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Masa and Bar Masa


bloviatrix
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By the way, does anyone recall the highest masa ever charged for dinner?  I seem to recall that, at its peak, it charged $450.  However, the hostess said that it was $600.  I don't recall it being quite that high.

Perhaps with supplements?

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Well, but the problem is that the receipt states: "The 20% service charge is not a gratuity and is not distributed to the service staff but is used to cover the operating and administrative charges."
I do not recall seeing that when I dined there last September. I am pretty sure that I did not leave an additional tip on top of the 20% they had already added.
Also, according to Eater, the restaurant notifies customers of this charge upon confirmation.  But I never received a confirmation call.  I called the restaurant the day before to confirm and no such disclosure was made.

And I do not recall they said anything to me, either.
By the way, does anyone recall the highest masa ever charged for dinner?  I seem to recall that, at its peak, it charged $450.  However, the hostess said that it was $600.  I don't recall it being quite that high.

I believe the price changes according to the cost of ingredients, and what Chef Masa decides to serve. In the go-go days, it could have been changing month to month, or even week to week. We probably wouldn't have been aware of every change, since no one who posts here eats there regularly. Edited by oakapple (log)
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By the way, does anyone recall the highest masa ever charged for dinner?  I seem to recall that, at its peak, it charged $450.  However, the hostess said that it was $600.  I don't recall it being quite that high.

I'm fairly certain that any confusion has been mostly the result of language barrier issues, as there are essentially no native English speakers on staff there. They intend the 20% service charge to be like Per Se's (and various others) and you can add additional tip if you like. If it is stated anywhere that this is not a tip, it's an effort to let you know it's not optional and that you can add to it if you like. This was instituted, I'm pretty sure, to safeguard their servers against foreigners not paying for service, as the Time Warner Center is visited by an increasingly foreign audience.

As for the highest Masa ever charged, the highest here in NY, I'm pretty sure, was the $450 level, apart from any particular specials that may have happened based on a temporarily available ingredient. However, the person may have been referring to the fact that at his last restaurant (Ginza Sushiko in Beverly Hills), the charge used to vary nightly based on ingredient use, and there were definitely instances when the menu cost $600 there.

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By the way, does anyone recall the highest masa ever charged for dinner?  I seem to recall that, at its peak, it charged $450.  However, the hostess said that it was $600.  I don't recall it being quite that high.

I'm fairly certain that any confusion has been mostly the result of language barrier issues, as there are essentially no native English speakers on staff there.

I'm sure that the tall, blond hostess who gave us this piece of information and who is from Texas would object to your theory.

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

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ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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Tupac, what kind of experience would a single diner have at Masa?

In general, I think Sneakeater's comment is on point. But I would tack on to it that it often depends very much on who that single diner is.

For my part, I frankly would have been way out of my league at Masa if I'd have gone alone. My friend's knowledge of Japanese and his repartee with the chef helped mitigate that awkwardness for me. I'm not sure it would have gone as smoothly otherwise. Masa is not a place I would call "welcoming" in any sense of the word.

That said, I don't think one's enjoyment of the food at Masa has anything to do with experience. I, the sushi novice, loved it as much as my friend the Japan-traveled expert. The food is, I think, just incredibly, incredibly good. And at the end of the day, that more than makes up for anything else.

Hey, all. Haven't posted in a long time! I had the pleasure of eating at Masa by myself a few months ago. It was great, great sushi, though I could have done without the toro tartare with all that caviar and the other tasty-but-not-tasty-enough esoterica that comes before it. The experience was so different than it is at, say, Sushi Yasuda, where I typically go. It could have been because Masa has this hushed, reverential feel about it or because it was my first time and so I didn't know the chef. Still, I thought it was odd that I was sitting at the bar but having minimal interaction with the chef serving me. I ask a lot of questions, so clearly I was trying to engage him, but it almost seemed like he had a mandate to keep quiet. A little strange, I thought.

That said, I lingered for at least 45 minutes after my meal, just watching and rubbing my hand along the bar. Such a beautiful place.

JJ Goode

Co-author of Serious Barbecue, which is in stores now!

www.jjgoode.com

"For those of you following along, JJ is one of these hummingbird-metabolism types. He weighs something like eleven pounds but he can eat more than me and Jason put together..." -Fat Guy

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By the way, does anyone recall the highest masa ever charged for dinner?  I seem to recall that, at its peak, it charged $450.  However, the hostess said that it was $600.  I don't recall it being quite that high.

I'm fairly certain that any confusion has been mostly the result of language barrier issues, as there are essentially no native English speakers on staff there.

I'm sure that the tall, blond hostess who gave us this piece of information and who is from Texas would object to your theory.

Hmmm, interesting. My bad, as she wasn't there the times I've been.

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  • 1 month later...

The entire summary of my meal at masa in May can be found at the ulterior epicure.

Of masa, the once-most expensive restaurant in the U.S., the few I know who have eaten there have said: save your money and go to Japan instead.

Having (finally) eaten at masa, I can’t say I would disagree with that advice.

...

Why anyone would want to sit at a table instead of at the bar in this particular restaurant, I know not. Notwithstanding my strong preference for sitting at the “sushi bar,” the dimly lit dining room here, set off to one side, seemed like an afterthought next to the brightly lit expanse of the bar. Yet, during the length of my meal, the bar was four seats shy of capacity whilst the dining room was, at one point, full.*

...

Whilst many diners are stiffened by masa, my compatriots and I were out for a relaxing adventure, and we took full advantage of the bar for such an occasion.

...

There’s very little ceremony to this omakase. It starts shortly after the sushi chef notes any dietary restrictions. (Despite having requested to be seated at Chef Takayama’s station, we were seated with one of the other sushi chefs. He has been with masa since it opened in 2005.)

Hot towels were presented. Drink orders were taken (Mr. RBI and Smiley let me have a run at the sake menu and I selected Dewazakura “Izumi Judan” (Ginjo) ($33), which was aptly described on the menu as “Dry and clear with a hint of juniper.”). The sake was divided among the three of us (the carafe poured enough for each of us to have a healthy cup and a half each).  And the first course arrived.

...

Is masa traditional? Not entirely. But this doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the fact that it palpably plays to (and preys upon) the Western ego. It’s not as gimmicky and slicked up as some nouveau fusion sushi places are (Jewel Bako comes to mind). While foie gras did not manage to work its way into our meal (there is a famous “foie gras shabu-shabu” dish offered), truffles did. For those who want it, you can have it in modest portions at extraordinary prices.

On the subject of price (perhaps the first thing people mention – as did I – about the restaurant): masa recently dropped the price of their omakase from $450 to $400 per person. This does not include tax. It does not include gratuity. And, it does not include a mandatory 20% “Service Charge,” which, as the restaurant’s receipt states:

“… is not a gratuity, and is not distributed to the staff but is used to cover operating and administrative expenses.”

While it is true that I would have probably left the equivalent amount in “tip,” and even though I was aware of the practice before I ate at the restaurant, I felt ambushed.

When making the reservation, no such “Service Charge” was mentioned (or, at least not presented as a non-gratuitous charge). And, there was no mention, reminder, or explanation of the service charge during the confirmation call two days before our dinner.

Some treat the “Service Charge” as a tip and leave no additional “gratuity.” Some, like the gentleman seated next to me, add (in a purposefully audible note to the server) hundreds of dollars more. He and his date got an extra round of desserts (green tea ice cream for him and something I couldn’t quite make out from our vantage for her).

Feeling obligated to tip on top of a “Service Charge” after laying down $500 left an awkward taste in my mouth. With a 20% tip on top of the 20% “Service Charge,” nearly half of the total outlay pays for service that’s barely audible or present, the staff salaries, a flowering dogwood, lights, and a tony rent check to the lucky folks who own the Time Warner Center.

Is masa worth it? I suppose on an ounce-for-ounce level, yes. Top cuts of fresh fish are flown in daily from around the globe. The level of thought and execution is solid and unwavering. The real estate is generous: both elbows are allowed a wide berth. It’s intimate: you and two or three others at the most have the exclusive attention of one chef for about three hours. And the care and quality of the fish really cannot be doubted.

Is it a culinary experience and destination to be cooed over? Many, including the triple-continentals sitting next to me (he an Aussie and she a Norwegian, both living in Thailand) clearly think so.

I’m not prone to cooing.

For me, it was a worthy experience that I need not repeat any time soon. If I were Daddy Warbucks with a hill of cash to blow, I could justify dropping into masa a couple of times a year. Otherwise, I’ll leave this one to the expense account-carrying egos that need a nice massage. I’ll head to Japan instead.

One more shameless check off the list.

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

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ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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"Go to Japan" didn't I first exclaim that to you or in this thread a while back?

Despite just getting back from Japan I'd still love to go to Masa, I just can't justify doing so because I know I'll be back in Japan soon and know that I can seek out something better for half the price.

You can't put a price on not having to sacrifice 30 hours in Air travel to Japan and being able to hop in a cab, so it does make sense for certain people. While I love eating in Japan I don't normally travel to Japan for the purpose of eating, although it's one of the reasons I keep going back.

I do think the service charge thing is disingenuous, especially since you are sitting at the bar and are engaging the chef directly. Japanese restaurants build such charges and a potential tip into all their prices. This results in a bit higher pricing but none of the awkwardness. The only place that might employ a service charge like that means your servers are arriving in panties, or something like that, as was popular in the booming 80s and early 90s in Japan. Even then tho, it's rare; again, it's usually built into the price of your drink or food or some seat charge.

Some of the most profitable (and priciest) of NY's Japanese restaurants sell a semi-authentic Japanese experience with business practices of NY, effectively preying on Westerner's who don't want to protest the mystique of Japanese culture... Masa is a good example, so is Yasuda (!!) to a certain extent.

Edited by raji (log)
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"Go to Japan" didn't I first exclaim that to you or in this thread a while back?

Yes, yes you did, Raji. Not that I didn't believe you, but I just wanted to experience masa. I'm glad I went. But I'll be happier going to Japan next time.

I do think the service charge thing is disingenuous, especially since you are sitting at the bar and are engaging the chef directly. Japanese restaurants build such charges and a potential tip into all their prices. This results in a bit higher pricing but none of the awkwardness. The only place that might employ a service charge like that means your servers are arriving in panties, or something like that, as was popular in the booming 80s and early 90s in Japan. Even then tho, it's rare; again, it's usually built into the price of your drink or food or some seat charge.

Yeah, our servers were definitely *fullyclothedthankgoodness.*

Some of the most profitable (and priciest) of NY's Japanese restaurants sell a semi-authentic Japanese experience with business practices of NY, effectively preying on Westerner's who don't want to protest the mystique of Japanese culture... Masa is a good example, so is Yasuda (!!) to a certain extent.

Yes, and that no-holds bar authenticity is what I value the most in a cultural eating experience. You definitely don't get it at masa or Yasuda. Cultural approximations, cultural approximations.

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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Every time I read about the Masa "Service Charge" bullshit I shake my head in disbelief. Apparently one diner decided to do more than that:

Masa returns services charge - Eater

Regardless of the illegality of the practice, I can't believe they have the nerve to charge you 20% for "administrative expenses" and then expect you to add an additional 20% tip, all on top of a $400/person meal. (And then they charge you $5 for a coke?) This is some crazy shit. I'm surprised more people haven't called them out on it.

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I think its $500/person for the meal, no?

Nope, the price of the meal has been lowered, most recently from $450, to $400. I'm not sure the baseline price was ever at $500, though the hostess seemed to be under that impression.

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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I still think this is primarily a misunderstanding/communication issue. From all the conversations I've had, it is intended as the equivalent of any restaurant's service charge, meaning that it's there as what we think of as a tip, but you are welcome to add even more if you choose. They don't call it a "tip" because they don't want it to be optional, but they don't expect you to leave an additional gratuity unless you've had an unusually good experience. Maybe specific people at the restaurant are saying otherwise (or being unclear) in the hopes of upping their take even more, but my understanding was that they originally added it because of the many Europeans and others from non-tipping cultures that frequent the restaurant. Per Se has a similar practice. The TWC is a major destination for out of towners.

Edited by LPShanet (log)
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I think its $500/person for the meal, no?

Nope, the price of the meal has been lowered, most recently from $450, to $400. I'm not sure the baseline price was ever at $500, though the hostess seemed to be under that impression.

I'm pretty sure $450 was the peak for the regular prix fixe in NY.

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I think its $500/person for the meal, no?

Nope, the price of the meal has been lowered, most recently from $450, to $400. I'm not sure the baseline price was ever at $500, though the hostess seemed to be under that impression.

I'm pretty sure $450 was the peak for the regular prix fixe in NY.

That is my understanding as well. And I won't be surprised to see that price go back up when the colder months set in, or the economy gets some lubrication - whichever happens first. (Hopefully, it's the latter.)

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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I still think this is primarily a misunderstanding/communication issue.  From all the conversations I've had, it is intended as the equivalent of any restaurant's service charge, meaning that it's there as what we think of as a tip, but you are welcome to add even more if you choose.

That was always my understanding too. When we dined there, I left nothing else besides that, and I was warmly thanked as I left—something they'd hardly be likely to do if they considered themselves stiffed.
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Maybe specific people at the restaurant are saying otherwise (or being unclear) in the hopes of upping their take even more, but my understanding was that they originally added it because of the many Europeans and others from non-tipping cultures that frequent the restaurant.

Europeans still don't know to tip? Their guidebooks and years of American movies don't tell them so?

It's kind of funny that a Japanese restaurant, the #1 non-tipping culture on earth, would be the pioneers in forced tipping.

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Yes, and that no-holds bar authenticity is what I value the most in a cultural eating experience.  You definitely don't get it at masa or Yasuda.  Cultural approximations, cultural approximations.

I finally sat down and read your entire blog post -

One thing that is particularly non-Japanese is Japanese chefs setting up temples to themselves in foreign lands. It's part marketing but as many can attest, some of these guys have bigger egos than Ichiro. Some of the very best chefs in Japan you will find tucked away behind nondescript sushi and dining bars. But hey, for Nobu, Masa, Naohiro, it's their piece of the American dream. And we're all subsidizing that! All they have to be is the best, or at least slightly better than the other up-and-comers.

I thought it worth reposting your sushi course, which as you noted, brazenly starts rather than finishes with the Toro, but otherwise is a very good course in palette expansion.

I was taught, or rather forced, into this aspect of Japanese cuisine at a very tender age, in my teens! by some particularly well-cultured and well-heeled Japanese nationals, and I'm really happy about that education, because I do think it enhances the experience, and not just at sushi bars.

Some I knew would only drink tea at a sushi bar, maybe some sake later, nothing that might infringe on the delicacy of the beginning courses, represented by the whitefish, while dutifully displaying the subtle differences between the white fish species; a mushroom interlude followed by meatier, cooked, and cured seafood and fish, and finally "fisher" fare, as it were... and ending in a classic Negitoro, and a final accent of shiso - love it. It's a good guide to ordering a la carte at a sushi bar, and starting with shiromi (white fish) at the bar should clue the sushi chef into your plans....... otherwise, drink, be merry and fast-track that toro!

“Sushi Course”

Toro (x2)

Sima aji (striped jack)

Hirame (fluke)

Tai (sea bream)

Kinme (snapper)

Shiitake (mushroom)

Ika (squid)

Amaebi (sweet shrimp)

Suji (grilled toro sinew)

Saba (mackerel)

Aji (horse mackerel)

Akamutsu (fatty deep sea snapper)

Kuruma ebi (cooked shrimp)

Anago (eel)

Unagi (fresh water eel)

Tako (octopus)

Aoyagi (surf clam – actually, “orange clam”)

Torigai (cockle)

Kohada (herring)

Uni (sea urchin)

Negitoro Roll

“Ume Shiso Lotus Wrap”

Returning from Japan few days ago, I was reminded how much your palette CONTRACTS over there and how much more delicate the everday flavors - I had to spit out some birthday cake today, remarking how teeth-curlingly sweet it was, and similarly had the fumes of buffalo wings burn my eyes and nostrils. This aversion to fat- and sweet-tooth keep Japanese people slim!

While you deride Masa for cultural approximation, you do have to give it credit for trying to expand and contract your palette within one meal. But at what a price! You'll see a lot of the places I like at least make an earnest attempt at this at one quarter the price. This is why Japanese dining is rarely the one-plate "entrees".

Edited by raji (log)
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Yes, and that no-holds bar authenticity is what I value the most in a cultural eating experience.  You definitely don't get it at masa or Yasuda.  Cultural approximations, cultural approximations.

I finally sat down and read your entire blog post -

One thing that is particularly non-Japanese is Japanese chefs setting up temples to themselves in foreign lands. It's part marketing but as many can attest, some of these guys have bigger egos than Ichiro. Some of the very best chefs in Japan you will find tucked away behind nondescript sushi and dining bars. But hey, for Nobu, Masa, Naohiro, it's their piece of the American dream. And we're all subsidizing that! All they have to be is the best, or at least slightly better than the other up-and-comers.

I don't doubt that. But when the egos become palpable in the diner's seat...

I thought it worth reposting your sushi course, which as you noted, brazenly starts rather than finishes with the Toro, but otherwise is a very good course in palette expansion.

I was taught, or rather forced, into this aspect of Japanese cuisine at a very tender age, in my teens! by some particularly well-cultured and well-heeled Japanese nationals, and I'm really happy about that education, because I do think it enhances the experience, and not just at sushi bars.

Some I knew would only drink tea at a sushi bar, maybe some sake later, nothing that might infringe on the delicacy of the beginning courses, represented by the whitefish, while dutifully displaying the subtle differences between the white fish species; a mushroom interlude followed by meatier, cooked, and cured seafood and fish, and finally "fisher" fare, as it were... and ending in a classic Negitoro, and a final accent of shiso - love it. It's a good guide to ordering a la carte at a sushi bar, and starting with shiromi (white fish) at the bar should clue the sushi chef into your plans....... otherwise, drink, be merry and fast-track that toro!

Indeed, the green tea was all I needed and drank with the sushi part of the meal. But the sake's minerality guided me through the more aggressively-flavored "Appetizers" (strange nomenclature, don't you think?) wonderfully.

While you deride Masa for cultural approximation, you do have to give it credit for trying to expand and contract your palette within one meal. But at what a price! You'll see a lot of the places I like at least make an earnest attempt at this at one quarter the price. This is why Japanese dining is rarely the one-plate "entrees".

Right, right. Palate contraction notwithstanding, "one plate" deconstructed over the course of an hour plus not only makes you focus on each component.

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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I still think this is primarily a misunderstanding/communication issue.  From all the conversations I've had, it is intended as the equivalent of any restaurant's service charge, meaning that it's there as what we think of as a tip, but you are welcome to add even more if you choose.

That was always my understanding too. When we dined there, I left nothing else besides that, and I was warmly thanked as I left—something they'd hardly be likely to do if they considered themselves stiffed.

But the receipt says outright that the service charge is not a gratuity and is not distributed to staff. In North America, a tip is always for the staff. If they're not distributing the money to staff, it's not a tip.'

The 20% Service Charge is not a gratuity and is not distributed to service staff but is used to cover operating and administrative expenses.

If you want to see it, take a look http://eater.com/archives/2009/06/happy_en...ouse_charge.php

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But the receipt says outright that the service charge is not a gratuity and is not distributed to staff.  In North America, a tip is always for the staff.  If they're not distributing the money to staff, it's not a tip.'
The 20% Service Charge is not a gratuity and is not distributed to service staff but is used to cover operating and administrative expenses.

If you want to see it, take a look http://eater.com/archives/2009/06/happy_en...ouse_charge.php

Exactly. It clearly states that it is not a tip.

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Maybe specific people at the restaurant are saying otherwise (or being unclear) in the hopes of upping their take even more, but my understanding was that they originally added it because of the many Europeans and others from non-tipping cultures that frequent the restaurant.

Europeans still don't know to tip? Their guidebooks and years of American movies don't tell them so?

It's kind of funny that a Japanese restaurant, the #1 non-tipping culture on earth, would be the pioneers in forced tipping.

At the risk of offending members of other (especially certain European) cultures, my observation has been that those Europeans that don't tip are often willfully ignorant rather than oblivious. In a number of cases, it's become clear to me that even though they've been made aware of the custom, they still don't follow it, either because they object to it in principle, or because they think they can get away with not tipping. Either way, the servers get stiffed, or at least underpaid. In the offenders' defense, I'm sure paying for something that they're used to getting free doesn't sit well with them. Your point about the irony of the Japanese enforcing it is well taken, though:)

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