NEW YORK, NY, USA
PRICE PAID: $390 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)
FINAL SCORE: 8.0/10
On a busy Saturday night, I visited Masayoshi Takayama's self-named restaurant, Masa. It has the dubious distinction of being the most expensive sushi restaurant in the US, and some call it the best. It is the only sushi restaurant stateside to have earned three Michelin stars, and Masa demonstrates the same traditional focus on ingredient quality and execution that earns the best rankings in Japan.
Masa grew up working in his family's fish market stall in Tochigi Prefecture, delivering fresh sashimi to neighbors and customers on his bike. His lifetime of experience with seafood gives him a unique perspective to offer US customers a taste of the highest-quality sushi in the world. Masa began his life in the US with another highly traditional restaurant in Los Angeles that focused on providing an authentic experience for Japanese expats. He eventually got a zealous local following, including Marlon Brando.
Though he doesn't allow photos in his restaurant, I can do my best to describe the experience. Here's a pro tip: when making the reservation, request to be served by Masa himself. It doesn't cost any extra, and as long as you're polite and are making the reservation far enough in advance they'll usually accept. Requesting this honor gave me a seat front-and-center at the blond wood sushi bar. A huge yellow, blooming tree served as a backdrop to his work. The space is calm, relaxing, quiet, and focused. Watching the man himself work was a real treat- he is in complete control of the space and the kitchen. When he needed new ingredients- wasabi, let's say- he would mutter "wasabi" quietly under his breath and the whole kitchen would respond in an outdoor voice: "wasabi!" Within fifteen seconds, someone would bring him fresh ingredients. Subtle and impressive to watch.
The meal began with a few small amuse-bouche and appetizers served by the backup kitchen staff. First was a vegetable and mustard-y dish with a bright, spicy zing. Next was a small leafy green salad with fish, and of remarkable note was a whole cooked sea urchin served in its spiny shell that has the exact consistency and taste of cheddar mac and cheese (9/10).
The night's menu depends on which fish the chef has flown in from Tsu-Jiki market or been able to find in New York, but on the night in question I enjoyed:
- Japanese Mackerel- 9/10
- Fluke- 9/10
- Squid, with the skin delicately removed by hand- 10/10
- Sweet Shrimp- 10/10
- Cooked Sea Eel- 8/10
- Uni (Sea Urchin) that tasted almost like liquid butter- 10/10
- Cooked Shiitake Mushroom, fresh from the grill- 9/10
- Red Clam- 8/10
- Fatty Tuna- 10/10
- Vegetable and Shiso- 9/10
For dessert, Masa served a fruit and ice mixture with some soothing tea. Overall an extremely traditional presentation, and the coolest part was- as soon as he was done serving my meal, Masa excused himself to go to his other restaurant across town. An incredibly special evening.