Friday, March 5, 2010

A Visit to The Chambers Hotel

Ma Peche, the new Midtown location of the Momofuku empire, which is situated in The Chamber Hotel, a swanky habitat on an otherwise downscale block, has started serving lunch, I hear. But that's not what brought me to E. 56th Street on a recent evening. It was to try mixologist Don Lee's new cocktails.

Don Lee, formerly of PDT, is Momofuku chef David Chang's drink man, and goes where Chang goes, Lee follows. That includes Ma Peche. The mezzanine has been serving drinks since late last year, including three original Lee creations: a 7 Spice Sour, a Pikesville Mule and a Sesame Old Fashioned.

The Chambers has that kind of sleek, cold, ultra-modern look that you find in a lot of boutique Manhattan hotels. Not my style, but there it is. One takes an elevator to the mezzanine, where there are an arrangement of precious chairs, tables and couches, and gigantic coffee table art books. There's no bar. You have to take a seat and be served by a waiter to get a drink, which makes everything a lot more formal than I'd like.

I'm a great fan of the drinks Lee devised for the Momofuku Ssam Bar in the East Village, particularly the Celery & Nori. He has a way with eastern flavors and ingredients that leads to unique libation. So I was excited to try the Ma Peche creations. I didn't opt for the Sesame Old Fashioned, mainly because I knew that I'd like it, if that makes sense. I wanted to try the drinks I wasn't sure of.

I started with the 7 Spice Sour, which was a winner. Its base is a togarashi-infused momofuku "private label" honjozo. Added are yuzu/lime juice and simple syrup. As I understand it, togarashi is a common Japanese spice mixture made of—yes—seven ingredients: chili pepper; madarin orange peel; sesame seed; poppy seed; hemp seed; nori; and ground sansho. I do not know for sure if this is the mixture that Lee used. The drink had a nice bite to it, owning to those spices, which plays well with the sourness of the citrus.

I then moved on to the Pikesville Mule, which, I'm sorry to say, did not come off well. The cocktail is made of Rittenhouse rye, lemon juice, ginger syrup and Peychaud’s bitters—apparently an unhappy marriage of ingredients. There was too much lemon in the mix, making the drink too sour, and the ginger syrup was more spicy than sweet. Plus, Peychaud's seemed to be the wrong bitters for this mix. The aftertaste was acrid and bitter. Perhaps I should have gone with the Old-Fashioned after all, which includes toasted sesame infused Hennessy VSOP, caramelized simple syrup and Angostura bitters. Ah well. A reason to return.

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