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Dec 28, 2010 08:12 AM

Masa review (is it worth it?)

Masa does not allow photos, so there are no pics. The complete review, with more about the full experience, is available on the blog: http://ramblingsandgamblings.blogspot...

This meal was early in December, and full of fall flavors. We had 6-7 small courses, then sushi, and a light dessert.

Our first course was exactly what a starter/amuse should be. Sweet and tart, very refreshing, and definitely whets the appetite.

Not very original, but the California caviar was extremely tasty for American caviar. The tartare, however, I found bland. I'm sure the chopped up toro was of a high quality, but it was almost as if nothing was done to it. I wouldn't have called it tartare, although my guess is it merely served to provide fattiness and texture to carry the caviar.

Although I'm personally not a big fan of raw fugu flesh, this was a well composed dish with good textures. The liver had a good taste to it. The blowfish is of the non-poisonous variety, which is becoming increasingly popular, although it does take away from what makes fugu exotic.

I much prefer fried fugu flesh and enjoyed this very much.

One of his signature dishes, this smelled amazing as it was brought to the table. That being said, I wasn't a big fan of the risotto and I thought the uni flavor was muted. My friend who does not eat sea urchin got a mushroom risotto instead made with three types of mushrooms, and I think I would have enjoyed that much more.

This was a supplemented dish, at $120 per person. Of course this tasted and smelled wonderful, but it's not like the chef really did anything to the ingredients.

A wonderful fragrant broth in which we quickly dipped our three slices of wild yellowtail. The fish was delicious and tasted great warmed up in the broth. After we were done with the fish, they removed the heat and we drank the broth, which now had added sweetness from the fish.

The seafood was definitely of a very high quality, and most of it was flown in from Japan. The pieces were small, and while the rice tasted fine, I thought the grain size was too big for how small the sushi pieces were. While it all tasted good, I didn't find many of the pieces to be significantly superior to sushi at the other top places in NYC. The only one that was truly special was when they shaved white truffle onto the cutting board and rolled the sushi rice in it to create an amazing rice ball.

Overall it was a fantastic meal from start to finish. The flavors definitely fit the fall profile, brightened up on occasion by some lemon, lime, or yuzu. The thing that in my opinion truly separated the chef from other top sushi meals I've had was the progression. I thought the progression of tastes, textures, temperatures, and smells from one course or piece to the next was very well thought out.

For those of us who care about getting value for money, I wouldn't recommend going to Masa over two or more meals at other top sushi places in NYC such as 15 East or Yasuda. Sure, the cooked shrimp especially flown in from Japan was delicious, but was it significantly better than the cooked shrimp Yasuda gets from Mexico? I didn't think it was. Or if you're in the mood for wagyu, I'm sure places like Megu have comparable quality beef as well. There is a genius in his combination of flavor profiles and progression throughout the meal, but I don't think for most of us it's worth more than one visit.

15 East
15 East 15th Street, New York, NY 10003

62 Thomas Street, New York, NY 10013

10 Columbus Cir, New York, NY 10019

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  1. Thank you for a well-written report.

    Please let your generous friend, DC, know that I have several openings in my calendar during the next few weeks...

    1. Nice report.
      I really want to try Masa, but it just seems to be way overpriced. I have paid $450 a person for a room service kaiseki meal at an onsen in Japan, but that included drinks, a hotel room and a spa with the meal!

      His food seems to be highly refined versions of typical Japanese dishes with very expensive ingredients. White truffle onigiri? Sounds good.

      Hey, I spend two hours with my lawyer it costs me $1000 and I dont get fed. Perhaps that is how one should look at it.

      10 Columbus Cir, New York, NY 10019

      2 Replies
      1. re: AdamD

        I was thinking exactly the same! Was in Japan this past summer and had several of the best kaiseki / omakase meals in town for less than Masa's prices. Masa is very good (been there twice for business events when someone else paid), but not proportionately to their prices. When I spend my own money, I would choose Yasuda.

        1. re: AdamD

          "His food seems to be highly refined versions of typical Japanese dishes with very expensive ingredients."

          That's exactly what I thought beforehand and I felt that my visit confirmed it. I wouldn't say that his dishes were original, but execution does count. Very expensive ingredients tend to be the most flavorful ones, so there's a lot to be said for how he keeps everything in balance.

          On the value side however, paying for ingredients is often the hardest to justify because we all know that restaurants make money solely on ingredient markups.

        2. Great review, Fooder! Do you remember what kinds of neta you had during the sushi course?

          2 Replies
          1. re: michelleats

            They offered to email us a list of everything that was served, but by the end of the meal we'd forgotten to leave our emails with them.

            Just from memory, I remember:
            Otoro x2
            Shima Aji
            Some type of mackerel
            Santa Barbara uni gunkan maki
            Negitoro mini hand roll
            Octopus with a drop of white truffle sauce
            White truffle
            Cooked shrimp from Japan

            There were more but that's all I remember. Besides the use of white truffle, most of these pieces can be found at the other sushi places I've mentioned, so I did not bother to include them in the writeup.

            1. re: fooder

              Thanks, fooder. Good information.

          2. I will almost definitely never go to Masa, so I really appreciate your report, which shows me both what I'm missing and what I'm not missing.

            1. Masa still does not allow photos, so there are no pics. The complete review, with more about the full experience, is available on the blog: http://ramblingsandgamblings.blogspot...

              One year later, some things have changed, most things haven't.

              If you've decided that you're going to go to Masa and spend the money, you might as well go for white truffle season. The basic set omakase is still $450, but there are a couple of white truffle supplements available.

              The dinner began as usual with a progression of small courses. When I say "as usual", the dinner really is almost an exact replica of my meal there last year.

              Eel and cucumber is a terrific combination, and the vinegary tartness of the sunomono made for a bright and refreshing first course.

              Similar to my meal last year, I found the toro to be nice and rich, but nothing was really done to it. The flavor of the dish came from the terrific caviar, of which there was a huge mound on top of the toro. The texture combination of all the components was stellar.

              A good combination of textures with fresh raw fugu. Fugu is one of those fish like fluke that chefs seem to love but I personally don't get. Especially as the blowfish they use is of the non-poisonous variety, taking away from what makes fugu exotic.

              FUGU KARAAGE
              The fugu flesh, when cooked, has an interesting tender texture with a little bit of give. The fry job was perfect and we enjoyed this very much. We were encouraged to use our hands and really get at the flavor in the bones.

              The langoustine was simply done with a splash of citrus. It arrived at a perfect, just-cooked temperature, with a wonderful aroma. Again they encouraged us to use our hands, and I really went at getting all the little pieces of meat out of all the claws and legs.

              MUSHROOM RISOTTO
              Those of us who could not eat langoustine were served a wonderfully aromatic mushroom risotto featuring three kinds of mushrooms, including matsutake and maitake mushrooms, and a little shaving of white truffle.

              This was a supplement that cost $150 per dish compared with $120 when we went last year. We ordered two for the four of us. However, I enjoyed this dish much better this year, as I felt the beef was seasoned a bit more and had a better sear, which both brought out the flavor of the beef, and melded better with the truffle shavings.

              KUE AND FOIE GRAS NABE
              The usual hot pot presentation featuring a deep, fragrant broth. We each received two generously-sized slices each of foie gras and kue, an extremely expensive fish also known as kelp bass. The kue had a fresh taste and wonderful texture, with the fattiness encased in the flesh. The foie gras was rich and flavorful, yet in a mild and gentle manner. A perfect example of the harmonized nature of his cuisine.

              The sushi courses were served two pieces at a time on a beautiful black rectangular block that they had to carry over from the bar for every course. It was specifically designed to span the two tables of our four-top, while the other two-tops had shorter versions.

              SHIMA AJI striped jack
              TAI sea bream
              TORO tuna
              HIRAME fluke
              KINMEDAI golden eye snapper
              IKA squid
              AMAEBI sweet shrimp
              AOYAGI orange clam
              HOTATEGAI scallop
              SUJI grilled toro sinew
              AJI horse mackerel
              KURUMA EBI cooked tiger prawn
              ANAGO sea water eel
              UNAGI fresh water eel
              UNI Santa Barbara sea urchin
              WHITE TRUFFLE sushi rice rolled in white truffle shavings
              NEGI TORO toro and scallions
              UME SHISO

              For my friends who couldn't eat some of the pieces, replacement pieces were served.

              MAITAKE mushroom
              MATSUTAKE mushroom
              AKAMI lean tuna

              This list was the list provided to me by email a week after the meal. I am not exactly sure that those were indeed all the individual pieces we had, but the list seems to be on point for the most part.

              Dessert was a light, sweet melon which I didn't eat any of.

              At this point, our server came to us to tell us that the chef had white truffle ice cream, at a supplement of $95 each. We ordered three servings (one scoop apiece). The ice cream was tremendously flavorful, with a just-right texture in between hard and soft. This was the "wow" ending that a meal like this needs.

              Overall, the sushi was fresh, and I actually thought the rice was better than on our last visit. The quality of the ingredients and flavors are not really up for debate here. The only question is one of value, which was the sole reason for the New York Times downgrade to three stars. To that end, I think it depends what you think you are paying for. The food is top notch, and full of expensive ingredients that command high premiums. But I also believe that people, especially in New York, pay to have such a meal in this private, serene setting. If you need this privacy in addition to enjoying a top quality meal, then it is worth it by all means. For me, I don't feel that I need all these expensive ingredients crammed into just one meal, and would prefer some more new dishes in the menu at these prices.

              10 Columbus Cir, New York, NY 10019

              12 Replies
              1. re: fooder

                >> The only question is one of value, which was the sole reason for the New York Times downgrade to three stars. <<

                When I read Sifton's review I was under the impression he downgraded them because of service and ambiance issues, no? Like making him wait outside until his other guests arrive ...

                Wife and I are trying to dine at all the Michelin 3* and Forbes 5* restaurants in the USA and have all the Michelin's except Masa (and now the new one in Brooklyn) ... every time we go to NYC I think about going to Masa, just to complete the list, but I just can't justify the exceptionally high price. Is it really worth TWO (or three, with these supplements) trips to Per Se? Or 3 or 4 visits to Alinea? I doubt it ...

                Per Se
                10 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10019

                10 Columbus Cir, New York, NY 10019

                1. re: willyum

                  Well, the visit last year was indeed to finish up my friend's Michelin 3* list. It's hard to make value comparisons across cuisines, in my view, especially when Asian cuisines are so different.

                  In the end, for me the discussion of value comes down to ingredients. Even if you are going to Per Se, or Alinea, there are quality ingredients for sure, but not every dish is full of premium delicacies. At Masa, practically every dish is seafood directly imported from Japan, or wagyu beef, or truffles, or foie gras, etc. It's just that most of us don't need all of those expensive delicacies crammed into one meal. But if that's your thing, I think Masa is fine.

                  1. re: willyum

                    WOW Masa is really $700 to 1000 per person? That IS ridiculous. The most expensive meal I think I have had was at the French Laundry at a mere $450 per person, or I just recently dined at Chevre D'or in Eze for about the same. But both of those were amazing and worth it. I have had incredible Kaiseki in Kyoto, Japan at about $350. The place in Bklyn , Brooklyn Fare has no tables, no exquisite service, good food but not on a 3 Michelin Star level. His dishes are Japanese oriented and I have had equal versions in "no star" restaurants. 3 Michelin stars for a place with no tablecloths, or tables is absurd

                    10 Columbus Cir, New York, NY 10019

                  2. re: fooder

                    $95 for 1 scoop of ice cream? i don't care if it had diamonds in it...that is comical.

                    1. re: fooder

                      Would it be indiscreet to ask how much the tab came to? It must have been about $1000 a person after tax and tip.

                      1. re: fooder

                        fooder, do you know if they're still charging the mandatory 20% non-gratuity fee?

                        1. re: PorkyBelly

                          Can't help you. No idea.
                          Went to Masa the last two years around this time of year but not this year. May be going to Brooklyn Fare as a consolation.

                          1. re: fooder

                            I would recommend 15 East. Sit at the sushi bar and let them do their magic. I had an outstanding meal there. Not exactly Masa, but almost as good, and certainly a much more relaxed and animated experience. Price compared to Masa cant be beat, and food quality was outstanding.

                            1. re: fooder

                              Did you ever find out whether there is the mandatory 20% non-gratuity fee? I find just the notion of it very interesting. I was being treated by a very generous friend on both occasions that I went to Masa, so I have no idea.

                              This year I didn't go to Masa, and spent my own dime on Brooklyn Fare. The review is here:

                              1. re: fooder

                                Not yet. I thought I read somewhere that it's still mandatory but it's now considered the tip. Can anybody else confirm?

                                I'll be dining there at the end of the month and will report back.

                                1. re: fooder

                                  I can confirm there is no longer a mandatory 20% non-gratuity fee or a mandatory 20% gratuity for that matter.

                                  The bill just suggests that you tip between 18 and 20%.