Cuisine: Japanese , Sushi
Menu: View the Menu
I know most people are foaming at the bit for sublime sushi at Bar Masa, chef Masa Takayama's serene shrine to raw fish. And yes, I agree that the sushi menu here is reason enough to visit, but I was more fired up to get my hands on one of Stephan Trummer's artisan cocktails. These are the sorts of drinks that make food (almost) unnecessary.Review By: Andrea Strong
You may remember that Stephan was the fabulous bar chef at Citarella, where he pressed fresh sugar cane juice for one of the most mind-altering rum cocktails I have ever had the pleasure of putting passed my lips. At Bar Masa, things are even better. Trummer's fresh-juiced creations are all worth a sip, so bring friends, order lots and have yourself a little cocktail party on the fly. I highly recommend the Kin Kan ($15), made with Ohayama sake, Grey Goose Orange, fresh kumquats and grapefruit, served in a clear crystal beaker, in a wooden bowl of ice to keep your drink cold. The bowl and beaker set come with these precious sake cups hand-crafted from light-as-air wood from Hinoki trees grown in Masa's hometown in Japan.
Another haute cocktail that deserves a slurp is the Asian Dawn ($16) a delicious sipper shaken from Tanqueray Ten, Shinokura sake, fresh yuzu juice, and grapefruit sorbet that gives the top of the drink a coating of slushy frost, like an icy lake starting to thaw in spring. The Basil Fragolini ($14), made from fresh strawberry juice, basil and champagne is like a bright taste of summer in a glass—a luscious balance of herbs and sweetness that wake up your tongue.
Bar Masa—the Ready to Wear line to Masa's haute couture next door—is a narrow sliver of a sushi bar, a warm, minimalist space with a long bar, and a few cozy blond wood tables secreted behind sheer burgundy linen curtains. The menu offers diners a chance to taste chef Masa's infamous sushi and sashimi stylings without biting the $300-$500 per person price tag of his flagship. I don't get how he is going to keep those prices up, but hey, I am a freelance writer without the ability to spend a grand on dinner. But apparently there are at least ten people a night (there are only ten seats at Masa) who have one month's rent to pay for raw fish.
The menu at Bar Masa is short but includes some very tasty morsels. There's finger food, like oysters on the half shell (6 for $18), tofu with ginger sauce ($7), skewered Kobe beef ($15), a lovely lightly fried softshell crab ($15), and one really odd dish called "fried sweet corn croquette" ($9). These are quarter sized fritters made from mostly potato (not corn), crisped in panko, each containing one solitary corn kernel and one lone green pea. They were very TGI Fridays. Dull, and potatoey, and I don't understand why they are on the menu.
The rest of the food though, was quite delicious and not at all puzzling. We loved the sushi canapés—a selection that included salmon with chives, tuna with caviar, yellowtail with truffle, and scallops with shrimp ($28). Served on a long rectangular plate like little gifts from Tiffany's, the toothsome rice canapés come topped with mounds of shimmering silky-soft fish that makes a decent argument for never eating meat (or anything else for that matter) again. This dish is a terrific illustration of Masa's ability to make fish a deliciously sensual experience.
We also loved the salmon sashimi salad, thin slices of bright pink fish marbled with ribbons of pearly fat, wrapped around strands of julienned cucumber in a lively kaiware (ginger) sauce laced with mustard and soy. The fish almost comes alive in your mouth; it is quite miraculous. The delicate hamachi sashimi with shiso, daikon and yuzu was also spectacular. I preferred his sashimi to the selection of "Bar Rolls," like the once made from tuna, avocado and cucumber ($21) that was giant, clumsy and difficult to eat, presented sliced in four large pieces, each the diameter of a hockey puck.
The modest menu also includes noodle dishes like a Kobe beef yaki soba ($26), a messy tangle of noodles that was ordered and devoured by the folks at the table next to us. It's on my list for when I go back, for cocktails, sashimi and canapés. How terribly civilized, dahhhlings.
Neighborhood: West 50s
Entree Price: $20-25
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