothing out of the ordinary that you don’t get at any other restaurant. Cory: This happens at the other restaurants too, but the biggest complaint that I see is people don’t understand why we don’t seat incomplete parties and because we don’t take reservations it’s just something that we have to do to keep it fair. It’s been a little more casual and laid back than I expected though. Christina: Since we have so much space, we haven’t had the same issues that we have downtown. People are happier.
So, bigger space, less stress? Christina: It creates its own challenges. Colby: People that went to Town come in and they’re like where’s the bar? It’s also funny when people come in and they’re like: "you guys finally reopened!"
What is your most outrageous request thusfar? Cory: I had a guy ask me to watch his car the other day while he ran in to grab something from Milk Bar. Lately I've noticed a lot of diners asking staff to charge their iPhones, etc. Do you get that?. Colby: Yeah! Some guy had an iPhone charger that had four things to plug into it. There was a huge white contraption. They literally plugged up five iPhones and were charging them. Christina: I think someone asked to charge their camera. I still have this reaction when I see a flash go off, because of Ko. I'm like: "No No!" but then I realize, oh...it’s fine here.
Have you ever had a request you could not accommodate?: Cory: We’re able to usually make it work as far as seating and stuff goes. Colby somehow manages to work magic and makes some unthinkable things happen down there so we haven’t run into that many issues. You still get folks asking for things that we don’t have or have no way of getting. A lot of people really want to do dessert in the dining room and since we’ve really been focusing on this cheese program, we’re not able to accommodate that request.
Do you feel the no reservations policy (with the exception of Beef 7 Ways) is helpful to diners? Cory: It’s always worked for us in the past and obviously being in this new situation with new clientele I’m sure it will create more unique situations down the road, but so far it’s been working out alright. I guess that was our comfort zone.
Do you feel that Momofuku's online system (Ko/Beef 7 Ways resys, takeout) has helped drive business? Christina: I think it helps and it hinders. It’s very democratic and clear-cut but sometimes people want human interaction because they want to ask questions.
Any Favorite customers? Celebrities? Industry folks? Cory: I like when the cooks come in. We love it when a table full of nine cooks come in after a shift and also seeing the downtown customers come to midtown. We’ve been fortunate to have really great support from front-of-the house, chefs, managers, sommeliers, and the wine industry as well. We love seeing those people in the restaurant.
When VIP people come in and you don’t have a table, is there a scramble to accommodate them? Cory: Not usually. They can hang out at the bar and have a drink. Colby’s usually able to work it out. Colby: They’re treated just like any other guest. You can have a drink, app at the bar.
Any diner pet peeves? Cory: I always find it funny when people try to order while they’re talking on the phone. It's like: “yeah yeah hold on a second?let me get two orders of ribs.”
Which dining trends do you love/hate? Cory: I love how excited people get over the large format dinners, the Bo Ssam, the Beef 7 Ways. It’s cool to see that people are into it. We get people that come in for the Beef 7 Ways because they’re had the other two. It's cool that it's become normal to go out and buy a whole animal with ten friends and sit down and eat.
What is the one Gatekeeper tool you feel you need to do your job? Cory: I need these guys! Christina: Optimism. Colby: Having an open mind and being ready for whatever comes through that door. It’s always a new and exciting adventure every single day since we don’t take reservations. Oh, and having cool sneakers and being ready to run! (Points to his shiny metallic sneakers) Cory: I don’t know about cool. Can you wear those during service? Cory: I tried the suit thing then went back to jeans and t shirt. Colby: That’s the great part of all of our restaurants: letting our employees show who they are. Christina: That’s one of my favorite things. When I go out to eat I like to get a sense of people and their character and hear it in their words. It puts you at ease and people are so surprised and happy to see us wearing jeans and sneakers. It’s unexpected. Reminds you that the whole point of going out to eat is to relax and be comfortable.
Cory: It's all about the food at the end of the day. Christina: Luckily people haven’t gotten too comfortable and started taking off their shoes and whatnot!
When you aren’t here, where do you like to eat/hang out? Christina: Terroir. Cory: I had an awesome meal at Torrisi. I try to go to 15 East as often as I can afford it. I love Resto as well. Colby: I don’t eat out that much. I BBQ at home. It’s summertime and I have a great backyard.
So anyone want to take credit for the post-Beard keg stands? Colby: Me! I was the ringleader for flip cup and the keg stands. That was me and Miguel.