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Masa

hcbk0702 Jun 3, 2011 09:54 AM

This is a silly restaurant. I'm sure everyone here knows that, but it becomes increasingly apparent when seated at the freshly sanded hinoki counter.

Case in point: a dish blithely announced as "toro caviar." It was not a finely diced tartare, arriving with no oil, no lime or lemon juice, no ginger, no wasabi, no pepper, no soy sauce, not even salt. Even top grade fatty bluefin tuna needs seasoning, right? Problem solved: take your carefully chopped toro and crown it with an astonishing mound of Osetra caviar, in a one-to-one ratio by volume. Ridiculous and ridiculously good, the Osetra caviar provided the briny pop that reasonable restaurants might emulate somewhat with flaky sea salt. Needless to say, this was better.

Another ridiculous moment: Masa picked up a cleanly skinned, fist-sized summer truffle and started shaving it over his workspace. A fragrant blanket of truffle petals accumulated in thirty seconds, attracting the gaze of every diner at the counter. He then formed a small spherical rice ball and rolled it around the truffle field with chopsticks, taking care to completely enrobe it. The warm rice adhered gently to the truffle slices, its heat further expressing truffle aroma. He presented the rice ball on a lacquered wood pedestal. The smell? Intoxicating. The taste? In a word: yes.

Another ride on the truffle train: this time, summer truffle covered thinly sliced wagyu tataki, deftly seared over binchotan. Hovering from almost raw to barely cooked from bite-to-bite, the meat was utterly entrancing. The best beef dish in the city? Sure, to the tune of $120. Kaiseki standouts preceded it, including a gorgeous bowl of Japanese grouper and wakame, sizzling icefish kissed with a whisper of salt, and light and greaseless tempura of sweet corn and summer truffle.

Most of the meal is sushi and it has no equal in this country. Some people make comparisons to Sushi Yasuda, but one look at Masa's stunning fish, encased in wooden containers with immense blocks of ice, should be enough to understand the difference. Here the sushi rice is seasoned subtly and quietly complements the generous cuts of fish. Highlights included the opening salvo of two otoro (fatty tuna) nigiri, buttery kinme dai (deep sea snapper), tai (sea bream), saba (mackerel), tako (octopus) with summer truffle, otherworldly kuruma ebi (tiger prawn), negitoro (fatty tuna and scallion) maki stuffed ludicrously full, and shiso lotus sushi topped with ume. Special mention must be made of both the unagi (freshwater eel) and anago (saltwater eel). Bucking tradition, Masa serves several pieces of grilled unagi sheathed in a thin cucumber wrap, stuffed so full that it doesn't close completely, similar to the luxurious negitoro roll. But even better is the impossibly delicate anago nigiri, adorned with yuzu zest; I simply haven't encountered a better version. The sushi was paired with a junmai daijingo, Kubota Manjyu, served in roughly hewn vessels fashioned from bamboo stalks. Independent of whimsy, the cool sake conjured visions of river stones and clear, tranquil streams. A refreshing grapefruit granité concluded the meal in the same state of mind.

Again, this is a silly restaurant. It does serve the best ingredients in the city, but if you have lingering doubts about the value, don't go. For me, the spray of flowers framing the background as Masa worked, focused and gruff, was an arresting image. I probably won't see that scene again any time soon, but I still look forward to my next visit.

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Sushi Yasuda
204 E 43rd St, New York, NY 10017

Masa
10 Columbus Cir, New York, NY 10019

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    nmprisons RE: hcbk0702 Jun 3, 2011 10:19 AM

    A wonderful review. One of the best I have read on this site. Thank you.

    1. f
      fm1963 RE: hcbk0702 Jun 3, 2011 10:22 AM

      Thanks for the write-up. It's so rare to see reviews of Masa on this board.

      Silly question: does Masa serve dessert? You didn't mention any in your review.

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      Masa
      10 Columbus Cir, New York, NY 10019

      4 Replies
      1. re: fm1963
        n
        nmprisons RE: fm1963 Jun 3, 2011 11:22 AM

        You get something very light (fruit, sorbet, etc.)

        1. re: fm1963
          hcbk0702 RE: fm1963 Jun 3, 2011 11:56 AM

          As nmprisons said, a light dessert or fruit, occasionally two.

          The grapefruit granité I mentioned is something of a signature dessert. Grapefruit juice and Sauternes are mixed, frozen, then scraped with a fork. Grapefruit sections are mixed in, a spoonful of Grand Marnier is added, and yuzu zest is grated on top. Simple, but a very nice ending.

          1. re: hcbk0702
            k
            kevin RE: hcbk0702 Jun 21, 2011 08:48 PM

            they also serve this grapefruit dessert as Bar Masa right next door, I have had it there but sadly have not had the Masa experience with the omakase/kaiseki meal.

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            Bar Masa
            10 Columbus Cir, New York, NY 10019

            Masa
            10 Columbus Cir, New York, NY 10019

          2. re: fm1963
            s
            StefTodd RE: fm1963 Jun 3, 2011 01:44 PM

            last year we were served black sesame ice cream there and it was the best i've ever had. still thinking about it now (we live in california).

          3. Silverjay RE: hcbk0702 Jun 3, 2011 10:22 AM

            How entrancing. And actually, I don't think I had ever read a proper meal review of Masa... So what was the total cost per person of this silliness?

            3 Replies
            1. re: Silverjay
              hcbk0702 RE: Silverjay Jun 3, 2011 11:38 AM

              Between two diners, about $550 per person including supplement and sake, before tax and tip. Yikes.

              The price could be dramatically slashed if there wasn't so much caviar, truffle, and toro involved, but you aren't going to pry those out of Masa's hands. He could also source more things domestically instead of shipping nearly everything from Japan (the cost of live kuruma ebi packed in wood chips must be especially insane), but he won't.

              It's silly. But as a rare indulgence, the best kind of silliness.

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              Masa
              10 Columbus Cir, New York, NY 10019

              1. re: hcbk0702
                k
                kevin RE: hcbk0702 Jun 21, 2011 08:54 PM

                Silly is in the eye of the beholder. Is 500 dollars per person to much for a superb meal? Is 350,000 too much for a top flight, Italian sports car? Is 8 million dollars too much for an East Side co-op?

                But i would say to 99.999999999999999999999999999999999999999999, the 9 will go to infiinity repeating if my math serves me right, of the population it is ridiculous, outrageous, unconscionable,and perhaps disgusting to pay that much for a meal alone. Although the number that would spend oodles of dough on other purchases that are not food, would not be looked down upon as much for some odd reason in my opinion.

                the debate continues.... by the way I love Toro Tartare dishes, but yeah, usually I have had it with caviar and the miso and ponsu, which may be why it's usually too darn salty for me.

                1. re: kevin
                  n
                  nmprisons RE: kevin Jun 22, 2011 03:56 AM

                  If the 9 actually went to infinity, then there would be no living person who would pay that much for a meal. You just meant to say 99.999% or about 1 in 100,000

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