Beef tendon broth at Kappo at Má Pêche
Veal tortellini at Kappo at Má Pêche
Surf clams with uni at Kappo at Má Pêche
Duck-fat challah at Kappo at Má Pêche
Kappo at Má Pêche
DIY mofongo at Kappo at Má Pêche
Time Out rating:Rating: 3/5
When white-hot tasting room Momofuku Ko blazed onto the scene five years ago—breathlessly detailed in the blogs, with precious online reservations snatched up in seconds—it cemented David Chang’s reputation as a kind of culinary Prometheus, stealing the heat from the city’s fine-dining dinosaurs. With just 12 stools and chefs that doubled as servers, Ko kicked off New York’s intimate tasting-menu era, now familiar in dining rooms from Williamsburg to Brooklyn Heights.
So it would be easy to write off Kappo—the just-launched, eight-seat chef’s counter inside Chang’s 56th Street offshoot, Má Pêche—as an heir to Ko, a spin on the East Village restaurant caponized for midtown tastes. You could do that. But you shouldn’t.
Kappo is the brainchild of Paul Carmichael, a Barbadian chef who did time at wd~50 before opening Má Pêche under executive chef Tien Ho in 2010. When Ho left in 2011, Carmichael took over the kitchen; he’s spent the time since shifting the menu away from its French-Vietnamese roots and amping up the earnestness in Má Pêche’s chilly subterranean dining room.
For diners accustomed to the detached service so common in downtown restaurants, the Kappo experience may be disorienting. The welcome here is warm and familiar, the vibe more like a particularly ambitious dinner party than a stoic tasting menu. And while so many chef’s counters feel like awkward amphitheaters, Carmichael makes smart use of the personal setup, chatting amicably with guests, picking through surf clams and dispatching live lobsters as you nibble salty strips of fried-chicken skin and nori.
It’s all very charming, but not at the expense of serious food. Those clams show up in delicate slices layered among silky tongues of uni, petals of sorrel and a cream-enriched conch sauce that mimics a velvety New England chowder. Later, there are perversely rich bundles of veal tortellini, pitted against tangy ricotta, briny sheets of nori and bottarga.
The best dishes nod to the chef’s Caribbean roots: Green bananas are paired with sweet lobster meat, cucumber and punchy habanero, and plantains are worked into sweet, rugged dumplings in an intense beef-tendon broth. A DIY mofongo arrives in a palm-sized mortar and pestle filled with garlic, pork fat, more plantains and chicharróns—patrons mash it themselves, joyfully pounding away like children at the crafts table.
But there is a certain polish missing elsewhere in the meal: Striped bass is an exciting visual as Carmichael jailbreaks the fish from its salt-baked shell, but it’s boring on the plate, teamed with lemon wedges and spinach. Pacing is sometimes jerky and the order of dishes occasionally ponderous—an exceptional, cottony challah bread slicked with duck fat emerged not as a predinner snack, but in the middle of the meal.
Even with these clunky missteps, though, Kappo comes through as a charismatic evolution of the chef’s counter. Dinner ends with molasses candy, pulled like taffy and snipped into bite-size pieces; guests leave with signed recipe cards, and hard copies of the menu are sent via snail mail (“because it’s cute,” says Carmichael). At Ko, Chang put the chef-driven tasting menu on the New York map; with Kappo at Má Pêche, Carmichael has brought the form home.
Eat this: The ten (or so) set courses vary each evening. Highlights included a DIY mofongo and beef tendon soup with plantain dumplings.
Drink this: The $65 beverage-pairing option ranges from pours of prickly Foggy Ridge Serious Cider and Kamoizumi KomeKome sake to nutmeg-dusted glasses of Barbadian rum punch.
Conversation piece: The hospitality starts the day before dinner, with a call from Carmichael himself. He asks about allergies, aversions and your taste in preprandial cocktails, which are presented at dinner in personalized decanters.
Chambers Hotel, 15 W 56th St between Fifth and Sixth Aves (212-757-5878). Subway: E, M to Fifth Ave–53rd St; F to 57th St. Tue–Sat seating times: 7:30pm. Ten courses: $95.
At many restaurants, the wine list can feel like an afterthought. At chef Jesse Schenker’s The Gander, it sets the tone for the entire meal. Once you settle into the cozy yet impressively large dining room, you’re presented with the most extensive wine list you’ve ever seen. With more than 650 bottles ranging in price from $55 well into the thousands, the thick binder can seem overwhelming to the layman. Thankfully, the staff will be more than happy to help you make a decision. The dinner menu is much more trim, offering a selection of snacks, small plates and larger dishes that are meant to be shared. Some starters, like the brisket tots ($13), seemed like elevated bar food. The fried pucks of beef and potato needed the spicy mustard for moisture, but hit the spot nonetheless. Others, like the sea trout tartare ($16), seemed to be something more. The tender morsels tasted refreshing and light, especially when served on a strip of fried trout skin, crispy as a chicharron. On a recent visit, the large plates skewed toward intensely savory, meaty dishes—ideal comfort foods. The duck breast with port wine sauce arrived medium rare, with beautifully rendered, crispy skin ($30). A hot pot of short rib, oxtail and andouille sausage was similarly well executed: the tender beef melted in the mouth, while the slices of carrots and potatoes remained al dente even after being submerged in an ultra savory broth ($28). As if you needed more, The Gander has plenty of tempting desserts o
Venue says: “Join us for happy hour everyday from 2:30-7:00pm. Large groups welcome! For reservations please email firstname.lastname@example.org”