Thought I'd share a few thoughts after last night's birthday dinner at Masa's.
Several years ago I stopped by briefly to take a look at the dining room, which was beautifully updated by Orlando Diaz Azcuy's firm. At the time I didn't realize that the room had floor-to-ceiling mirrors in the back, which visually doubled the restaurant. As I stepped down into the room last night I realized it was a rather intimate restaurant, much smaller than I expected. It reminded me a bit of New York's La Grenouille, where everyone is pretty much seated together in an a single open room, in full view. The room's color scheme is sophisticated and urbane: dark walls punctuated by white framed art work, upholstered toile print chairs, and four red silk pleated lanterns hanging from the ceiling, providing unexpected blasts of color. I'll confess to wishing the restaurant had strictly enforced its dress code of jackets for men and cocktail attire for women. The result was a room scattered with shirt sleeves, short sleeves, and sweaters. Maybe it's more of a dress recommendation than a code. For me it makes it a bit more fun when everyone puts a bit of effort into getting ready for dinner at one of the city's top restaurants.
There are two options for dinner, the four or seven course tasting menu. We chose the four course with the wine pairing. I'll try to recap from memory what I ate, to give a sense of flavor and style. My overall impression is of a series of dishes with distinct and sharply focused flavors. I'm certain some of my descriptions are not precise in terms of ingredients, but I hope it conveys a general sense of what I experienced.
For the first amuse bouche, my seafood aversion was accommodated with a parmesan gougere, a lovely little puff of cheesy flavor and warmth.
The next amuse was a complex combination that had a slender cylinder of celery root filled with what I believe was a cool and creamy puree of turnips, topped with thin slices of glossy brown summer truffles. The complexity of the preparation was impressive. It took just a few bites to finish off this little jewel of contrasting flavors and textures.
My partner and I then had the pâté de campagne, which was studded with slivered pistachios. Included were buttered baguette toasts and a small pile of chopped and flavorful something - for the life of me I can't recall what it was, but it added an intense counterpoint to the pâté. This was served with a pleasingly sweet 2010 Josef Rosch Kabinett Riesling, from Mosel, Germany. For this course I wish I'd more carefully alternated bites with sips, rather than eating the food first and drinking much of the wine afterwards.
Next was an artichoke salad, served deconstructed on a narrow rectangular plate. The elements were spread out in a row - artichokes, miniscule roasted carrots, some other tiny roasted vegetables, and a small pile of niçoise olive powder, the closest I think I've come to molecular gastronomy. I imagine a variety of techniques were used to prepare the dish: roasting, steaming, boiling. The wine for this was an earthy 2010 Loimer Gruner Veltliner from Austria. The wine paired wonderfully with the elements pulled from the soil.
The waitress mentioned that the pork loin would be served rare, which would be reddish. I requested mine be done so that there'd be just a trace of pink. As it turns out, both of ours incorrectly came out to the same degree of doneness, which probably met my needs but not my dining companion's. In retrospect, it was my mistake to second guess the chef because the pork was ever so slightly tough around the exterior edges. Nonetheless, the brined pork had a profoundly porky flavor. I'd forgotten how distinctive pork could taste. The accompanying sauce had an almost cherry like flavor, however there was no fruit in the sauce, just the sweetness from the meat's juice. The wine was a perfect choice, a 2008 Freeman Pinot Noir from Sonoma. The cherry flavor in the wine went brilliantly with the pork.
Dessert was a riff on carrot cake, with a thumb-sized cake, topped with a cream cheese frosting, sitting on what I believe was a dacquoise, accompanied by dots of lemon curd, an oval of crème fraîche ice cream, and tiny scoops of an apple-cinnamon sorbet. The plate provided yet another series of intensely focused flavors. The final wine was a 2009 Domaine de Durban Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, from France.
After dessert we had a second chance for sweets, selected from a cart containing an array of mignardises: chocolates, macarons, lollipops, and financiers, to name a few. I requested a gluttonous number of these little delights.
A couple of mis-steps along the way were surprising. For instance, we were about to be served the second course before we'd even seen the first course. We had to point this out to the server. At this level of dining I really do expect perfection in terms of service. Very surprising a slip up like this could occur. Aside from this, the service was cordial and efficient throughout the 2-hour dinner.
The other odd thing, trifling really, occurred when we arrived in the small entry area. We were first and then another couple came in after us. It's a bit baffling that they were offered a seat before we were. Fortunately we got a slightly better table. There really aren't any bad tables, well maybe those in the front of the room nearest the entrance, which I'd think would be a bit drafty.
All in all, it was a lovely dinner, one that reminded me how the sense of taste can be awakened and delighted by a talented chef and his staff.
648 Bush Street, San Francisco, CA 94108
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