When the going gets tough, boys from Jersey get going... to the mall. Like a siren's song, the attraction was overwhelming. Between the Christmas season and the transit strike, I was beckoned. Bear, Wife and I figured the transit strike might open up some otherwise hard-to-get tables; Masa seemed a good place to start. So right after work we made our way over to the mall and at 6:40 sat down to the Omakase menu in the 26-seat box that is Masa.
Masa is in the back of the same mall that holds Per Se (I am done talking about what a let-down Per Se was), V Steak House (which sucks too much for words), and various other restaurants that I have yet to make it to. So far, the decorations of the various places have been absurd -- V looking like a baroque brothel that doesn't see enough business to patina the offensive luster, and Per Se like an amphitheater carved out of dark, boring clay. Masa is a large rectangular room with four tables of four and a sushi bar that seats ten. The decor is raw blond wood, bamboo, and room dividers with Japanese characters written on them. It looks like a very fancy Japanese restaurant in a very fancy mall in America. It leans towards sterile the way minimalism can.
There is a wine list I took a cursory glance at. The only thing that really popped was the Gaja and, if you are the person sitting down to multi-course dinner of raw fish and you even think to order a Gaja, you need not worry about me clamoring to join you.
There is also a Sake list and from it we chose a Yuki no Bosha AkitaKomachi Shikomi. It is served in a stone bowl, nestled in a pile of chipped ice, in a square, stone ice bucket. It is very light, and dry, and has a subtle hint of cucumber, fruit leaves, and melon. The Sake is served in frozen green bamboo joints, the aesthetics of which are lovely, but they do bring their own scent of raw greenness to the party which becomes more clear as the vessel thaws (as it inevitably will do over three hours of dining). I can say that it paired nicely with everything we ate, except the pickled ginger. It served to refresh the palate between tastes and mostly stayed out of the way otherwise. Well chosen, Bear. Huzzah!
I swear my intention was to take pictures of everything and to be a good little blogger this time, but our server asked me not to and, in the end, my companions admitted to being pleased not to have the distraction.
The truth is, ambiance and a great wine program can really give a place an advantage, and I guess it is possible that a cold room and wine list geared to trophy hunters (as opposed to people who look for a symbiosis in their food and beverage choices) may start at a disadvantage, unless the food is so sublime that, by the second or third dish, you become so relaxed that you start noticing things like warmth in the yellow hue of the screens by the walls, and the wonderful tactile sensation of the unadorned wood of the table. This food is that good.
It all started with:
Kegani Crab and Mozuku Seaweed Vinaigrett: Crabmeat is the sweetest flesh in the sea, but it is also very labor intensive to get at and alas, the work to reward ratio just does not always make crab a smart choice. It is best when a talented chef is willing to do the work for you. In this dish, the crabmeat itself was sweet and had the bite of the thumb meat of a hard-shell lobster. It was adorned with a light chrysanthemum vinaigrette and a mix of micro-greens; red benitade sprouts which were cinnamony, and purple shiso flowers which were peppery, offsetting the sweetness of the crab's meat.
Toro Tartare with Sterling Royal Caviar: Were you one of the kids who used to get yelled at for eating butter? Then this is the dish for you. The round, unctuous fattiness of the chopped Toro and the subtle saltiness of the caviar come together to be basically more a feeling than a flavor. It is served with small, warm toast squares and, when it is all put together, the sensation is that of salted butter on toast, except cleaner by way of the sea.
Fugu sashimi Salad: Ok, let's forget that at this point most Fugu in the world is not actually poisonous. I have always wanted to eat some and now I have. The flesh has a chew not unlike well-prepared squid; the liver is soft, like silken tofu, and flavorful and quite fun to bite into. The fact that Wife ate her way around the liver till the end and asked for reassurance she should eat made it feel daring anyway.
Fugu Karaage: Fugu is back again, this time fried. At the waiter's recommendation, we picked it up and ate it as if it were a chicken wing. The batter was lightly salty and the flesh possessed a wonderful seafood version of gaminess. I would eat this from a bucket in front of the TV, no problem.
Uni and Shirako Risotto with White Truffles: When Urchin told me this was one of her favorite dishes, I was very doubtful. How could the flavor of Uni, the wonderful lightness of the foam of a receding wave, mix well with the flavor of a white truffle, the wonderful earthiness of the forest floor covered in fallen leaves? Well it does, and it does well. The Shirako (soft roe) really rounds out the two extremes perfectly. This is no doubt one of the greatest dishes I have had. The best part is that it is available at Bar Masa a la carte. Finally, a reason to go to the mall every day; it's like I'm fifteen again.