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Oct 7, 2008 03:32 AM

Masa's - where I found my perfect meal

I walked into Masa’s on Bush Street on a whim one evening last month. It was my last evening in San Francisco (I make 5-6 business trips to this wonderful city each year, each time staying about 2-3 weeks). I’ve always wanted to try Masa’s, but have oftentimes been diverted to other spots, e.g. Zuni, Chez Panisse, Michael Mina – all good, but none of which had actually really bowled me over.

On this particular evening, when I finally decided to pay it a visit, Masa’s kitchen somehow worked up its magic, and gave me the most wonderful, the most perfect meal I’ve ever had in San Francisco, ever!

I went for the 6-course tasting menu:

After 3 divine-tasting amuse-geule (one of which included blinis with Oscietra caviar!), we proceeded to the first formal course:

- Kadota & Black Mission figs, with fig-balsamic vinaigrette, Laura Chenel’s goat’s cheese “mousse”, baby celery, Melba toast. It was positively ambrosial! What struck me was the Melba toast – it was so thin, so translucent & seemed so light that the gentle whiff from a passing waiter would have blown it off the plate. The pairing of figs with goat's cheese mousse was magical, an absolute taste sensation.

This was followed by:
- Crispy-skin filet of Butterfish, shiitake mushrooms, baby leeks, flambeed radish, fennel, tamari soy emulsion. Like a scene out of “Ratatouille”, one bite of the fish transported me back 4 decades and into my grandmother’s kitchen. The scent of the fish, the taste, was indescribable, except that it reminded me of the best fish dish I’ve ever eaten, very, very long ago. A hidden taste memory, suddenly brought back by this delicious, very well-executed fish dish at Masa’s. It was so beautiful, it almost brought tears to my eyes.

The next course:
- Sautéed breast of Central Valley squab “croquette de pomme terre”, sweet onions, summer truffle-infused squab jus. It tasted incredible. Quite simply put, this was the BEST squab I’ve ever had in my life. How is this even possible? I’ve been to Gary Danko, Nancy Oakes/Pam Mazzola’s Boulevard, to the French Laundry, but had often been letdown perhaps by my over-hyped expectations & 3-4 weeks’ advance-booking-hence-heightened-anticipation. Yet here, this evening, I just walked in without a reservation, and found (IMHO) absolute perfection. And this particular dish - a voluptuous breast of squab, reclining seductively on a delicious divan of potatoes, was pure nirvana in poultry form.

On to the next course. To be honest, I’m not a red meat person. Given the choice, I’d never had ordered steak. But I was served:
- Pan-seared filet mignon of Meyer natural Angus Beef, with Half-moon Bay fava beans, golden Chanterelle mushrooms, roasted bone marrow, sauce bordelaise. I had asked for it to be done medium-well. What can I say – Masa’s kitchens can seem to do no wrong. It was simply PERFECT, in every way possible. Quite simply the best piece of steak I’ve ever had. If this was to be my last meal on Earth, I know I’m going to die very, very happy indeed.

The palate cleanser:
- Petit sorbet - yellow watermelon & strawberry “slurpee”. Alas, the only “average” item I tasted the whole evening. Nuff said.

Finally, the dessert:
- Warm truffle cake, passionfruit ganache, coconut sorbet. It sounded boring, and looked very, very unexciting. If it had not been included in the set meal, I’d have ordered something else for dessert. But then came the revelation. One taste of the truffle cake and I was absolutely blown away - the soft molten centre oozed with chocolatey manna, velvety-satiny smooth. It teased one's tongue & palate, you want to keep it there as long as you can, before allowing it to glide down your throat. It was quite simply the BEST piece of chocolate fondant cake I’ve ever had!

What more can I say, I did not go to Masa’s seeking perfection. But that evening, it found me. I left my heart in San Francisco, in Masa’s on 648 Bush Street, to be precise.

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  1. I agree with you - I first discovered it in the late 90s. Since then, I've tried most restaurants in and around the SFBA.

    My belief is that I think it takes a perfectionist to appreciate Masa's.

    Unless you try many restaurants and are passionate about food & wine, its sometimes difficult to convince people.

    My wife and I are very picky, and I think most people that live in Singapore are as well because eating after all, is *the* Singaporean hobby. The Brazilians have football, Russians chess, Singaporeans eat.

    Let me know if you're planning a trip to France/Germany anytime soon for business. I'll give you a few gems to try.

    1. Thank you so much for the report! Masa's was *the* restaurant in SF for a long time, but after Julien Serrano went to Las Vegas it kind of fell off the radar, with a brief re-emergence when Ron Siegel was there before going to the Ritz. Since Siegel left no one seems talk about Masa's anymore.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        I read on Masa's website (after my visit) about Gregory Short & "the relatively new culinary team" in-charge of the kitchens. I guess if you're not a celebrity chef, you just try that much harder.

      2. Thank you for the fantastic review. I have only been there once, and not since Julian Serrano was the chef. For days afterward, nothing tasted good in comparison.

        1. Nice to see an update on Masa's. I too had some great meals there during the Serrano & Siegel regimes, but haven't darkened their doorway in some time. Sounds like it may be time for a reunion......

          3 Replies
          1. re: Eugene Park

            Sorry for posting such a touristy question but as travelling light non-business visitors we have shied away from dining at Masa's, even though we always stay at the Vintage Court above it. Do you think we could get away with the jeans and a nice shirt/sweater (NOT runners) that has eked us by in other SF restos or would that attire be too disrespectful for Masa's?

            1. re: grayelf

              You should be fine. If I remember correctly, no restaurant in San Francisco other than the French Laundry has a dress code which requires jackets for men, and absolutely no jeans/runners.

              1. re: klyeoh

                Thanks, klyeoh. And thanks to the OP for such an inspiring read.

          2. Great report! Thanks for taking the time to share the details of Masa's which was definitely not on my radar before. It's easy to focus on the new and trendy and forget about the time-tested classics. It's wonderful when you don't enter w/ many preconceived notions or high expectations and then have a magical experience.

            I checked their website and notice that the 6-course menu is $100 which sounds reasonable given your experience. It also should be noted that they offer a vegetarian tasting menu as well as a 9-course tasting menu.

            Did you order any wine or do the wine pairing?

            Masa's Restaurant
            648 Bush Street, San Francisco, CA 94108

            1 Reply
            1. re: Carb Lover

              I didn't choose the wine pairing option, but had a glass of Sauvignon Blanc & Merlot each - unfortunately, I didn't note the details.