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Can Masa Really Be Worth THAT Much $?


BigboyDan
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I really would like to read this article, however from what a couple of you said it seems that the reviewer was fair and gave Masa a chance. Maybe he just did not care for it.

Personally, I would not pay this much money for sushi. I like sushi just fine but a $1000 for two to eat sushi is not worth it for me. Taste is subjective and if your idea of the perfect meal is a perfect slice of raw tuna then who am I to tell you you are wrong if you decide to spend your paycheck on it.

Elie

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Houston, TX

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contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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I tend to find it difficult and often pointless- most of the time- to talk about the price of a restaurant. My reason is that value is such a subjective thing. THere are those, many, in the world and in America, who would say that $50 or $75 is too much for a dinner. It's all relative.

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I tend to find it difficult and often pointless- most of the time- to talk about the price of a restaurant. My reason is that value is such a subjective thing.  THere are those, many, in the world and in America, who would say that $50 or $75 is too much for a dinner. It's all relative.

Difficult indeed, but the fact that it is subjective doesn't mean one can't have an intelligent discussion about it. Newspaper editorials are subjective too, and yet, all newspapers have an editorial page.

I would say that those who believe $50 is too much for dinner have a simple solution at their disposal: don't spend it. By all means, if you don't see the value, don't spend it.

I agree that, with Masa, part of the issue is whether a $500 dinner can ever be worth it. My feeling is that, yes, it conceivably can be. However, with high-end dining you can't think about it proportionately. Is a $500 dinner ten times better than a $50 dinner? Probably not. The $500 dinner is for those who are able to appreciate incremental improvements in luxury, and have the money to pay for it.

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Let's be honest here. Isn't all this griping about the prices, and how can it be worth it, and suckers born every  minute, really an expression of our being pissed off that we can't afford it?

I'm reminded of the Seinfeld stand-up moment when, impersonating a stewardess closing off the first-class cabin, sharply snapping closed the curtain, Seinfeld takes a last disdainful look at all the people in coach and says, "You should have worked harder."  Snap.

I'm reminded of that every time I fly, and I'm ok with it.  No, I am.

I have no doubt you find the place and the chef worth the money. However, I think you are wrong in saying that the people that are sniping at their price point are just "pissed off" because they can't afford it. I am fortunate enough to be able to afford a dinner like that on a regular basis if I wanted to. I choose not to. $1000 on a dinner for two at a Japanese restaurant is foolish to me. Watch the place close it's doors within the next two years.

"My rule of life prescribed as an absolutely sacred rite smoking cigars and also the drinking of alcohol before, after and if need be during all meals and in the intervals between them." ~Winston Churchill

Morels- God's gift to the unworthy human species

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I agree that, with Masa, part of the issue is whether a $500 dinner can ever be worth it. My feeling is that, yes, it conceivably can be. However, with high-end dining you can't think about it proportionately. Is a $500 dinner ten times better than a $50 dinner? Probably not. The $500 dinner is for those who are able to appreciate incremental improvements in luxury, and have the money to pay for it.

One of the problems with having the price conversation is that it often dissolves into "I've had this and I think it's worth it" and then "I've had it too and it's not worth it" and then "I've never had it but it could be worth it." The argument ends at what Foodman said: "who am I to tell you you are wrong if you decide to spend your paycheck on it."

Unless we can talk about Masa's inconsistencies in service and quality, which I've barely heard mentioned, then we are talking only about whether one person is willing to pay X much for this food. To you a $500 dinner can conceivably be worth it; to my dad, it can't -- period.

That is not to say that it isn't enjoyable to discuss our opinions.

I really would like to read this article, however from what a couple of you said it seems that the reviewer was fair and gave Masa a chance. Maybe he just did not care for it.

Personally, I would not pay this much money for sushi. I like sushi just fine but a $1000 for two to eat sushi is not worth it for me. Taste is subjective and if your idea of the perfect meal is a perfect slice of raw tuna then who am I to tell you you are wrong if you decide to spend your paycheck on it.

Elie

I can't relate to the "That much just for sushi!" logic. It's a subjective matter, yes, but I leave my favorite sushi bar happier than when I spend comparable amounts on meals at the French and Italian big boys.

And to bring out a whole other bag of worms, for all this talk about high priced toro, it should be said that fish is only part of the equation. I've gone to both Kuruma and Yasuda, but prefer Yasuda, because I prefer the chef's rice. I'm not interested in going to Masa -- though Ruhlman's right, if I could afford it I'd be plenty interested in going there and everywhere. For my money, I avoid the pricier cuts of fish at my sushi bar, and I'm definitely not interested in having truffles, foie gras, and caviar anywhere near my sushi.

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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A rather lively ongoing thread in the NY forum has been serving as the ongoing discussion point for uber high end sushi joint Masa, located in NYC's New Time Warner / AOL building, also the location for other high end restaurants including Thomas Keller's Per Se.

A tangential topic has developed that deserves a general discussion thread of its own. How much is too much when it comes to spending for a restaurant dinner? Masa has a fixed price of $300 per head for the food, which includes an 18% service charge but does not include beverages or tax.

Masa Discussion (banter about the prices gets liveliest beginning at Post #67 of the thread for those wishing to just review that aspect of the discussion)

Some have suggested that it's simply too much money for a meal and couldn't possibly be worth that much... others suggest that it's simply a matter of what one can afford and how intensely one values the most ethereal of culinary experiences. It has also been posited that either you "get it" or you don't (i.e. why it's worth that much).

The law of diminishing returns is well known to audiophiles - e.g. a $2,000 sound system will sound at least 4X better than a $500 system to most reasonably discerning ears but does a $10,000 system sound 5X better than the $2,000 system? To all but a few the answer is no but it's a question of priorities and values. If the intensity, subtlety, accuracy and aesthetic nirvana deliver by the pricier sound system yields an experience that is truly more meaningful by even a small margin... the price becomes less of an issue for those who can and do appreciate it (assuming that one can afford it).

So what's your cut-off point and why? Assuming that you could afford to eat at the French Laundry, Masa, ADNY or any number of other high end restaurants in the US or elsewhere on a regular basis... would you do so? If you could and can afford such prices... can such an expensive meal represent a good value?

Not that anyone asked about my own take but with limited high end dining experience, particularly in the realm of sushi/sashimi/Japanese food, it's doubtful that I'd be able to appreciate the subtleties and nuances of a $300 sushi meal. Especially not well enough to justify the tab relative to a respectable place that charges perhaps $100 or so for a comparable quantity of food.

But it's a matter of what one values. A specific lot of Panamanian green coffee beans went for $21 per pound in a single 1,800 pound lot at this year's Best of Panama Internet coffee auction. That translates to roughly $50 per pound at retail prices in the US market or about $6 per cup if you walk into a cafe where the typical 12 oz cup of coffee sells for $1.50. Is it worth 4X as much per cup? Does it taste 4X as good? Of course not.

Would I buy it? Yes, at least for special occasion drinking at home and although on occasion I'd even pay $6 to sip a cup with my current financial state I'd be hard pressed to drink several cups a day as my daily brew. But I would unhesitatingly buy it at $50 per pound if it properly roasted or $30 - $35 per pound green - because it's what matters to me.

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It really is all relative. If one could afford it, had interest in discernment and did it often enough at a variety of places one could probably be sharp enough to pick up the differences and discern real quality at whatever price point The bottom line though is that if the restaurants can charge outrageous amounts and have enough clientele willing to pay for it then power to them. Of course the question of whether or not the restaurant is worth it hasn't been answered. A lot of people will like it (or say they do) because they are supposed to. It can be sort of an Emperor's new clothes kind of situation. Then again, it really can be better even if only marginally.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

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- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

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Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

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I agree with docsconz, ones ability to afford something can easily change perspective as well as ones ability to differentiate tastes. It is true that some people will like something because it's rare, new, special, expensive etc. and we can draw comparisons to wine this way too. You can't taste price or rarity, you can taste and decide if you like it. You will, however, pay for rarity, etc.

Just my two cents.... :wink:

Barbara Laidlaw aka "Jake"

Good friends help you move, real friends help you move bodies.

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I only buy the "relativity" argument to a point. In my line of work I have discovered that income level much to do with ability to pay, but has little to do with willingness to pay. Some clients with modest incomes will spend what some may feel to be a disproportionate amount of money on their kitchen. Others who seemingly have buckets of money want to live with the 100 year old crap they have.

This situation is quite different than the Algonquin Martini and the plethora of expensive hamburgers that popped up this year. Those are about "snob appeal" ... spending money for the sake of spending money. There is no debate IMO that $10K for a martini, regardless of the diamond waiting to lodge itself in someones esophogus, is insane. There is no value for money. But $300 a head for dinner? Hell, I know people who've paid twice that much for Canucks playoff tickets, and would do so again without hesitation.

This is where the willingness factor creeps in. To a food-lover, the experience may in fact be worth $300. My wife's birthday meal at Lumiere was over $600 for the two of us. Would I do it again? Sure, but no time soon. I don't have the ability to afford such luxuries more that once every few years. Yet Lumiere does terrific business, so there must be a clientelle that does.

I can't criticize a business for charging whatever the market will bear. It reminds me of an old Jack-in-the-Box commercial where Jack is at a fast food convention. He comes across a booth where he sees a guy sitting in a lawn chair with a sign that reads "Fast Food Consultant"

Jack: What does a fast food consultant do?

Guy: You get me to eat your product, I tell you if I like it

Jack: How much do you charge

Guy: $50,000

Jack: You must not get man customers at those prices

Guy: I only need one!

A.

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If I had money shooting out the wazoo, sure, I would eat there.

Since I don't, I eat sushi at the local Hibachi place where it is $20 for all you can eat, or $25 for the deluxe sashimi platter, which is very good.

Personally, I can't see how sushi could be worth $300, but I am not a sushi conniseur. I might drop the change to dine at Per Se or the French Laundry if ever given the opportunity, just to see what the supposeldy best prepared meals under the sun are like, but there is no way I could do it regularly. I am very much a value-minded person in general. I will spend money up to the point where spending loads more only gets a minimal increase in quality.

This also relates a bit to all the chain-bashing around here I think. Sure, a meal at Friday's is not going to be anywhere near the quality of anything with a couple stars, but you are spending $10 for your experience instead of $20, $30, or $100. To me, that makes it pretty worthwhile.

He don't mix meat and dairy,

He don't eat humble pie,

So sing a miserere

And hang the bastard high!

- Richard Wilbur and John LaTouche from Candide

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One thing you'll find if you read, for example, the reports on Per Se by our members, is that we're not necessarily talking about diminishing returns. Many of those who have posted here about Per Se have not only said that Per Se is worth it but also that it is a great value. And I've got to agree that what Per Se gives you for $150 -- all the premium ingredients, all the great preparations, all that service in those luxurious surroundings, not to mention the generous avalanche of extras before, during and after the main meal -- makes a lot of $85 meals look like total ripoffs. In the parallel above, Per Se isn't the $10,000 system. It's the $2,000 system. But it doesn't cost $2,000. It costs $150. And the most expensive restaurants out there cost around $300. It's just not very much money compared to what people spend on -- as Daddy-A mentioned -- sports tickets, no less on completely worthless luxury items like diamonds.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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To me, it really depends on the money that I am willing to spend. I would gladly spend $300 a head for dinner at Masa, French Laundry, etc., of course, I would much rather have my date spend the money, but I digress..If you truly love food and want a dining experience and you have the money for it, why not. Now, would I spend $300 on a hamburger. No way. What enjoyment would you get get from eating one burger that cost you that much money. Regardless of how much disposable income I have. At one point in my life, I had many an evening of $400++++ meals. This was at a time when I didn't have a lot of money and they were huge treats. Would I do that now....only if it was truly someplace special. I would gladly drop $500+ at West without even thinking twice about it, but honestly, I would much rather go to the local steak house where everybody knows your name. (sorry)

When I was in San Francisco a couple of years ago, I really wanted to go to French Laundry and I knew that if I could talk my boyfriend at the time into it I would have been footing the bill for dinner. I didn't care that it would have cost me pretty much my entire budget for trip and it would have been worth every penny. Sure I would have been hitchhiking home, but I would have had an amazing experience. He wouldn't go for it though; one of the many reasons we split up :raz:

In this city, many people get caught up in the "wow" factor. People will go places for the prestige that is asscociated with it. There are certain friends of mine that do not associate trendy fashionable expensive restaurants with me, yet, I've eaten at some of the best, most expensives restaurants in this city, but that's not why I go. There are people that I know that go out and spend ridiculous amounts of money on food and wine just because they can and it's a status symbol for them. Enjoying an amazing meal in a high-end restaurant is not a status symbol. At the end of the day it's still just a meal. A damn good meal, but a meal nonetheless.

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This also relates a bit to all the chain-bashing around here I think.  Sure, a meal at Friday's is not going to be anywhere near the quality of anything with a couple stars, but you are spending $10 for your experience instead of $20, $30, or $100.  To me, that makes it pretty worthwhile.

Can't speak for anyone else, but my dissatisfaction with the chains is not that I'm comparing them to more expensive places, but that their food usually isn't as good as non-chain food that is priced the same or lower.

I can get a banh mi in Seattle for $2 or less that's better than anything I've ever had at one of the chain sandwich places, for example.

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Can't speak for anyone else, but my dissatisfaction with the chains is not that I'm comparing them to more expensive places, but that their food usually isn't as good as non-chain food that is priced the same or lower. 

I can get a banh mi in Seattle for $2 or less that's better than anything I've ever had at one of the chain sandwich places, for example.

I think the best thing about chain restaurants is also the worst thing about chain restaurants. Their goal is to have a consistant product, it's never great, they hope it's never awful - but it should always taste the same. You can't serve the same menu year round with the goal being to have things taste the same and use great fresh ingredients. Local restaurants can be great, they can be awful and sometimes they can be both on the same night.

Back to the question at hand. I've been just as irritated getting a crap meal for $20 as I have for $300. Having a bad meal is a huge waste. The ingredients are wasted, your time is wasted, and you lose one of the few chances you get each day to have a great food experience.

I think for everyone there is a price at which food becomes too expensive to be "worth it", but it's never easy to figure out what that price point is. If the Gary Danko charged $150 instead of $85 for their full tasting menu - would the place be less full? Is the $85 price point the reason we could get a same day reservation for 4? Would it be just as hard to get a reservation at Danko as it is at the French Laundry if they charged $25? I don't think it would, at some point the hassle involved becomes the limiting factor. On the same note, would it be easy to get a reservation at the French Laundry if the price were $300? $500? $1,000? At some point the money starts to factor into it, but how many more people can afford a $500 dinner for two than can afford a $750 dinner for two?

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Yeah, it's all about the food for me. If I don't enjoy it, than even the $20 experience is a waste for me and I do not consider it value for the money. And frankly, I don't enjoy most chains I've been to. So, yes, it is personal, as well as relative. I would willingly spend the money to experience certain foods, chefs etc. because it is such a huge part of my life and I personally see value (not just $, but experience as well) in spending X amount of dollars at Per Se, E Bulli or wherever else I feel would be worth it for me. Just as I accept that many others would not.

Barbara Laidlaw aka "Jake"

Good friends help you move, real friends help you move bodies.

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I hope this isn't considered "off-topic" but, since this is a website entirely about food, it seems to me that very few of us could afford the $300 per person meal. Ever. How difficult is it for a creative chef with an unlimited budget to prepare meals worth that much? Making the enterprise a going concern is another question.

Providing really exceptional food at far lower prices is the real challenge. Almost as big a challenge as convincing the "average" diner to spend a bit more than he would at say Olive Garden. My concern is for those who wish to provide good food in the "hinterlands" who have to compete with the chains. I've had bad meals in most of them (not because I had any sayso about it.) :blink: It's the family-owned places which feature "authenticity" who I want to patronize and promote. And, most decent-sized cities have individual chefs who carve out a niche for themselves and become destination places for visitors as well as being the place to go to for the locals. But you can't bottle (read: franchise) that.

People will find any number of ways to part the rich (and foolish?) from their money. Expensive food is only one way to do it.

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I hope this isn't considered "off-topic" but, since this is a website entirely about food, it seems to me that very few of us could afford the $300 per person meal.  Ever.

I think you're overstating your case. There's no doubt that some of us simply couldn't afford such a meal even once, period, but even many of those of us who are by no means rich could spend $300 on one meal by saving up for it. The question is whether we'd feel we could afford it. When your rent is ~$700/month, $300 is a pretty damn big chunk of change.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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You live in Manhattan and have only $700 a month rent? Damn, I am suddenly feeling really ripped off...

He don't mix meat and dairy,

He don't eat humble pie,

So sing a miserere

And hang the bastard high!

- Richard Wilbur and John LaTouche from Candide

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I hope this isn't considered "off-topic" but, since this is a website entirely about food, it seems to me that very few of us could afford the $300 per person meal.  Ever.

I think you're overstating your case. There's no doubt that some of us simply couldn't afford such a meal even once, period, but even many of those of us who are by no means rich could spend $300 on one meal by saving up for it. The question is whether we'd feel we could afford it. When your rent is ~$700/month, $300 is a pretty damn big chunk of change.

I understand your point rosebud, but agree with Michaels reply. I don't think the thread was about what people on the site could actually afford (nor is it our business) but rather "would" they. Certainly providing exceptional food at lower prices is important, and comendable, but I think experiencing something one finds exceptional has its place as well. Nor does that make them "rich" or "foolish".

Barbara Laidlaw aka "Jake"

Good friends help you move, real friends help you move bodies.

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I don't think the thread was about what people on the site could actually afford (nor is it our business) but rather "would" they. 

With this comment in mind, I would have to say that, at this point in my life, I would not pay $300 per head for dinner. I will pay premium prices for food/groceries but that sort of dollar value for dining out is unfathomable to me.

I guess I'm in touch with my inner Scotsman a little too closely...

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This also relates a bit to all the chain-bashing around here I think. Sure, a meal at Friday's is not going to be anywhere near the quality of anything with a couple stars, but you are spending $10 for your experience instead of $20, $30, or $100. To me, that makes it pretty worthwhile.

[/quote

I usually always feel that the quality is lacking and that I have been ripped off at the chain places. When you come right down to it chains are not cheap (If you fall into the impulse isles on their overpriced menus). A friend took me out to a Friday's last week. I was not in the mood for an inferior steak or awful chicken dish so we shared nachos. I had a dreadful potato soup served with faux bread and fake butter, a salad with tatseless bluecheese dressing and a softdrink. She had two glasses of wine and some hot wings and a dessert. The bill was very expensive considering what we had. We could have had a great dinner at the local place with better quality, service and atmosphere for alot less money. I'm just sayin....

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You live in Manhattan and have only $700 a month rent?  Damn, I am suddenly feeling really ripped off...

Don't. If you moved into this neighborhood, you'd be lucky to find an apartment for less than at least twice that much, and the apartments in these parts are generally very small.

But back to restaurants. . .

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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I don't think the thread was about what people on the site could actually afford (nor is it our business) but rather "would" they. 

With this comment in mind, I would have to say that, at this point in my life, I would not pay $300 per head for dinner. I will pay premium prices for food/groceries but that sort of dollar value for dining out is unfathomable to me.

I guess I'm in touch with my inner Scotsman a little too closely...

And that's great. It's what works for you, although I will say that paying a premium for food/groceries that are important to you is the same type of thing. It goes back to the heart of the thread what "would" you pay. Now, if you won a couple million dollars would your answer change?? Would you then book a table at your personal dream place?

Barbara Laidlaw aka "Jake"

Good friends help you move, real friends help you move bodies.

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And that's great.  It's what works for you, although I will say that paying a premium for food/groceries that are important to you is the same type of thing.  It goes back to the heart of the thread what "would" you pay.  Now, if you won a couple million dollars would your answer change??  Would you then book a table at your personal dream place?

No. Dining out does not have the same value for me that food does.

I have the same approach to clothing. It's just not that important to me that I must spend a lot of money on it.

I'll agree that this is very much an individual thing. I hate spending more than twenty bucks on a pair of jeans because I don't value the product highly.

That's it, I guess...do you value the restaurant experience enough to pay that much for it? It's not about food per se but the whole dining out experience.

(If I won a couple of million dollars, the first million would be spent on finding an appropriate home for my dream dogs...food would come after that :laugh: )

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