Sushi in NY - MasaMay 10 2005 at 8:25 AM
|Robert (Login floppa21)|
AP Discussion Group
Have any of you had the pleasure of dining there and if so, how was it? I'm attaching the review I read below. I've never been to NY but I want to go now just to eat at Masa.
RESTAURANTS; Sushi at Masa: It's a Zen Thing
By FRANK BRUNI
Published: December 29, 2004, Wednesday
I COULD reach deep into a heady broth of adjectives to describe the magic of the sushi at Masa. I could pull up every workable synonym for delicious. Or I could do this: tell you about watching a friend bite into one of Masa's toro-stuffed maki rolls.
His eyes grew instantly bigger as his lips twitched into a coyly restrained grin. Then the full taste of the toro, which is the buttery belly of a bluefin tuna, took visible hold. Forget restraint: he was suddenly smiling as widely as a person with a mouthful of food and a modicum of manners can. His eyes even rolled slightly backward.
This play of emotion mirrored my own toro-induced bliss. It also explains why Masa, despite its chosen peculiarities and pitiless expense, belongs in the thinly populated pantheon of New York's most stellar restaurants. Simply put, Masa engineers discrete moments of pure elation that few if any other restaurants can match. If you appreciate sushi, Masa will take you to the frontier of how expansively good a single (and singular) bite of it can make you feel.
If you don't, you have no reason to visit this restaurant, which stakes its claim for the most part on a narrow patch of culinary turf. The unyielding boundaries of a meal here are just one of many ways in which Masa bucks the increasingly wobbly traditions of fine dining in this city.
The chef and owner, Masayoshi Takayama, who operated Ginza Sushiko in Beverly Hills before relocating to Manhattan, does not present you with a menu or choices. You are fed what he elects to feed you, most of it sushi, in the sequence and according to the rhythm he decrees. You do not seize control at Masa. You surrender it. You pay to be putty. And you pay dearly. The price fluctuates with the season and the availability of certain delicacies. It now stands at $350 a person before tax, tip and sip of sake or bottled water. Masa, which reopens Jan. 11 after a holiday break, is arguably the most expensive restaurant in New York. Lunch or dinner for two can easily exceed $1,000.
Justifiable? I leave that question to accountants and ethicists. Worth it? The answer depends on your budget and priorities. But in my experience, the silky, melting quality of Masa's toro and uni and sea bream, coupled with the serenity of its ambience, does not exist in New York at a lower price.
Masa is not merely sushi. The first third of a nearly three-hour meal here entails other indulgences, presented at methodically paced intervals and in prudently restrained portions. There may be an uni risotto with white truffle; dollops of a perilous blowfish's prized liver; slices of foie gras, to be cooked slightly in a ceramic hot pot; a mound of toro tartare and caviar to be spread on toasted rectangles of Japanese sweet bread.
But the last two-thirds of a meal are devoted to sushi, and Masa is devoted to doing this one very worthy thing to perfection. You get the best sense of this pursuit if you sit in one of the 10 seats at the hinoki wood bar, sanded so frequently that you catch its faint scent the second you leave the glare and hubbub of the Time Warner Center and enter this diffusely lighted, windowless sanctuary.
Behind the bar stands Mr. Takayama, in a simple white or gray shirt that looks like the top of a monk's robe. He is often flanked by two other chefs, both in simple black shirts, both with extremely short hair or heads shaved like his, as if any grooming more fanciful would compete with their calling to be vessels for immaculate yellowtail.
A chef makes your sushi a piece or two at a time, reaching for a pristine slab of fluke or Spanish mackerel and using a bone-handled knife to carve a sliver. He presses wasabi or maybe shiso flakes onto a bed of warm rice, lays the fish atop it and then anoints this jewel with soy sauce, yuzu or sudachi, a limelike Japanese fruit.
From just inches away, you watch this ritual, which culminates in the chef's placing the sushi in front of you with a bare hand. You in turn use a bare hand to lift it to your lips. Now the chef watches you, palpably anticipating your delight. This whole exchange has an immediacy and intimacy unlike anything at more conventional restaurants or for that matter at other upscale sushi bars, which tend not to have Masa's low ratio of sushi priests to sushi supplicants, sometimes one to two, especially at lunch.
Masa deals not in wide-angle splendor and broad-canvas fireworks but in tight close-ups and miniaturist flares. It prizes simplicity not only in its cuisine but also in its uncluttered environment, which keeps the focus on the food. Other restaurants strive to be extravagant theaters. Masa, with 26 seats in all, intends to be a minimalist temple, all neutral colors and reverential hush.
The servers, who bring you finger bowls of lemon water and tell you to turn off your cellphone, seem to have been hired for their genetic inability to speak above a whisper. The only implements they give you are the ones you need at a given instant, and these are usually made not of silver and crystal but of lacquered wood and bamboo.
Masa is the first Japanese restaurant to receive four stars from The New York Times since Mimi Sheraton gave that rating to Hatsuhana in 1983, and it speaks a culinary idiom distinct from that of New York's other current four-star establishments, all French-inspired.
But it is very much a restaurant of this time and place. Of a dining culture in which linens and petit fours are no longer nonnegotiable badges of class. In which a blockbuster main course often cedes its eminence to a subtler succession of small plates. In which a chef's seriousness is judged not only by his skill but also by the distances he will reach -- and the courier bills he will amass -- in the service and worship of superior ingredients.
Mr. Takayama trawls the globe, reeling in bay scallops from as nearby as New England and grouper from as far as Japan. He receives shipments daily and whittles down what he receives to what he finds worthy: yellow clam and red clam; squid and octopus; eel, cooked and brushed with a sweetened reduction of its cooking liquids; needlefish, upon which are drizzled purple shiso flowers.
Some of this flesh was so luxurious it made me feel flushed, giving me a buzz that undulated across a meal and crested with the toro rolls: insanely dense, obscenely intense clumps of fatty red tuna surrounded by rice and seasoned with wasabi and scallions. After these Masa gently brought me down, starting with a combination of rice, cucumber and sesame seeds wrapped in a shiso leaf. Dessert was a bowl of snowy grapefruit granité, as clean, pure and exquisite as the seafood before it.
Masa certainly has drawbacks, including its reverie-rupturing location in a mall. If you do not reserve a spot at the bar and wind up sitting at one of the tables away from it, some of the immediacy of the ritual is diminished, and the restaurant's pleasures are dimmed.
But they are by no means extinguished. It was at a table, in fact, that I dined with my toro-tipsy friend.
Three nights later he called and left a message. He said that he had almost gone to eat sushi for lunch but had decided that he needed a longer pause after experiencing what he called ''the sushi of the gods, so it's not so painful when I have to go back to mortal living.''
He had it just right. Masa is divine.
**** [Rating: Four stars]
Time Warner Center (fourth floor), Columbus Circle; (212) 823-9800.
ATMOSPHERE -- A soothing windowless room with neutral colors, a minimalist aesthetic and just 26 seats.
SOUND LEVEL -- Hushed.
WINE LIST -- Relatively concise, especially for whites, but geographically varied. A dozen or so sakes include several that are moderately priced.
PRICE RANGE -- $350 prix fixe, excluding tax, tips and beverages.
HOURS -- Lunch, noon to 1:30 p.m., Tuesday through Friday. Dinner, 6 to 9 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Closed through Jan. 10 for vacation.
RESERVATIONS -- For a seat at the sushi bar during a prime dinner time, it is necessary to call about three weeks ahead. Reservations must be guaranteed with a credit card. There is a penalty of $100 a person for last-minute cancellations.
CREDIT CARDS -- All major cards.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS -- Restaurant is on one level.
WHAT THE STARS MEAN:
(None) Poor to satisfactory