Desserts Dinner Party Fusion Index Meats Poultry Soups Vegetarian Vietnamese

Mother Peach

[one_half][L]ost in my incessant praise for David Chang has been a quiet appreciation for the deft hand of Tien Ho, former chef de cuisine at Ssäm Bar. Erin and I recently traveled to New York together for the first time in years, ostensibly to celebrate our seventh wedding anniversary. That we might also sample as much food as humanly possible from the Momofuku empire was, of course, a serendipitous byproduct. Giddy as we were about sampling the litany of dishes that brought fame to The House That Chang Built, the highlight of our tour emerged from a place we least expected: an understated lunch at Má Pêche, where Ho is currently chef and co-owner.

A tidy summer roll mating grilled pork cake with a narrow breadstick sported measured contrasts in temperature and crunch, an interplay we’d come to expect from Ho’s Ssäm Bar lineage. The prix fixe also starred an exceptional cold-smoked chicken, striking our palates with richness and stealthy precision. Our meal was punctuated by miniature bricks of cereal milk panna cotta and Chang’s version of culinary crack. An elegant meal with simple flavors and a keen eye to balancing sweet, bitter and tart.

Is Má Pêche the best restaurant in Midtown? Probably, no. But the 60 minutes we spent there were, for us, unthinkable luxury. There we were, in this city we knew like a college roommate, our daughter in capable, loving, 3000-miles-away hands. A quiet meal in the middle of a workweek that wasn’t, with no appointments to keep and no place in particular to be. It was the briefest taste of a life we’d had, one that we’ve mourned losing, while acknowledging the bleary-eyed exhilaration that comes with having lost it.

So when tasked to create a “Luxury Dinner Party” menu, I devised a home cook’s tribute to Tien Ho, inviting dear friends (and Mission Bay It Couple) Caleb and Akua. This is what we ate.

* * * * *

This course is perhaps more Noodle Bar than Má Pêche, and was inspired in large part by a wonderful post by Kelly at The Meaning of Pie. I’ve always adored fried pickles, and was struck by the use of panko to enhance the difference between the dry and wet varieties of crunch. My contribution to this dish was the replacement of kosher dill pickles with an assortment of Asian pickles—something I’ve been curious about, but have never seen done. I used thinly sliced takuan and two different types of kimchi: baechu (napa cabbage) and oi sobagi (stuffed kirby cukes). I also used pickled shiitake mushrooms, made with a recipe from Momofuku.

To more easily appreciate the effects of deep-frying, I also plated raw versions of these pickles. I served two dipping sauces: a “ghetto salad dressing” (mayo mixed with a splash of soy sauce) and a “ghetto rouille” (mayo mixed with a squirt of sriracha). My mayonnaise of choice was Japanese kewpie.

Notes I would definitely make this again. The deep-frying mellows out the heat and raw garlic of the kimchi, as well as the saltiness of the pickled shiitakes. A high-sided, cast iron saucepan is a convenient and economical tool for deep frying small portions of food while minimizing splash. Lead time here is minimal. The pickled shiitakes are optimal if made a week in advance, but perfectly delicious when eaten immediately.

Wine opened Franck Bonville “Brut Selection” Blanc de Blancs Champagne. For the early portion of this menu, I was looking for a beverage with crispness and acid to cut the oil from the deep-fried dish and the rich terrines that would follow. A sparkling wine made sense to me, and this Champagne was an economical and well-received choice.

Music cued Human Amusements at Hourly Rates, Guided by Voices.

* * * * *


A bánh mì sandwich was the anchor point for my menu. For starving graduate students such as myself, the $2.50 bánh mì is a dietary staple and gustatory wonder. Classically, it consists of an airy baguette made with both rice and wheat flour, toasted, spread with mayonnaise and topped with pickled carrots, cilantro, sliced jalapeno, and (typically) a mix of terrines. As was the case with my bo ssäm post, I was compelled to make this dish after reading asian jewish deli’s assessment of it. Like Phong, I was completely taken with the pickled daikon radish. I had always thought of daikon as the boring, bland stepsister of the Korean mu radish. But cured with Momofuku’s vinegar pickle master brine, it brightens inordinately, revealing an astonishing amount of fragrance and verve.

It’s always a risky choice to mess with perfection, but I felt that taking some minor liberties with Tien Ho’s masterful interpretation of this sandwich (from Momofuku) was necessary to incorporate it into a five course meal. My key modification was to to make this sandwich a miniature triple-decker, using pan-grilled toast made from a loaf of sour batard from Acme. I also added some parma prosciutto, crisped in an oiled skillet, to mimic the bacon element of a more traditional club sandwich.

A note on portion size Even a small sandwich (as pictured here) is tremendously filling, particularly in the context of a multicourse meal. I presented it this way to accommodate the notorious appetite of a 6’4″, 205 lb, basketball-playing scientist. For mortals, I recommend a single tower, using toast points roughly 2″ square.

Preparation As is the case with the pickled shiitakes, both the daikon and carrot pickles benefit from a week of curing. In a pinch, however, overnight is better than nothing. The sandwich contains both a chicken liver terrine and ham terrine, which need to be made at least a day in advance. I advise also taking into account the amount of time it takes to locate 4 lbs of fresh ham. In San Francisco, it’s not so difficult. Often only available during the holidays elsewhere. Terrines and pickle recipes can also be found in Momofuku.

* * * * *


My favorite course of the evening served three purposes. First, as a nominal salutation to Má Pêche (“mother peach”) and Momofuku (“lucky peach”). Second, to bid a fond farewell to this year’s peach season, which was extraordinary. And functionally, I wanted to give my guests a breather from the assaulting richness of the surrounding courses. I managed to scavenge the last gasp of peaches last week from the Kashiwase Farms fruit stand, home to the most remarkable stone fruit ever to have crossed my jaded taste buds. I got about a dozen, cherry-picking the best 3 for my soup. This dish was cribbed directly from Daniel Humm’s Go-To-Dish segment on Chow’s fantastic new series. Humm’s soup is predictably stunning.

Notes Child’s play to execute, but really demands exceptional peaches. If your peaches are crunchy, mealy, or odorless, don’t try it.

Wine opened 2007 Vigneau-Chevreau “Cuvée Silex” Vouvray Sec. This dry chenin blanc was originally selected to pair with the next dish. The lady being dry, and the Vouvray being a rather promiscuous partner, we opened it. It worked surprisingly well with the creaminess of this soup.

Music cued Quarantine the Past, Pavement.

* * * * *


I would have loved to replicate that smoked chicken I had at Má Pêche, but adding a cold-smoking step to my prep list was just not in the cards this time. I did feel that, given careful management of portion size in this menu, chicken was the correct protein for this course. Not excessively heavy, and in no danger of disappearing among its counterparts. I was looking for something simple and bold, and looked no further than this traditional Vietnamese roast chicken. Like The Ravenous Couple, I opted for cornish hens, a longtime favorite of Erin’s. I served halves of the cornish hen, seared off in a cast-iron skillet and drizzled with a pan gravy described as Dipping Sauce in the referenced post.

I did choose to serve this with tomato rice, forgoing the fried egg and adding a liberal punch of ground sumac, a tip I picked up from fellow blogger Jean at Lemons and Anchovies. The sumac provides acid, aroma and texture to the rice, and takes the dish very slightly to the left of faithful. I hesitated to include the rice, thinking that adding a starch might be  bit much for an already loaded menu. However, this is definitely one of those cases where it’s better to cut portions than courses. The tomato rice was an unqualified hit, devoured by Caleb and reminiscent of jollof rice from Akua’s native Ghana.

Notes The halved birds can be cooked in advance and held at room temperature until the final sear. In the interest of accuracy, I used a mixture of white and black pepper in the marinade, as the recipe specified. I’ve since concluded that I dislike white pepper, whose aroma tends to unpleasantly dominate anything I have seasoned with it. I am apparently not alone in this opinion. I recommend sticking with black pepper (preferably tellicherry). I used the same master brine from Course 2 to make the pickled beets that I’ve shown on the plate. In retrospect, the beets look exactly like takuan, and I may opt for a different color next time.

Music cued High Violet, The National.

* * * * *


To finish, I wanted something both refreshing and fragrant, and had in mind a sorbet or granita made with lemongrass. I adapted this recipe from Epicurious.

3 stalks fresh lemongrass, outer leaves discarded and root ends trimmed
3 C water
1/2 C fresh mint leaves, washed well and spun dry
1/2 C sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
juice from 1 lime

Trim lemongrass stalks of tougher, dried portions and thinly slice. Simmer sliced lemongrass in water, covered, for 5 minutes. Add mint and simmer, uncovered, for about a minute. Remove  from heat and add sugar, salt and lime, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Purée mixture and strain through a chinois, discarding solids. Correct for salt and lime. Chill the filtrate, covered, until cold (this can be done quickly by immersing your mixing bowl in icewater) and freeze in an ice-cream maker.

Notes This dish can be served immediately as a sorbet. If held in the freezer, its texture will become more crystalline, allowing it to be served in the form of a granita. Garnish with a mint or basil leaf, if desired. The aromatic components of this dish are volatile, so it is best consumed within 1 – 2 days.

* * * * *

As if on cue, Esme arrived from a classmate’s birthday party shortly after we finished dessert. Our luxurious dinner came to a close, and we stood, rapt, as our daughter regaled us with tales of princess outfits, bouncy houses, and cake.



62 replies on “Mother Peach”

Wow! Fried pickles and champagne!? Are you trying to make me abandon my weighty responsibilities and get on a plane right now to see you kids or what??? Beautiful story, dinner, photographs, and friends. Just awesome! : )

Fried pickles are my favorite! There’s a burger joint in Park Slope that has some decent pickles, but these sound awesome. I have a bag of panko in my pantry just waiting to get used.

The banh mi sounds amazing and I want to try the Momofuku recipe. I miss Acme bread.

I WANT to like the peach gazpacho. I really do. Hmmm….

The photos, of course, are beautiful. You and Erin are the “it” couple of the Sunset! 🙂

Thanks, Amy, for your flattering reaction to my peach gazpacho. I’ll be sure to forward your profile photo to the reservations desk at Eleven Madison Park.

First of all, beautiful home. Secondly, would you please make all of this again and invite me over? I’ll happily take care of Esme in exchange. And you actually made your own banh mi? I love it but haven’t had a good one in so long. The chicken, lemongrass sorbet, oh where do I stop? Lastly, you actually took a tip from me? Gee. 🙂 Ben, you hit a home run with this one. Very cool.

Thank you, Jean. Your comments are always very thoughtful! I had actually never heard of sumac, and was intrigued by your post. Had it sitting in my Foodbuzz inbox forever and refused to delete it. Tried it, and it was exactly the right thing to use here. Now I need to that chicken/turkey stew. 🙂

Even though I’m leaving Texas, I’m taking with me a love of deep-fried food so your deep-fried pickles won instant points! And the lemongrass granita sounds spectacular. I’ve always associated lemongrass to be a savory ingredient so it’s awesome to see it in a dessert context. You’ve definitely got my vote! 🙂

What a wonderful meal, and I love that you took inspiration from others in the blogging community. Generosity of spirit is a beautiful thing. You certainly have one of my votes!

Ok, maybe it’s good we missed this party because I have a feeling after tasting your banh-mi-amplified, a normal Saigon Sandwiches banh mi will no longer suffice. Oh who am I kidding?! I demand you open up your own banh mi shop posthaste!!

I also love how you wrote the menu … very Alinea-esque. 😉

Voted for you for a great concept and writing.

My dinner party was designed to take the diner food from Gooch’s Diner, where my parents first met over 40 years ago, and elevate it to luxury for their 39th wedding anniversary. Come see if you’d like 🙂

After seeing all the Banh Mi entries last week, it’s great to see your take on the subject. Also, I definitely shared your skepticism and surprise with pickled daikon, it’s amazing.

You’ve got our vote again, I’m excited to see what you’ve got prepared for “picture perfect.”

Lick My Spoon

Reading this as I eat chicken liver and ham terrines on crackers. Just ’cause.

Thanks for visiting. BTW, I couldn’t help but notice the absence of a particular… *classic* dish from your dim sum menu. Um, what’s up with that?

Wow, I love your menu, all your choices have a touch of the familiar and a dose of exotic. I esp like those fried pickles and your Asian spin on them! Great job, I would totally RSVP to your party. If you invited me of course. 😉 Oh, and of course you have my vote!

What am I most impressed by? All the dishes getting done. I’m always amazed when the kitchen is finally clean. It feels like it’s never going to happen.

You and Jean both have a way of leaving comments that make it impossible for me to leave a snarky response. Thank you. Your words mean a lot.

That is a breathtaking menu Ben (and I want to see you in round 4, cutting a potato). I am much taken with the fried pickles – definitely something for me to try, given that I regard pickles as a food group unto themselves.

Well, I had to go back and read EVERY POST from the beginning of your blog, only to return to this one and leave a comment. I love your writing, and your photos, and your recipes (we recently moved to SoCal from Ohio, and the discovery of authentic Asian and Mexican food has us spinning in circles).
I am convinced that there is always room for another good quality food blog, even if there are Mollies, Luisas, and Heidis before us- they can inspire us and teach us how to become better.
Keep on doing what you are doing. I can never get tired of another creatively crafted sentence, even if laden with snarkiness.
Good luck in the contest!

El Quinto Pino! Love it! Met Chef Alex and her very cute daughter when we went there. Uni panini was one of the best bites we had in the city, no joke.

First of all, thanks to everyone for the very kind words. You totally made my day! Also, we had lots of comments about the photography. So just to be clear: When I speak of Team Babychili, I’m not using the royal “we” for nothing. Images, particularly pictures that include me, are shot and processed by my kickass wife, Erin. ErinLeigh Photography, The Blog, will be launching soon. Please stay tuned for updates!

Dang. I’m eating a peach right now as I read this, but somehow I still feel like I’m missing out….

Beautiful party, and the pictures of the guests laughing just makes me envious that I’m not them!

Mother Peach! What a fantastic spread! Would I expect less from the Daddy? No. Lemongrass granita? yes, please.

It’s always a joy to see what you whip up in the kitchen. From the recipes, to the pictures, to the history on how you arrived at your final post, it’s always fun to read.

Wonderful photos and fantastically delicious sounding food. I have to say, I find all f this a lot more appetising than the brave chicken feet from last week. And no, I still haven’t tried any, although at the train station today I could have bought them vacuum-packed. Yum ?
Give me peaches, pickles and granitas any day! Voted!

Everything looks amazing, but I’ve NEVER had a fried pickle and have been dying to try them… I might just have to make my own!! Fabulous party… Good luck! 🙂

wow – so impressive. i wish we were the it couple so we could rate an invite (also the fact that we live 3000 miles away poses a problem, and we’ve never met, but still). anyway – voting.

so we also went to NYC for the first time recently and wanted to go to milk bar and accidentally sat down at ma peche and then had to walk back out upstairs… how embarassing. now i wish i stayed to eat at ma peche! perhaps next time 🙂 btw, the gazpacho looks AMAZING!! as did everything else.

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