Má Pêche — at times the most experimental restaurant in David Chang’s empire and at times the chef’s most sleepy and mainstream venue — is closing this summer after eight years in Midtown.
It’s the second time Chang is closing a restaurant in the nearly 15 years since he opened Momofuku Noodle Bar in a tiny East Village space and transformed into a globetrotting culinary superstar, with a Netflix show, a fried chicken sandwich chain, and a cross-platform entertainment company. The first to close was Ando, a delivery-only restaurant turned into a fast-casual spot that shuttered suddenly just this past January. Though Chang was adamant about Ando being just like any other Momofuku restaurant, it never reached the status of the others in the group; Má Pêche marks the first time one of Chang’s full-service locations is closing completely.
Momofuku reached an agreement with the Chambers Hotel, where the venue is located at 15 West 56th St. between 5th and 6th avenues, to close a year early. Fuku+ — the souped up version of the fried chicken chain that’s located in the bar area — will shutter as well, though Milk Bar, the sugary cookie chain that Momofuku runs with Christina Tosi, will remain at the hotel. The final day for Má Pêche and Fuku+ will be June 13th.
A spokeswoman for Momofuku declined to comment further on reasons for the closure, citing a confidentiality agreement with the hotel. But in 2016, Chang tweeted that the additional security around Trump tower was “killing restaurant foot traffic” on 56th street.
Its closure is aimed to coincide with the opening of a Midtown Noodle Bar. That venue will be located on the Time Warner Center’s third floor — historically a tough space for restaurants. Cafe Gray and A Voce have both shuttered there in years past. Momofuku will open another Midtown establishment in 2019, at the Hudson Hards development on the far West Side.
The group is working to assist Má Pêche’s 75 employees to find work elsewhere in the company. “Retaining our staff is our top priority,” the restaurant group says in a statement. The Time Warner Center restaurant will require more than 100 workers.
Má Pêche was Chang’s first Midtown venue — and first restaurant to employ the radical concept of chairs with backs. The restaurant first rose to fame under its debut chef Tien Ho, who in 2009 opened the space as a French-Vietnamese-tinged meatery. The highlight was a six-course tasting of beef that Times critic Sam Sifton called “deeply satisfying and utterly over the top...in a different economy, finishing it all would get you the dinner free, or at least a commemorative T-shirt.”
Chef Paul Carmichael took over in 2011, introducing more classic American offerings, dabbling with a kappo-style chef’s counter tasting, serving upon request $450 haute halal cart feasts, and eventually switching to a thrilling dim sum menu of globally-minded passed plates. This critic, in a 2014 writeup, argued that passed plates were “as good as or better than what Momofuku’s more popular Ssäm Bar has been putting out.”
Carmichael left in 2015 to take over Seibo, Momofuku’s Sydney outpost, and the dim sum menu was eventually phased out. Jorge Olarte, the restaurant’s final chef de cuisine, will leave Momofuku when Má Pêche closes and return to Florida.
To some, Má Pêche’s longtime piece de resistance was the Miguel Calderon’s painting depicting a group of shirtless ATV drivers in masks, which used to hang in the main dining room. Titled Bad Route, and made famous by Wes Anderson’s cult classic The Royal Tenenbaums (the scene where Owen Wilson’s character professed to be high on mescaline), the painting was transferred to Chang’s CCDC restaurant in D.C. in 2015.
To others, the draw of a meal at Má Pêche was Carmichael’s incendiary, habanero chicken, without question one of the city’s best fried birds. It remains on the menu and will stay there until closing. Má Pêche will also bring back other dishes from the restaurant’s “archives” over the next two months.
Still, though the restaurant had highlights over the years, Má Pêche — while rarely empty on this critic’s visits — has long struggled to find as avid a following as Ssäm Bar or the original Noodle Bar, both of which can still command serious waits over a decade into their existence. The New York dining scene may still be living in the era of Chang, but the struggles of Má Pêche serve as further proof that the age of the cool Midtown hotel restaurant remains a thing of the past.