Masa (NY) – Massive Money

I recently visted NY from SF. If there’s a world-class worthy sushi restaurant, I will try it. Often, these places are hidden, unknown, or simply prohibitive to the casual eater (in terms of accessibility or money.) Masa has been hyped as the end-all be-all of sashimi, sushi, and Japanese cuisine.

Upon walking in, it’s obvious they are creating a special serenity in the heart of the bustling city – a space that inspires awe yet soothes – a perfect mood to submit yourself to the chef. (Or to the cynical, an over-the-top Japanese exoticism that is designed to make your Prada pockets lighter.)

More than anything else, i judge a sushi restaurant by the quality of the fish served. Quantity & variety are often the downfalls of many sushi experiences – just serve the freshest fish for that day. Everything that Masa served was of a higher quality – nothing, not a single piece, would have been topped in a lesser restaurant.

The Toro was great but not grand. The pieces were just not big enough for me to truly appreciate the fish. They melted in your mouth, as any toro should, but the buttery texture from the fattiness was missing. It did not force me to slow down my chewing, look distantly at the horizon, and fool myself into thinking the meainig of life might be within reach. It should have – I really wanted it to. 9/10

Bonito – it’s a fish that’s rarely in season and that wait is almost always worth it. Lightly grilled and sprinkled with yuzu and purple flowers – no meditation (only toro can do that) but one of those forced grins that you try to so hard to hold back for fear of a bigger, goofier one engulfing your face. 10/10

Uni – the most misunderstood of all – no other food has such a divisive reputation. Great uni has the sweetness and buttery texture of ice cream with a hint of the briney sea. It’s sensual, it’s certainly dangerous (ever had a bad piece?), and Masa’s induced a brief pondering of life. 9.5/10

Raw & Forbidden – if a sushi restaurant is willing to serve you raw lobster, shrimp, or scallops; they are truly vouching for the supreme quality of their ingredients. Unfortunately, Masa did not serve much from this category – everything was very lightly cooked at a minimum. A fresh scallop shucked from the shell is right behind toro and uni in terms of sensualness. Masa did not attempt to seduce me in this manner. 7/10

On Second Thought – the mark of a great restaurant is forcing you to eat something you hate, and love it. I’ve never liked clams. My sushi chef handed me a orange clam sushi. First thought is ugh; second thought is I must try it. Mmmmm…. that was good. Then he hands us a red clam sushi – just as good. Then a 3rd clam sushi – wow – do i like clams now? It was only on the 4th clam sushi (the outside of the red clam) that i finally remembered why i disliked clams. 3/4 – excellent! 9/10

Variety - i rarely care about variety in a sushi place but Masa blew me away with the sheer breadth of their offerings. Rarely can you eat 10 excellent things in a sushi place but Masa served me **30** servings of sushi – and all of it fresher than the freshest in an above average sushi place. I’m still astounded and i recommend Masa for this reason alone. 11/10

Cooked Stuff – it’s good but i usually don’t care; however, i found myself wishing they’d have given me more. Masa definitely excels in this area. I had some sort of plant that was perfectly fried. The tiny leaves were perfectly intact; a coat of batter covered it like a gentle frost; and not a touch of grease. Excellent stuff. 10/10

Dessert – maybe i’m a little spoiled by french places but if you’ve just eaten 30 servings, you might expect more than single dessert dish. They served an excellent grapefruit ice but 1-2 additional dessert servings would have been more appropriate. Maybe a variety of fresh fruit or something. 7/10

Patrons – maybe i’m an elitist, and i’m certainly comfortable in my local sushi place where one is not admitted without good cause, but the sheer expense of Masa most likely means you’ll be eating next to some ego-maniac investment banker instead of someone who truly appreciates the food. I was.
Expense - hmmm, this was very good, a sushi experience of the highest order (despite my criticisms above), but $500/person?!?!?! Wow. I’ve spent $200, $250, even $350 but $500? Maybe the chef is already living in the future where fish are extinct.

If you love sushi, you must try Masa once. It doesn’t have the best fish in the country (Sawa and Kuruma Zushi beat it here); its sushi (re: the rice) is neck and neck w/ Sushi Yasuda; and the entire experience is easily eclipsed by Urasawa. But it is quite special.

Here was the complete menu for that night (not in this order; can’t remember that)
- orange clam
- red clam
- clam
- red clam outside
- uni (2)
- grilled scallop
- baby scallop (rawer)
- grilled squid
- fluke
- bonito w/ purple flower\s
- herring
- snapper
- 2 different mackerals
- naguro
- toro roll
- toro sashimi
- toro tartar w/ caviar
- toro sushi
- grilled toro
- fried plants w/ sea salt
- shrimp (lightly cooked)
- sweet shrimp
- sea bream
- squid w/ mustard
- grilled shitake sushi
- soup w/ seaweed (not miso)
- eel
- needle fish
- asian crawfish (lightly cooked)
- grapefruit shaved ice

- chuck

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  • KK

    US$500 per person for a sushi meal!?
    I live in Hong Kong & visit Japan 2 or 3 times per year. The top sushi restaurants in Tokyo usually charge noe more than US$250 to 300 per person for a chef menu/set. I guess that the freshness & variety of seafood in a sushi restaurant in US can’t be better than one in Tokyo.
    It may be worthwhile for you to take a Japan gourmet tour. Besides sushi, there are a lot of great traditional Japanese food such as tempura, the original Waygu beef… Besides, there are a lot of very good French & Italian restaurants in Japan with chefs trained overseas in Europe.

  • ChuckEats

    KK, a Japan trip is a likelihood early next year. If you can provide some high-end recommendations for sushi and beef, it would be highly appreciated. It’s good to hear they don’t charge more than $300/person – I won’t go broke :)

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  • sygyzy

    i hope you don’t mind me asking but was that $500 before tax and gratuity or after?

  • ChuckEats

    sygyzy, too long ago to remember the exact details. at the $500 mark, what’s another $100 matter for tips? come with $600 and maybe you’ll be that much happier if the bill comes out cheaper.