#432 Anniversary Dinner at Masa
Ever since we watched “Jiro Dreams of Sushi," I’ve been absolutely enthralled with the concept of high-grade sushi. I’ve even tried cajoling hubby into making a trip to Tokyo before it’s too late (e.g., before Jiro himself passes). No dice.
To be fair, it does seem a bit exorbitant to fly across the Pacific for a great meal – not to mention completely unrealistic in our current situation with a newborn. So I figured, really, the next best thing was to go to Masa, purportedly the best sushi in New York City (which, in my view, is saying a lot!).
Years and years ago, I remember going to Bar Masa, Masa’s sister à la carte restaurant just next door – I don’t recall the meal exactly, though I do remember the green tea mille-feuille I had for dessert (sad but true!). Hint: the same mille-feuille gets served at the end of your multi-course dinner at Masa!
To be fair, chef Masayoshi Takayama’s tasting menu is pretty fab (some of the best sushi I’ve ever had!), if not quite recession friendly. We were treated to nearly half a dozen “appetizers” before the crowning jewel was served – aka the actual sushi. (And boy did the sushi flow!!!). I wish I had more photos to share, but I think I was too busy munching away and savoring every grain of rice! (Which actually made the most indelible impression on my palate, I must say). In fact, there was so much sushi that even an insatiable hubby (who normally loathes tasting for the very reason that he doesn't get quite full), remarked how we were served "just the right amount of food."
So there you have it! A memorable meal indeed, certainly worthy of a 5-year anniversary treat. It’ll probably set me back, budget-wise, quite considerably over the next couple of months (though I’d do it again in a heartbeat). It's cheaper than going to Japan...
In the meantime, I suppose I’ll just resort to watching reruns of “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.”
Restaurant Review: Bar Masa
Masa is not one of the most expensive restaurants in New York, it is the most expensive restaurant in New York. With Masa’a pre-fixe menus starting at $400, a dinner at Masa will cost you no less than $500 (especially with the manditory 20% service charge that doesn’t count towards the tip on your bill). But what many people don’t know is that right next door there is Bar Masa that shares the same kitchen as Masa. The only difference is that Masa’s chef is Masa Takayama himself but for those who want a glimpse of what Masa has to offer (such as its Seasonal Sushi Tasting and Quail meatball with foie gras miso skewers). While Bar Masa is not by any means cheap (its about double than whatever you’ll pay at Nobu and triple whatever you’re going to pay at SushiSamba) it is certainly less expensive than the $400 pre-fixe menu you’ll find next door. Bar Masa is quite small but very elegant and simple in design. The Japanese wood bar and ultrasuede banquettes are a good backdrop for the simple yet over the top Japanese food.
Bar Masa takes the idea of Masa but translates it into a cheaper a la carte form. You still get to enjoy all of Masa’s unexpected Japanese dishes with truffle and caviar but the portions are bigger and the prices are a lot lower. However the quality of the food is most certainly not the same since it is not prepared by chef Masa Takayama himself but quite frankly this is the next best thing considering Masa and Bar Masa share the same kitchen. To start I had Akami (lean tuna) Saki (salmon) and Kanpachi (amber jack yellowtail) sushi to start. The sushi was very fresh at Bar Masa but then again what else was I to expect. Considering the rest of the menu, Bar Masa’s a la carte sushi and sashimi menu is actually reasonably priced for an upscle Japanese restaurant. After I had the Salmon and Avocado Roll with Tempura Flakes and a Yellowtail Scallion roll. The rolls at Bar Masa is where I feel the pricing is a bit overboard. I can understand the 4 small skewers priced at $29 because they use foie gras and I can understand the Masa Toro with Caviar roll being $68 because they use both Toro (which in some cases can be up to $70 a piece) and caviar in one dish. But $18 for a plain Yellowtail roll is a bit absurd. Okay fine Masa does include 8 pieces per roll and the pieces are quite large but $18 let’s put it into perspective. Nobu, who is quite overpriced for what they offer (I love the place but I’m the first to admit it), charged $7.50 for a Yellowtail roll. Bar Masa charges more than double what one of the most expensive and well known Japanese restaurants in Manhattan charges. I guess that’s what makes Masa THE most expensive restaurant in New York (it even beats Per Se).
I was happy to visit Bar Masa especially since now I kind of have an idea of what Masa would be like. Bar Masa is the next best thing to the $400 pre-fixe menu. The food was fresh and the decor was nice though it is pricey. I can’t say that it impressed me more than Sushi Seki (which is still for me the best sushi restaurant in Manhattan) but it is a good option especially if you want to see what Masa is all about!
For almost five years, I’ve been wondering…watching…waiting. Masa was there, beckoning, but I knew the expense was staggering—more than most Americans pay for rent. Last week, finally, I decided it was time.
The restaurant is named for Masa Takayama, who five years ago closed his famed Los Angeles sushi temple, Ginza Sushiko, and joined Thomas Keller to anchor the Time-Warner Center’s “Restaurant Collection.” Masa and Keller’s Per Se lived up to the hype, with eight New York Times stars and five Michelin stars between them. Other restauranteurs at the venue weren’t so lucky (Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Gray Kunz), or failed to open at all (Charlie Trotter).
The format here is a three-hour omakase—meaning you’re in the chef’s hands. The cost? It was $300 when Amanda Hesser reviewed it for the Times in 2004, had risen to $350 six months later, when Frank Bruni awarded four stars, and is now $450—assuming you don’t order the Kobe beef, which carries a $100 supplement (we took a pass). Even with a modest alcohol order, dinner for two, including the automatic 20% service charge, was $1,285, including tax.
The cost of high-end sushi is surreal. The most exclusive imported fish is expensive no matter where you have it. The omakase at Kurumazushi, which I reviewed two weeks ago, was about the same price, but a lot of the items seemed similar to one another. What is astonishing at Masa is the sheer variety. At Kurumazushi, though, we were served massive chunks of fatty tuna. Masa slices the rare fish into thin slivers.
There are just 26 seats—10 at the sushi bar (made from a single slab of hinoki wood) and 16 at the tables. We chose the bar—always a better experience at a sushi restaurant—and were fortunate enough to be at Chef Takayama’s station. There were two other sushi chefs at the counter; and behind them, two more preparing hot dishes on a grill.
When we arrived, Chef Takayama was in the midst of dismembering a hunk of toro that must have weighed thirty pounds. With a knife sharp enough to shave a mosquito, he patiently peeled apart layer after layer of flesh, separated by thin cartilage membranes. The amount of waste was considerable, though the parts not fit to be served as sushi disappeared into the kitchen, aparently to be used for some other purpose.
Masa is camera-shy, and we didn’t want to encumber our meal with note-taking. As we reconstructed the meal afterwards, we counted at least 25 items, and it may even have been a bit more than that. There were about a half-dozen appetizers, followed by wave upon wave of sushi.
The appetizers were all wonderful, but perhaps the most startling was cold sea bass with chrysanthemum—we actually ate the flower along with the fish. Another winner was a diced fish still in its own skin, with vegetables and spices: “Eat it all,” Takayama advised. The other appetizers included a crab salad, toro with caviar, truffle risotto with sea urchin, and miso soup.
A list of the sushi courses is practicaly a Who’s Who of the sea: toro, fluke, mackerel, clam, octopus, scallop, eel, shrimp, sea urchin, squid, herring—and for several of these, more than one kind. Most of the time, Takayama molds a small wedge of rice, applies a dab of wasabi, lays a slice of fish on top, paints it with soy sauce, then places it on your plate, or if it is too delicate, hands it to you directly.
Occasionally, he varies that pattern. One piece came wrapped in a cucumber skin, another in a shiso leaf. One course was a shitake mushroom; another was white truffle. A few items came from the hot station: the chef seared one piece of fish with a hot poker before serving it. Late in the meal, Takayama produced a carcass that looked like it could be a baby lamb’s rib cage. He scraped off some meat and served it to us: “Tuna bone,” he said.
Dessert was a simple bowl of grapefruit granité, which seemed like an anti-climax to the sushi theatrics.
Wine (nearly all white) is served by the bottle, sake by the carafe. Compared to the price of the food, it was pretty reasonable. Three different sakes—admittedly, some of the lower priced ones—were only $101 total, which isn’t bad when the food was $900.
The service team operates quietly and efficiently, setting and clearing so smoothly that you almost don’t realize they’re there. Serving pieces (different for each course) are practically works of art in themselves.
Masa is clearly not a populist experience. At its extravagant price, it clearly cannot be. Yet, even in these tough economic times the restaurant appeared to be doing strong business—though it was not full. We could never be regulars here, but for one night we were happy to invest in Masa’s one-of-a-kind splendor. I can’t compare it to anything in Japan, but here in New York, Masa is without peer.
Masa is a Michelin acclaimed restaurant that serves Japanese food. They are located in Manhattan on Columbus Circle. This restaurant has a four and a half star rating with many reviewers giving it four and five star reviews.
Many reviewers really enjoy the food that is served at this restaurant and note that it is just one of the main attractions. In particular reviewers really love the truffled sushi, kobe beef, lobster, foie grass, and the duck. Many reviewers really enjoy the food because it is of high quality and priced well.
As for the ambience, many reviewers say that it is upscale with a quiet noise level. Reviewers also say that this is not a great place to bring children or groups. This restaurant can get quite crowded during the dinner hours, reviewers comment.
Many reviewers say the staff is very good at what they do. Reviewers note that the staff is very friendly and will give suggestions for your meal when asked. This restaurant accepts multiple forms of payment and also takes reservations.