This is a silly restaurant. I'm sure everyone here knows that, but it becomes increasingly apparent when seated at the freshly sanded hinoki counter.
Case in point: a dish blithely announced as "toro caviar." It was not a finely diced tartare, arriving with no oil, no lime or lemon juice, no ginger, no wasabi, no pepper, no soy sauce, not even salt. Even top grade fatty bluefin tuna needs seasoning, right? Problem solved: take your carefully chopped toro and crown it with an astonishing mound of Osetra caviar, in a one-to-one ratio by volume. Ridiculous and ridiculously good, the Osetra caviar provided the briny pop that reasonable restaurants might emulate somewhat with flaky sea salt. Needless to say, this was better.
Another ridiculous moment: Masa picked up a cleanly skinned, fist-sized summer truffle and started shaving it over his workspace. A fragrant blanket of truffle petals accumulated in thirty seconds, attracting the gaze of every diner at the counter. He then formed a small spherical rice ball and rolled it around the truffle field with chopsticks, taking care to completely enrobe it. The warm rice adhered gently to the truffle slices, its heat further expressing truffle aroma. He presented the rice ball on a lacquered wood pedestal. The smell? Intoxicating. The taste? In a word: yes.
Another ride on the truffle train: this time, summer truffle covered thinly sliced wagyu tataki, deftly seared over binchotan. Hovering from almost raw to barely cooked from bite-to-bite, the meat was utterly entrancing. The best beef dish in the city? Sure, to the tune of $120. Kaiseki standouts preceded it, including a gorgeous bowl of Japanese grouper and wakame, sizzling icefish kissed with a whisper of salt, and light and greaseless tempura of sweet corn and summer truffle.
Most of the meal is sushi and it has no equal in this country. Some people make comparisons to Sushi Yasuda, but one look at Masa's stunning fish, encased in wooden containers with immense blocks of ice, should be enough to understand the difference. Here the sushi rice is seasoned subtly and quietly complements the generous cuts of fish. Highlights included the opening salvo of two otoro (fatty tuna) nigiri, buttery kinme dai (deep sea snapper), tai (sea bream), saba (mackerel), tako (octopus) with summer truffle, otherworldly kuruma ebi (tiger prawn), negitoro (fatty tuna and scallion) maki stuffed ludicrously full, and shiso lotus sushi topped with ume. Special mention must be made of both the unagi (freshwater eel) and anago (saltwater eel). Bucking tradition, Masa serves several pieces of grilled unagi sheathed in a thin cucumber wrap, stuffed so full that it doesn't close completely, similar to the luxurious negitoro roll. But even better is the impossibly delicate anago nigiri, adorned with yuzu zest; I simply haven't encountered a better version. The sushi was paired with a junmai daijingo, Kubota Manjyu, served in roughly hewn vessels fashioned from bamboo stalks. Independent of whimsy, the cool sake conjured visions of river stones and clear, tranquil streams. A refreshing grapefruit granité concluded the meal in the same state of mind.
Again, this is a silly restaurant. It does serve the best ingredients in the city, but if you have lingering doubts about the value, don't go. For me, the spray of flowers framing the background as Masa worked, focused and gruff, was an arresting image. I probably won't see that scene again any time soon, but I still look forward to my next visit.
204 E 43rd St, New York, NY 10017
10 Columbus Cir, New York, NY 10019