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Masa

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nmprisons Jun 14, 2011 02:15 PM

I assume we can discuss this here . . . for the good of dining in New York they must fire Sam Sifton immediately.

If I read one more review where he raves about the food and then gives a crappy star rating . . .

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Masa
10 Columbus Cir, New York, NY 10019

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  1. h
    H Manning RE: nmprisons Jun 14, 2011 02:33 PM

    I guess he was upset that he was told to wait outside for his guests, I haven't been to Masa and therefore can't weigh in on the demotion to three stars, but I always got the sense that ambience was more important to Sifton than his predecessors.

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    Masa
    10 Columbus Cir, New York, NY 10019

    4 Replies
    1. re: H Manning
      n
      nmprisons RE: H Manning Jun 14, 2011 02:42 PM

      This is right. It is strange, while I will often notice a room (EMP and Per Se are my favorites in NYC), I can get past the worst imaginable environment if the food is amazing. When I eat, I am focused on my company and the food. Sifton seems to be focused on something else half the time.

      1. re: nmprisons
        c
        calf RE: nmprisons Jun 15, 2011 11:02 AM

        Well I don't think Sifton means the decor. He's talking about unfairness/asymmetry in service.

        You say you focus on your friends & the food in front of you. There's more to restaurant dynamics than that, and IMHO, part of Sifton's job is to pick up on such larger issues and perspectives that apply to all patrons at a restaurant.

        1. re: calf
          s
          Simon RE: calf Jun 15, 2011 03:53 PM

          i'm sympathetic to Sifton's criteria because being told to wait to be seated (let alone "outside") while the restaurant is empty is a pet peeve of mine and pretty much makes me loathe a place that does that from the get-go...

          i've never been to Masa, but i have to been to it's former incarnation as Ginza Sushi-Ko in Beverly Hills (before it was spirited away, like Howl's Moving Castle to NYC) and to Bar Masa...i found Bar Masa very underwhelming: basically an overpriced tourist trap for people who want to say they went Masa "sort of" and don't mind paying 35 dollars for some dry overcooked unagi...fyi, my Ginza Sushi-Ko experience was lovely, but i had much less sushi experience then than now, so i can't really judge...i believe GSK was even smaller than Masa: 12 seats total, i think?

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          Bar Masa
          10 Columbus Cir, New York, NY 10019

          Masa
          10 Columbus Cir, New York, NY 10019

          1. re: Simon
            Windy RE: Simon Jun 15, 2011 08:28 PM

            Agreed. And poor service, from the greeting to the check fiascos, and the chef having fun with his pals, is inexcusable at that price point. Or really any price point over $50.

    2. e
      ExFlexitarian RE: nmprisons Jun 14, 2011 02:41 PM

      I think he has a good point. You can't assume that a restaurant, simply because it is world renowned and extravagant, is automatically good.

      I'm glad that he came in with a bit more clairvoyance and objectivity, rather than automatically fawn over it like so many other restaurant reviewers (both casual and professional) seem to do in these situations - not just for Masa but for other renowned restaurants.

      1 Reply
      1. re: ExFlexitarian
        hcbk0702 RE: ExFlexitarian Jun 14, 2011 04:12 PM

        Just like he did with Del Posto and Colicchio & Sons, right? If anything, he seems more susceptible than most to chef worship.

        Sifton's decision to champion those two restaurants was bizarre, when every other major critic in the city critiqued their uneven food quality. Even Bruni, an unabashed Italophile, was unable to give a four star rating to Del Posto on two separate occasions (though he clearly wanted to).

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        Del Posto
        85 10th Avenue, New York, NY 10011

        Colicchio & Sons
        85 10th Ave, New York, NY 10011

      2. hcbk0702 RE: nmprisons Jun 14, 2011 03:59 PM

        Not surprising, given Sifton's tendencies. He did rave about the food:

        "The food at the restaurant is exceptional, offering tastes and preparations that can be unforgettable."

        "...one of New York’s peak culinary indulgences."

        "Much of my time was spent in a fog of pleasure, sitting dumbfounded on the shores of excess."

        2 Replies
        1. re: hcbk0702
          s
          Skillet Licker RE: hcbk0702 Jun 14, 2011 05:03 PM

          Sifton was quite clear about why he gave it three stars: Service was not up to the level of the food -- especially given the cost. Reviews are explicitly based on food, service, and ambiance (relative value is an implicit factor as well). It is not enough to serve great food to be awarded four stars. The dining experience must be great from the moment you walk in until the moment you walk out.

          Sifton gave vivid examples of how Masa failed repeatedly at high-level customer service, which is ironical given that that is precisely what the Japanese are world famous for. The problem with Masa, Sifton suggests, is that the overall experience feels more like a corporate rip-off, rather than a luxurious culinary oasis.

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          Masa
          10 Columbus Cir, New York, NY 10019

          1. re: Skillet Licker
            c
            comiendosiempre RE: Skillet Licker Jun 14, 2011 07:34 PM

            Agreed. Food and service should be viewed together, especially in a review by the Times. Of course, that doesn't mean Sifton isn't often wide of the mark.

        2. squid kun RE: nmprisons Jun 14, 2011 11:56 PM

          I think we should resist the temptation to call for the firing of critics whose opinions differ from ours.

          1. Spiritchaser RE: nmprisons Jun 15, 2011 05:30 AM

            I agree with a lot of others here that a rating needs to be based upon the triumvirate of food, service, atmosphere. On a very recent trip to Picholine, a favorite of ours in NYC, the food was as wonderful as ever, the room was what we wanted for the nature of this visit, but the service was not what it once was (with the exception of the wine and cheese which were still spot on). Was it a glitch or the new normal? It doesn't make the food taste different, doesn't make the room less pretty but it does downgrade the the total package. As a result the overall experience would not be rated by us as high as every other time we have been there.

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            Picholine
            35 West 64th St., New York, NY 10023

            1. sgordon RE: nmprisons Jun 15, 2011 06:26 AM

              I figured at some point Sifty was gonna stake his claim by demonting one of the four-starrers. I figured it might be Daniel or JG, though, as they've grown a bit tired. I thought Masa was in it's own realm, untouchable.

              But I think, given his experiences there - which were detailed, and many - he's spot-on. Let's remember, star ratings are based on "the reviewer’s reaction to food, ambience and service, with price taken into consideration."

              That's four different criteria. Of course food is the most important thing - if the food's not good, no amount of good service can save it. But here's a case where a restaurant hit it out of the ballpark on only one of four. The fact that it got three stars tells you that he obviously weighs that part of the experience (the food) most heavily.

              It honestly sounds unpleasant, from a service perspective. Chef Masa going around joking with his well-heeled customers while the rest of the patrons brusquely have food dropped in front of them with no explanation. At $450/head minimum, that's a bit surprising.

              Could they win it back? Suppose so, were they to fix it.

              ----

              Regarding the ongoing myth of Bruni's Italophilia: utter nonsense. Perhaps, given his supposed obsession with Italian cuisine, someone can explain why there were no four-starred Italian restaurants during his reign? He was as much a Francophiliac as every other critic preceding him.

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              Masa
              10 Columbus Cir, New York, NY 10019

              9 Replies
              1. re: sgordon
                hcbk0702 RE: sgordon Jun 15, 2011 07:28 AM

                Because there aren't any exceptional Italian restaurants in New York; if there was one, I'd be glad to see it get four stars. No, Del Posto* and Falai aren't good enough. Regardless, it didn't stop Bruni from overrating A Voce, Convivio, Felidia, Perbacco, Sfoglia, Spigolo etc. He tended to be overly generous with stars in the first place, but Italian restaurants benefited the most.

                Anecdotal evidence, so it's of no value, but all the Italians I know who have been to the restaurants mentioned above have either walked out nonplussed or thought their meals were flat-out poor.

                * Obviously, Sifton thought Del Posto was good enough, but he's an outlier compared to the critical consensus.

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                Babbo
                110 Waverly Pl, New York, NY 10011

                Del Posto
                85 10th Avenue, New York, NY 10011

                Felidia
                243 E 58th St, New York, NY 10022

                Spigolo
                1561 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10028

                Sfoglia
                1402 Lexington Ave, New York, NY 10128

                Perbacco
                234 East 4th Street, New York, NY 10009

                Falai
                68 Clinton St, New York, NY 10002

                A Voce
                10 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10019

                1. re: sgordon
                  r
                  RGR RE: sgordon Jun 15, 2011 07:33 AM

                  Bruni a "Francophiliac"? Surely, you're joking.

                  http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

                  1. re: RGR
                    hcbk0702 RE: RGR Jun 15, 2011 07:48 AM

                    The Modern Dining Room, 2 stars. Alain Ducasse at the Essex House, 3 stars. Bouley, 3 stars (well, I don't disagree with this one). Veritas, actively avoided during Pugin's entire tenure.

                    Definitely a Francophile.

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                    Veritas
                    43 East 20th St., New York, NY 10003

                    The Modern
                    9 West 53rd Street, New York, NY 10019

                    Bouley
                    163 Duane St, New York, NY 10013

                    1. re: hcbk0702
                      r
                      Riverman500 RE: hcbk0702 Jun 15, 2011 09:31 AM

                      Bruni also wanted to demote La Grenouille to two stars.
                      http://ny.eater.com/archives/2009/08/...

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                      La Grenouille
                      3 East 52nd Street, New York, NY 10022

                      1. re: hcbk0702
                        sgordon RE: hcbk0702 Jun 15, 2011 09:37 AM

                        Every four-star Bruni gave, besides Masa, was French, or at least heavily French-influenced. Yes, I'd call him a Franco. He might have a lot of love for Italian cuisine, but he was more easily bowled over by French. It certainly doesn't make him an Italophile, that's for sure. Frankly, I consider most of his four-starrers overrated.

                        If you go through every review he ever dropped, I expect you'll find that his average review for an Italian place matches up with his average review for any other type of place. It might even rank a bit lower than French.

                        You might feel he underrated places at the second tier - that his three stars should have been fours, that his two stars should have been threes. I'd agree that The Modern deserves and upgrade - they're certainly worth a trio - but Ducasse is another matter. AD made some waves on account of their price at the time. Yes, today, to think that a three-figure prix fixe was shocking seems a bit silly - but it wasn't at the time. Ducasse threw down the gauntlet when he decided to have the most expensive restaurant in NYC. At that price, one expected something more, something to take it a step above Daniel and JG and the rest - and obviously, Bruni wasn't the only one who didn't find that ineffable something in the offerings. They're closed. People chose to take their dining dollars elsewhere. The public seems to have agreed with him.

                        el Posto I could see making a case for at the top-tier, though I'm not sure I'd personally put it there - while I've never had a bad meal, there are a couple of odd flubs that have always sat a bit off with me and kept it hovering around 3.5 (the "shared tastes of pasta" course - please, give us a proper f#$%ing primi at that price!) - and with the new price I don't it's meeting my value:price ratio standard anymore. Falai I wouldn't call four stars, nor are they reaching for it. I'm quite fond of them, sure, and I think for the last few years he's consistently puts out three (to occasionally four) star plates of food, batting well above his price point. I think for the cost, they're an exceptional value, with food on a par with and, in the past year or so, often better than his more famous TV-friendly contemporaries at Babbo and Scarpetta. But they're three-star restaurants, IMO (well, Scarpetta I'm up and down on) - and strong ones at that. And while I've had great experiences there I do understand that's subjective, and that by most diner's standards (and seemingly the NYT's) "four star" means a certain poshness level, a jacket requirement - and for some reason, more often than not, being within walking distance of Central Park South. With the exception of DP, none of the above shoot for that, and that's fine. That's what three stars - "excellent" - are for.

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                        Babbo
                        110 Waverly Pl, New York, NY 10011

                        Del Posto
                        85 10th Avenue, New York, NY 10011

                        Falai
                        68 Clinton St, New York, NY 10002

                        Scarpetta
                        355 West 14th Street, New York, NY 10014

                        Masa
                        10 Columbus Cir, New York, NY 10019

                        1. re: sgordon
                          hcbk0702 RE: sgordon Jun 15, 2011 11:34 AM

                          Bruni was blatantly biased in favor of Italian food, and rather tepid about fine dining in general. Just Google "bruni italian bias" and you'll be buried in exhausting and pedantic discussions on the topic.

                          1. re: hcbk0702
                            sgordon RE: hcbk0702 Jun 15, 2011 01:01 PM

                            Just for fun I did try googling it. Not much, actually. There were a bunch of links, but all of them seemed to connect to the same few articles / blogs from basically two people: Marc Shepard & Steve Plotnicki. Neither offered terribly convincing arguments. The latter didn't even offer one, just stated it as if it was a well-known fact.

                            I don't think he was terribly tepid about fine dining, either. His four-starrers, again, all fell into the same camp: posh places with (as of this writing) $100+ prix fixes. Had he wanted to make some kind of statement about the Culinary Zeitgeist and the death of the white tablecloth, he could have on his way out elevated, say, Momofuku Ko - or looped back to his frist review and given Babbo the big promotion. But he didn't. His big elevation was EMP, which only differs on the posh-level from the others by only having a collared shirt requirement, and not a jacket one.

                            His three-starrers, while perhaps not as fancy-shmancy, nearly all fall into the fine dining spectrum as far as price goes. Most of them are restaurants that the average person - who last I heard made around $36K/yr - will never in their lives be able to dine at, not even on a special occasion.

                            And that's the thing: some of us, perhaps because the level of the game is so fricking high, have a different idea of what constitutes "fine dining" than Joe Lunchbox from Astoria does. Those of us debating the pros/cons of these restos live in a fairly elite club. We may not feel well-off, even less so in the current economy - but the mere fact that we can, even if only on occasion, dine at a WD-50 or a Babbo or fill-in-any-three-starrer, puts us in a special place. Some of us have perhaps lost touch with what "fine dining" actually means to most people. And even in terms of ambience, with the exception of the Momofukus, any of the three-starrers are going feel "fine dining" to most people, even Babbo with the rock music and everything. These are, to a restaurant, places most of the diners on any given night are there for some celebratory reason, for a splurge. To you they may not be "fine dining" - but to them it sure is.

                            So to you, Bruni was tepid about it. To me, it appeared he favored it. Depends on your definition of FD, I guess.

                            -----
                            WD-50
                            50 Clinton Street, New York, NY 10002

                            Babbo
                            110 Waverly Pl, New York, NY 10011

                            Momofuku Ko
                            163 1st Ave, New York, NY 10003

                            1. re: sgordon
                              hcbk0702 RE: sgordon Jun 15, 2011 01:13 PM

                              You'll have to look at the long, winding forum threads for the nitty gritty.

                              1. re: sgordon
                                loratliff RE: sgordon Jun 15, 2011 05:34 PM

                                What a tremendous post. I absolutely, wholeheartedly agree.

                                (And I also agree with your assessment of the review as a whole. Cheers.)

                    2. e
                      ESNY RE: nmprisons Jun 15, 2011 07:18 AM

                      Did you actually read the review? Based on the shameful service he received, what says four stars about that?

                      1. ttoommyy RE: nmprisons Jun 15, 2011 10:38 AM

                        "If I read one more review where he raves about the food and then gives a crappy star rating . . ."

                        Did I miss something? He gave it 3 out of 4 stars. That's pretty damn good.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: ttoommyy
                          s
                          small h RE: ttoommyy Jun 15, 2011 10:55 AM

                          Grade inflation has officially hit Chowhound. "Three stars? B-b-b-but how will I keep my four star average?"

                        2. c
                          calf RE: nmprisons Jun 15, 2011 10:54 AM

                          I am aligned with Sam Sifton's views (at least, this time). His charter is to examine restaurants, not food. One cannot merely separate a food from the socioeconomics that brought it about; that would be useless and unethical. What Sifton has done here is for the greater good. Note also that he clearly divides the two concerns (product quality versus service philosophy) into two pages in his article. This becomes very useful information for any prospective diner.

                          To what degrees is it appropriate for each of us eat to live, and yet live to eat?

                          And I'll turn it back at you—saying that 3 stars is "crappy" seems angry and irrational to me.

                          1. egit RE: nmprisons Jun 15, 2011 03:13 PM

                            Harkening back to Ruth Reichl and her rationale for doing some reviews in disguise.... she found it instructive how differently some restaurants treated her when she wasn't recognized. There were some places where she was treated very differently when she was simply part of the hoi polloi.

                            And for most people, who aren't the high rollers wealthy enough to be regulars at Masa, it sounds like they'll be treated (relatively) shabbily. If I'm going to be dropping ~$1500 for a dinner for two, I don't want to feel like how it sounds like Mr. Sifton felt on some occasions. (the great unwashed).

                            But you know, I wonder how much Masa really cares. I get the sense the target demo there isn't the hoi polloi anyway.

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                            Masa
                            10 Columbus Cir, New York, NY 10019

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: egit
                              r
                              Riverman500 RE: egit Jun 15, 2011 03:36 PM

                              Exactly. Masa is so small and exclusive that the change in the NY Times star rating probably won't change their bookings.

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                              Masa
                              10 Columbus Cir, New York, NY 10019

                              1. re: egit
                                w
                                willyum RE: egit Jun 15, 2011 04:53 PM

                                >> Harkening back to Ruth Reichl and her rationale for doing some reviews in disguise.... she found it instructive how differently some restaurants treated her when she wasn't recognized <<

                                Good point ... Google to find her review of Le Cirque in 1993, which she wrote in two parts ... first as an unrecognized dinner who was treated very shabbily, then on a subsquent visit where she was recognized and greeted with the smarmy line "The King of Spain is waiting in the bar, but your table is ready" ... that's when Le Cirque lost its 4th star in the NY Times and people tried to get her fired.

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                                Le Cirque
                                151 East 58th Street, New York, NY 10022

                              2. r
                                rrems RE: nmprisons Jun 15, 2011 06:20 PM

                                I am not a fan of Sifton, I think he writes in a horribly pretentious style, and that his star ratings often seem to defy logic, or to not match the praise he gives in a review. This time, however, I must agree with his assessment of the importance of proper service in awarding stars. I do wonder, though, about one paragraph in the review: "You may wait outside", she said. "When you return with your guests, please have your cellphone turned off or on silent". This seems to indicate that Sifty was using his phone while inside the restaurant, and was told (unfortunately rather tactlessly) to cut it out, but if this was the case, I can sympathize with the management's discouraging cellphone use. If not, this was totally uncalled for and is certainly not the proper way to greet customers. In any case, a review is about more than just a star rating, so it is important to read and understand the positives and negatives that led to it, and evaluate their importance. I think this review made it quite clear that the food would merit 4 stars but the service did not.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: rrems
                                  s
                                  Simon RE: rrems Jun 15, 2011 08:24 PM

                                  i'm with Sifty on this: while i don't always agree w/ his reviews (i.e. you enjoy Shun Lee????...Wake up!!!), i'll give him the benefit of the doubt that the Masa folks were rude and vile and that he wasn't texting away on his cell like a child and was in now responsible for their behavior...i actually think he showed admirable restraint: if someone told me to walk outside for an empty restaurant that costs 700+ USD/person, i'd have a hard time even giving them one star regardless of food

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                                  Masa
                                  10 Columbus Cir, New York, NY 10019

                                  1. re: rrems
                                    u
                                    uwsister RE: rrems Jun 15, 2011 10:10 PM

                                    I also agree with his assessment, particularly his statement about how it shouldn't feel "transactional."

                                  2. m
                                    mjm1218 RE: nmprisons Jun 21, 2011 12:14 PM

                                    The NY Times reviews tend to have a fair emphasis on service and decor, whereas, say, Michelin focuses almost exclusively on what's on the plate in front of you. NYT really emphasizes on how a four star restaurant must serve great food but also deliver a wonderful experience. It really depends on what you look for when you go out to eat at one of these restaurants. I feel that If i am spending several hundred dollars I should be catered to and treated extremely well, in addition to eating delicious food and sitting in a beautiful space. I hope that the reduction of a star will serve as a type of "wake up call" to the restaurant (though I doubt it will). For 500 dollars a person you should not be told to wait outside of the restaurant.

                                    This being said, I doubt that the restaurant's Michelin rating with decrease, as even mr. Sifton said "Masa is the city’s greatest sushi restaurant. That is not nothing".

                                    I too am not a fan of Sifton. I really don't like his reviews (I love Bruni's). Though nevertheless I do support this decision of his. It really destroys the image of how Masa is untouchable and extremely exclusive. I'm glad he did it.

                                    I wonder how Mr. Takayama feels. I would be furious.

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                                    Masa
                                    10 Columbus Cir, New York, NY 10019

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: mjm1218
                                      s
                                      Simon RE: mjm1218 Jun 21, 2011 03:04 PM

                                      i miss Bruni too...

                                      re: Michelin and Masa and Asian Restaurants in General: i find Michelin's occassional takes on Asian restaurants to fall somewhere between Useless and Flat-Out Clueless...about as useful as Zagat's or stray tip from a dubious stranger in an airport...

                                      -----
                                      Masa
                                      10 Columbus Cir, New York, NY 10019

                                      1. re: Simon
                                        m
                                        mjm1218 RE: Simon Jun 22, 2011 04:04 PM

                                        I would agree. I know the food in Tokyo is great, but I really do not think that there can be so many stars there. Though most foreigners/travelers (much of masa's customers) would abide by michelin rather than the NYtimes.

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