Under: Asian,Desserts,Dinner,Japanese,Michelin 2010 Guide,Michelin 2011 Guide,My Life,Prix-fixe,seafood,UWS
I really didn’t think I’d make it to Masa this year. In fact, I didn’t think I was going to be even close to finishing all of the Michelin restaurants in New York; even though I’d gone to a bunch of them in previous years, there were still a lot of restaurants that I had to visit in a short amount of time. Luckily, I have wonderful mom, brother, friends (and blog readers!) that really helped me pull through all of the final restaurants in December. I wanted to make Masa the last restaurant on my Michelin list and originally I was going to eat with another blogger that was going through the Michelin list in New York as well, but he quit earlier in the year and backed out of Masa.
When the other blogger dropped out of our Masa plans, I decided to go on my own. But, as you may or may not know, going to dinner by yourself is kind of the worst experience ever (if you don’t know, try visiting a Korean restaurant on your own for dinner and having the waitress repeatedly ask you if you’re dining alone…awkward!) Ken and I talked about going together and he originally thought I should go by myself but eventually agreed to go with me (he’s visited a bunch of the other restaurants with me). I insisted we would go dutch because it would be unfair to make him pay for a dinner that was so expensive, especially since he surprised me with a new digital camera the week before (we exchanged Christmas presents early because I just couldn’t wait and he wanted me to have a new camera for the rest of my Michelin restaurants!)
To make Masa my last Michelin restaurant, I had to eat at Gordon Ramsay at The London, Cafe Boulud, Gilt, and The River Cafe, which I realized on Wednesday afternoon before my Saturday reservation at Masa. I thought Masa would be open later in December, but when I called to make reservations on December 1st they informed me that the entire restaurant goes on vacation from Christmas until the new year. I talked to my mom about going to a Michelin restaurant every night until Masa and although it was a large calorie intake, she thought I should go for it! I went to Gordon Ramsay on Wednesday night with a reader, Cafe Boulud on Thursday night, Gilt on Friday, and The River Cafe on Saturday for brunch, leaving me with just Masa on Saturday night. The restaurant reservations fell into place and reminded me of playing Ticket-to-Ride – when you realize you’re going to win the game with the longest route and the most points (if you’ve played Ticket-to-Ride, you understand that awesome feeling!)
So, Ken and I agreed to meet up at Masa for our 9pm reservation instead of meeting beforehand since we don’t live close to each other at all. I was running late and coincidentally, Ken was running late as well. We were about 15 minutes late and luckily the restaurant was understanding (we had the last seating at the sushi counter for the evening):
The restaurant has a sushi bar made out of hinoki wood that is sanded down and unfinished, three tables of two next to the entrance, and one large table that seats larger parties (on the Saturday we visited, the restaurant’s tables were all filled but only three sets of seats at the sushi counter were occupied. We sat in front of our sushi chef on the left side of the restaurant (Masayoshi Takayama has the center of the sushi counter and was cleaning his knives when we arrived). Our chef asked if we had any allergies (neither of us do) and we started with our meal. The restaurant doesn’t have a menu for food (only drinks) and the chefs decide what they want to feed you (although everyone gets the same food unless you end up ordering the supplemental dish – on our visit, it was Wagyu beef for an extra $90 per person).
Masa’s menu is broken up into five to six cooked appetizers and then 15 – 20 pieces of fish before finishing with tea. We started with kegani, which was large chunks of hairy crab mixed with a bit of seaweed and a dash of vinegar. The portions of kegani were very generous and the seaweed added a great briny sea flavor.
For our second course, the server brought toro tartare with a large serving of caviar. The ratio of toro tartare to caviar was pretty even (probably a teaspoon more toro tartare than caviar); the caviar added their texture and flavor to the creamy toro tartare and two pieces of lightly toasted bread.
Our third course was a warm dish: warm uni risotto. We watched the chef prepare the risotto and he generously stirred in three or four large scoops of uni into the creamy risotto. I liked the dish; creamy with a light briny flavor from the fresh uni.
Next, the most exciting dish of the evening: fugu sashimi. We were presented with a plate that looked like it was made from porous volcano rocks with fugu sashimi and edible flowers. Ken and I were both a little afraid to eat the fish because we were both thinking about the Simpsons episode when Homer eats fugu in Springfield (don’t pretend like you haven’t seen that episode) but the chef reassured us that the fugu was prepared by him earlier in the day and that he had eaten it as well. The fugu had a very mild flavor, a little similar to fluke, but the accompanying sauce was what made the dish special; it tasted like a combination of soy sauce and mirin. We were also given pieces of the fugu skin and liver and those pieces were much more chewy and gelatinous than the rest of the fugu.
After our fugu sashimi, we were given fried fugu, fugu karaage, which was lightly fried. The fugu was a little too bony for me (and definitely not enough meat) – the chef instructed us to eat the fugu with our hands, just like fried chicken!
Our last hot dish was the buri, which was a shabu shabu presentation; we were given two bowls – one filled with layers of wild yellowtail sashimi and thinly sliced scallions and the other bowl with near-boiling broth. We were instructed to dip the yellowtail (with scallions) into the broth and to take it out when the yellowtail became pink. We devoured the yellowtail, the servers took away the bowl the yellowtail was presented in, and our next course was the broth that was used to cook the yellowtail (Ken whispered to me if he thought the chef would be offended if he didn’t finish the broth because there was too much – I told him it was okay if he didn’t finish)
After our shabu shabu bowls were taken away by the servers, we were given a black lacquered plate so we could begin the sushi course. One thing that surprised me about the sushi courses was the ratio of fish to rice; the rice was warm and slightly sweet but definitely played second fiddle to the sparkling pieces of fresh fish. Chef Masa flies in fish on a daily basis and also collects fish from all over the US so you don’t have to worry on whether or not each piece of fish is the best piece you’re going to find in New York (and possibly the world).
The servers brought by bowls of warm lemon water so we could clean our hands because the chef told us to eat the sushi with our fingers. The chef took his wasabi root and began finely grating it into a paste so he could place just the right amount in each of our pieces of fish and then began preparing our next courses. Our first piece was the toro (fatty tuna) and the chef served me first; I waited for him to prepare Ken’s piece so we could enjoy it together but the chef insisted that I eat mine first. Our complete sushi courses:
(Shimaaji (island jack fish), Hirame (fluke), Tai (sea bream), Kinme (deep sea snapper), Anago (sea eel), Amaebi (sweet shrimp), Matsutake (mushroom), Saba (mackerel), Grilled toro suji (grilled toro sinew), Kurama Ebi (cooked shrimp), Hotategai (scallop with Himalayan sea salt, yuzu zest, and yuzu juice), Unagi (fresh water eel), Uni (sea urchin), Sayori (needlefish), Black Truffle, Tako (octopus), Umi Shiso, and negitoro roll)
The pieces were all delicious – how can you describe perfection? The eel was prepared behind the sushi chef where there was a little grill; a sous chef helped grill the eel and presented it to the chef with such concentration that it felt like they were performing open heart surgery on the eel, not preparing something for us to eat in one bite. The Black truffle piece was probably the most decadent (although not my favorite); the chef shaved black truffle until a piece of parchment paper was completely covered with the shavings, then prepared little balls of rice that were rolled in the shavings so it looked like we were eating entire truffles.
The negitoro roll and the uni were probably the most decadent; the sushi chef was carefully selecting pieces of fish from a box that was in front of me and Ken the entire evening; each piece was stored in parchment paper and delicately handled when the chef was ready to serve us another type of fish. When it was time for us to have our negitoro roll, the chef took a large piece of toro from the box, did a very rough shop lengthwise, and placed it on a sheet of nori before sprinkling some very finely diced scallions on the toro and presenting us each with a decadent roll.
After the chef gave us our last roll, we were very satisfied and excited for dessert; I met a friend that has dined at Masa on multiple occasions and said the melon you eat at Masa is the sweetest melon you’ll ever eat. It seems like an interesting choice for dessert but it’s really quite extravagant; an entire melon can cost about $100 because it’s carefully produced in Japan in the right conditions and soils. My friend explained that when the melon begins sprouting, all of the other melons are cut off so the fertile soil can concentrate its sweetness on one melon (they do something similar with grapes). The melon was very sweet but also on the mealy side (I prefer a slightly crisper melon).
After we finished our melon, we were presented with a surprise dessert from the chef – a green tea mille crepe cake with fresh whipped cream. The crepes were very lightly sweetened and placed between layers of green tea flavored custard – quite a wonderful way to end the evening.
The only flub in service was when the server refilled my tap water with sparkling water by accident – the chef didn’t say anything, but the cold look he shot her afterwards made me feel a bit guilty that I told her it was the wrong water. Otherwise, the servers were completely unseen and unheard throughout the evening; our plates were cleared without us noticing, we had warm towels to clean our hands before we knew we needed them, and our waters were consistently refilled.
The bill came and it’s always the thing that brings you back to reality from the high you’re experiencing after a great meal; even though we were in the Time Warner Center next to shops and other restaurants, when we stepped inside Masa, I felt like I was transported to a much more tranquil environment. I pulled out my credit card to pay (a Christmas gift from my mom and brother) but then Ken surprised me with the most wonderful gift of all – in addition to dining with me and celebrating my year of Michelin dining, he treated me to dinner! It was a wonderful gesture, completely unexpected, and it really did make my year of Michelin dining end on a wonderful note.
Me and Ken outside Masa:
The experience was really quite wonderful (even before Ken surprised me and paid for our meal). We both agreed that it was probably the most expensive meal we’ll ever have but Ken said it was worth it to see me so happy. After dinner, we were joking around and said it would be funny if we ended up picking up some Halal at 53rd and 6th…we didn’t end up waiting in line for chicken and rice, but we did end up taking a cab to McDonald’s so Ken could fill up on a quarter pounder, fries, and a diet coke. What a way to end the night and the year of dining with Michelin!