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Masa Reviews

Is it really worth it?
The question has accompanied Masa, the exorbitantly priced sushi emporium in the Time Warner Center, since it opened its doors in 2004, and it continues to do so today. The cuisine at the restaurant is superb, with flavors and preparations that are sure to leave you wanting to return again and again.

Take one taste of finely diced, top-grade fatty bluefin tuna tartare topped with an equal amount of osetra caviar and you’ll learn a fundamental truth: fatty bluefin tuna tartare is delicious. Masa, a restaurant founded and maintained by chef Masayoshi Takayama, is one of New York’s most luxurious culinary experiences.
That bite comes at a price, though. Masa had a basic price of $300 per person seven years ago, without tax, tip, and any optional extras, such as a drink or appetizer. The identical fandango now costs $450, representing a 50 percent increase in price. A supper for two at the restaurant may easily cost $1,500 — an amount that is somewhat more than 35 percent of the most current computation of the median monthly family income in the United States, according to the Census Bureau’s most recent data.

For individuals who spend their time and money at restaurants, especially in New York, the links between cost and quality, experience and service have long been a source of contention. Here are the greatest dumplings you’ll ever eat outside of China, and they’re just a buck a piece. There’s a steak over there that would blow the mind of the largest hat in Texas: it’ll set you back $190 for two people. One pricey restaurant has tablecloths that have been pressed and service that is almost obsequious. Another has tablecloths and plays music by the Doobie Brothers, which is played quite loudly as well. What is the best way to make sense of the distinctions between all of these? Is it possible to quantify that sense?
I went to Masa to find answers to such issues, which I did via meals consumed over the course of more than a year, first in the restaurant’s sparse, silent dining room and subsequently at the vast and sanded expanse of its hinoki-wood sushi counter. An inordinate amount of my time was spent in a cloud of pleasure, staring helplessly at the beaches of excess.
Aside from picking whether or not you want to pay an additional $120 for a plate of finely sliced wagyu tataki with summer truffles, there is no menu or other options available to clients here. (I’m in it for the money!) You just submit to the will of the restaurant, and there is no trial involved.
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The quality of the ingredients and preparations was, at times, nothing short of spectacular. From the toro-and-caviar dish that began my meals to the elegant kaiseki-style preparation of sea trout in a shabu-shabu broth, and from an indulgent bite of shaved summer truffles pressed onto sushi rice on through course after course of sushi to the grapefruit granité that signaled the end of recent meals, this was the case throughout.
The sushi, in particular, was taken aback. Mr. Takahiro Sakaeda, the chef who prepared two of my dinners, timed the nights with the deliberate malice of a great DJ or dramatist, weaving acts into the meal, complete with turning points, subplots, and escalating tension. (To illustrate, on one occasion, Mr. Takayama did not seem to be present in the restaurant at all.
Almost all of the seafood Mr. Sakaeda cooked was imported from Japan, with the exception of one orange clam that he permitted to be served from a local source one evening with a tiny grin. A variety of fish, including horse mackerel and deep-sea snapper known as kinmedai, as well as squid, sea bream, and plump red shrimp, were sliced elegantly and placed over slightly warm sushi rice, which served as a near-perfect carrier for the fish. He dressed them personally with a whisper of soy sauce or a grain of Himalayan salt, depending on what he was making, and distributed them around the group like presents.

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Under the lightest dusting of yuzu zest, there was soft, unctuous saltwater eel, with a zing that countered the wonderful oil of the fish and balanced the dish. Lastly, there was the exquisite grilled tuna sinew, which had been a nasty texture before being converted by the fire into a smooth, transcendent texture that was breathtaking to witness.

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Ramsay de Give for The New York Times is to be credited.

Chef Mr. Sakaeda revealed himself to be an excellent guide to the wonders of the water, as well as a meticulous cook and passionate instructor who rewarded curiosity with knowledge and enjoyment with even more.

Outstanding cuisine, on the other hand, does not automatically equate to an extraordinary restaurant. The experience of dining at Masa may be at odds with the elegance, simplicity, and perfection of the food on show, and this can be a significant conflict at times.

It happened one night when I arrived at the 26-seat restaurant five minutes before my reservation time, which meant I was there before my three companions. Except for the waiters and one occupied table in the dining area, the place was completely vacant. The lady at the restaurant’s front desk verified my (fake) name off a small list of reservations written on a piece of paper resting on a block of wood in front of her before seating me. She removed my briefcase off my person and deposited it in a closet.

Then she added, “You are welcome to wait outside.” “When you return with your visitors, please make sure that your cellphone is switched off or on quiet,” the staff member says.

This haute-cuisine establishment is located on The Fourth Floor of The Time Warner Center, in the heart of the mall’s renowned Restaurant Collection, which includes Per Se and Porter House, as well as Bar Masa, a prêt-à-porter extension of the restaurant. Per Se is just across the street. It’s difficult to picture someone at the establishment requesting a diner to wait outside for his or her companions.

Masa’s exquisite silk has a few more creases than usual. It is very commonplace at the sushi bar for the prepared meals served at the beginning of a meal, which are carried to the bar by waiters, to be put in front of clients without any explanation. During the delivery of sushi in the dining room, it is conceivable for the same lag in service to take place. It is disconcerting, especially considering the opulence of the meal and the issue of how much it costs.

The fact that Masa serves a large quantity of bluefin tuna, a fish that some believe is on the verge of extinction as a species, may cause some to take issue with the establishment. (The rationale for this is likely straightforward: it is to one’s taste.) The method in which Mr. Takayama attends to certain clients in the restaurant while neglecting others, in what seems to be direct relation to the amount of money they are spending, will be criticized by others who are not so critical.

A burgher approached Mr. Takayama one evening and offered him a drink of Montrachet. (“Come stay with us in Sun Valley,” the burgher replied.) “I’ll arrange for you to be flown in.” Mr. Takayama chuckled as he lifted his glass of wine.)

Finally, dinners at the restaurant come to a crashing halt when you are presented with a dessert that activates a switch. Everyone will turn their backs on you, and you will have minimal interaction with the employees until you are able to locate someone who will give you the bill. What do we do now? the guests wonder aloud as they look at one another uncomfortably.

Masa received four stars from Frank Bruni in these pages at the conclusion of the company’s first year in existence, the highest possible rating from the newspaper. Masa was the first Japanese restaurant to get four stars since Mimi Sheraton rated Hatsuhana in 1983, making it the only Japanese restaurant to do so since then. In her review, Ms. Sheraton lauded the restaurant’s tempura and inside-out rolls, while noting that the costs were cheaper than those of other sushi restaurants in the city: “$100 for two people with tax and tip and three Scotches apiece.”)

The restaurant Masa, according to Mr. Bruni, “is very much a product of its period and location.”

That is, perhaps, no longer the situation. New York City, bruised by the recession, wiser through experience, and wary of the future, is now demanding of its four-star restaurants an awareness that culture at its greatest level must never seem transactional, no matter what the cost is to the establishment. It is for utter relief from the world below that we go to these heavens, as much for the wonderful service and opulent ambiance as it is for the quality of the cuisine that is served.

Masa is the best sushi restaurant in the whole city. That is not insignificant.
Correction received on June 22, 2011.

During a review of the restaurant Masa published on Wednesday, the name of a dessert was misspelled. It is grapefruit granité, not grapefruit gratinée, that is being served.

Cuisine Type: Japanese, Sushi

Specialties:
Toro tartare with caviar

Striped Jack nigiri

Yuzu sorbet

Address: 10 Columbus Circle, New York, 10019, United States

Phone: +1 212-823-9800

Website: Masa Official Site

Hours: Closed: lunch : Monday, lunch : Saturday, Sunday

Michelin Stars: 3