Thursday, November 17, 2011

Full Rundown of Masa 2011 (food)

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.

It was not difficult at all to get a reservation. I called one week in advance, and when we arrived for our 8pm reservation, there was no one at the sushi bar, and two two-tops at the tables in addition to our foursome. Everything is just as beautiful and tranquil as I remember from our visit last year. The sanded wood of the tables is just as beautiful as that at the sushi bar. Service was friendly and professional.

Photos are not allowed at Masa. I thought it was about the food or disturbing the guests, so I asked to take photos of the restaurant after our meal was over and we were the last ones there. We were told that the restaurant itself is exactly what the chef does not want people taking photos of. They offered to take one photo of us behind the sushi bar, but that everything else was off limits.

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.

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.

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 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.

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
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

For my friends who couldn't eat some of the pieces, replacement pieces of
MAITAKE mushroom
MATSUTAKE mushroom
AKAMI lean tuna
were served.

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.

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