Black River Farms Siberian Osetra Caviar with Oyster Soufflé; Grilled Japanese Kobe Beef “Calotte” with Daikon Radish, Shiitake Caps, Baby Leeks, and Aged Sherry Vinegar Sauce; Grouper on Spinach
Occupation: Art Director
Favorite Restaurant: Masa’s
Reviewed Masa’s: Saturday February 9, 2008
With Valentine’s Day around the corner, we decided to celebrate early and indulged ourselves in the “Love and Decadence” nine-course tasting menu. Wow. It was a culinary extravaganza. Each course was a small portion, bigger than a bite but a very generous taste. We each had a completely different menu (except for the Turboline Kobe beef, which were prepared the same for both of us), but each menu followed the same path, moving from lighter to heavier foods, and then dessert.
We ordered kir cocktails to kick off our evening. Then they started us both with their signature “amuse bouche,” which this time was a heavenly lobster bisque/broth accompanied with their housemade mini gougères. It was very light, but very creamy, with a delicious lobster flavor, served in tiny white cappuccino cups, which was very elegant. Our individual menus were as follows (I am copying directly from their site which — thank heavens — has almost the same menu we ate, except for the Kobe beef. Phew, too many ingredients to remember!!)
California Golden Osetra Caviar
sea urchin “flan,” meyer lemon crème fraîche
poached ruby grapefruit, grapefruit mousse, wasabi oil
Butter Poached Maine Lobster
perigord truffles, melted leeks, sunchoke essence
Whole Roasted Chilean Turbotine
california green asparagus, sauce mousseline
Seared Sonoma Artisan Foie Gras**
baby turnips, wild huckleberries, baby mâche
**this was the best part of the meal for me
Poached Breast of Grimaud Farms Pintade
“ragout” of chestnuts and anjou pears, poultry jus
Kobe Beef Filet Mignon
Roasted potatoes and exotic mushroom, wine sauce
pear sorbet, lemongrass jus
Cheese course (additional)
French goat cheese, French smoked Gruyère and a very soft Portuguese cheese with a unique smoky/briny flavor. Served with fruit compote and candied walnuts.
Warm Truffle Cake
valrhona dark chocolate, crème fraîche
Assorted House Made Chocolates and Candies
Siberian Osetra Caviar
fanny bay oyster soufflé
edamame, hearts of palm, kiaware, tsume glaze
Sautéed New England Diver Scallop
perigord truffles, black trumpet mushrooms, miner’s lettuce broth
Whole Roasted Chilean Turbotine
california green asparagus, sauce mousseline
“Gâteau au Foie Gras”
chilled artisan foie gras layered with fuyu persimmon cake, persimmon purée, pistachio “aigre-doux”
“Saucisson de Lapin”
poached rabbit sausage, ragout of black-eyed peas, braised fennel, fennel oil, rabbit sauce
Kobe Beef Filet Mignon
roasted potatoes and exotic mushroom, wine sauce
tangerine sorbet, cardamom syrup
Cheese course (additional)
French goat cheese, French smoked Gruyère and a very soft Portuguese cheese with a unique smoky/briny flavor. Served with fruit compote and candied walnuts
Apricot Custard Paquet
puff pastry, rum soaked apricots, warm sour cherry sauce
Assorted House Made Chocolates and Candies
For our beverages wine, we went with a bottle of sparkling mineral water, and a ½ bottle each of a French Sancerre and a French Bourgogne, both recommended by their extremely charming and professional sommelier. The Sancerre in particular was excellent. The sommelier also gave us a taste of La Quintessence (see below) with our foie gras which was heavenly and completely classy and wonderful of him.
Although we reserved several weeks in advance, our preferred eating time (around 7-8pm) was taken, so we went with a late meal at 9pm. I chose this time for two reasons: we tend to eat at that time on weekends anyway, and I wanted to see how the restaurant did later in the evening, when the waitstaff was maybe a little tired, etc.)
We arrived promptly at 9pm and were greeted, as always, by their extremely friendly and warm staff, who graciously took our coats and led us to our table.
Masa’s has tiny little bar in the entrance. The main room is covered by a beautiful white curtain, so you can’t see it from the entryway. It adds a nice touch of drama as you enter the room.
I love the main dining room at Masa’s. The ambiance is plush and elegant without going over the top. It’s a small room, probably no more than 20 tables tops. I love the rich brown painted walls, and the modern art is really well chosen — eclectic and mirroring the rest of the decor. I also really love the enormous red lampshades with pleated fabric hanging from the ceiling. They add wonderful lowlights to the room, as well as a big splash of color and drama, without overpowering. There is a huge Giacometti-ish sculpture in the middle of the room. It’s a good choice for the room as well, as it’s not really a huge room. Also, they always have fresh roses on the tables, with pristine white tablecloths and comfortable, plush damask-covered chairs that pick up the chocolate brown on the walls. Overall, it’s an extremely luxurious and elegant feel, but on the minimalist side as well, which is right up my alley.
We were seated side-by-side, European style, which was a first for us. I’m not sure why they did that, as they’ve never done it before. But it gave us an excellent view of what was happening in the room.
As noted above, our meal was outstanding. The style of cuisine is continental, but heavily “French” in that the ingredient pairings are very well thought out and often, quite intricate. The result is explosions of flavors and textures on the palette, and they do it exceptionally well.
One of the reasons why we did the tasting menu was to ‘put ‘em through their paces.’ Haven eaten here several times before, I really was curious to see how they would pull this off, especially as the room was full and most tables were mid-meal by the time we got there, with more coming after we were seated.
Every single course was exceptionally prepared. We were in culinary heaven. Exceptionally high quality ingredients, prepared with artistry and skill. The foie gras, in particular, was absolutely divine. Perfectly pan seared with a berry sauce that was out of this world. There was one slight hitch with this course: the sommelier had decanted the red wine we’d chosen for the menu just before, which was very thoughtful. The amazing foie gras was served and then he was nowhere to be seen, to our dismay. We ate a few bites but then decided to wait for that red wine to come as foie gras without a nice red is an unfinished symphony… we then realized that he was helping some other staff. We signaled him when we could catch his eye, and when he realized the little “gaffe,” he dashed over to our table, asked if we liked sweet wine, to which we replied, “Yes.” In his very charming (British? Australian?) accent, he said, “Hold that last bite,” dashed off to the bar and returned with: La Quintessence. He described it as a rare sweet wine coming from the south of France with a distinct mango/pineapple flavor, served us both a generous taste and suddenly, we no longer regretted waiting for that last bite! It was one of the classiest, most elegant ways I’ve ever seen restaurant staff handle an oversight. And, of course, it was fabulous with the foie gras. One of the most perfect food pairings I’ve ever had the pleasure to pass over my taste buds.
Overall, I was extremely impressed (again). The quality of the dining experience at Masa’s is suberb. The ingredients are top-notch quality, wonderfully fresh and the preparation is true 5-star fine dining. There are a lot of restaurants in the Bay Area that claim to do 5-star food, but I find few are really doing that. Masa’s definitely is. I don’t know how Masa’s compares price-wise to other fine restaurants in the Bay Area, but I don’t really care. From the service to the décor to the food, they have everything we need when we want to have a special night with a memorable meal. We bring friends, family and clients here as well, and they are always impressed.
Bravo, Masa’s, and keep up the good work!
Occupation: Exploratorium Teacher-in-Residence
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Aperto
Reviewed Masa’s: Tuesday February 12, 2008
On the way to Masa’s, my wife and I were anticipating a very special dinner. The restaurant’s reputation has always been that of extraordinary food at equally extraordinary prices. I was ready to report that the food was great; however, no meal can be worth that price…Well, I was wrong!
The evening started by entering a large, elegant, understated, and quiet room. A friendly staff greeted us, and their attentiveness and cheerfulness never ceased. As soon as we were seated, we were surprised by the waiter, who offered us a complimentary demitasse full of soup infused with truffle oil. He stated that the chef knew it was cold and that this would be a nice way to start the meal. We agreed! While we were looking through the menu, our second surprise occurred. The waiter announced that the chef thought we might enjoy a salad of lobster knuckle (I never new lobsters had knuckles!). This was so thoughtful and even more delicious. We were in seventh heaven, and we had not even ordered yet. We finally ordered. We chose the six-course prix fixe, but if you do the math we were now up to eight and more surprises to come. My wife does not drink, so I ordered wine by the glass and had a wonderful French Pinot Noir. We did order some British sparkling water, which came in an elegant bottle. I guess elegance and surprises were the themes for the evening.
We started with the best crab dish I have ever had, a crab salad atop of some root vegetables. Next came a grouper that was only bettered by one we had in Jamaica many years ago. The side of quail came next. I have to confess I have never been a great fan of quail, too much work! This was tiny, but utterly delicious. The next course was the only course that did not overly impressed me, the lamb, but my wife disagreed and she is always right. The dishes appeared small, but by this time we were getting full. They offered the perfect transition to dessert, an apple wasabi sorbet. Finally, the dessert, a roasted banana tart with homemade ice cream, yum!! At the end of the six courses, the waiter surprised us again and asked if we wanted some homemade candies. We were too full to eat but he insisted we take a doggie bag full of their candies. This brought our course count for the evening to nine!
The food is a big part of this beautiful experience, but everything about the evening was right. I was not expecting such down-to-earth and friendly waitstaff. The room was comfortable, elegant and conducive to conversation. I might have to accelerate my deposit of coins into my piggy bank in order to return to this wonderful restaurant.
Occupation: Youth Worker
Favorite Restaurant: New Kapadokia
Reviewed Masa’s: Saturday February 16, 2008
Before officially starting this summary, I must admit that I had my culinary “dukes” up, my friends. I decided to check Masa’s out online just to get a “web” feel for it. When I learned that sittings started at $90 person, I nearly lost it! “That’s it!” I thought, “There is a no possible way I will like this place. It’s too expensive, it will be pretentious, and I won’t be comfortable there!” I am a very simple man that, once in a while, can appreciate eating “above my station,” but this was beginning to seem a bit ridiculous. The call to make the reservations for me and wife made my preconceived notions of the place even worse as I had to leave a credit card number to hold my reservations.
Fast-forward to the dining date. As my wife and I headed over the Bay Bridge at about 5:15pm, I grew anxious that we wouldn’t make our 5:30pm reservations. My wife was laboriously dialing Masa’s on her cell phone (getting a recorded message every time) to give them the heads up that we may be later than expected (hey, for all I knew, they would start charging my credit card for every minute we were late). After successfully navigating the streets of San Francisco, we arrived at the front door of Masa’s at 5:28pm where I was going to drop my wife off as I found parking, only to learn that a valet was waiting with a list that had my name on it (ah, score one for Masa’s, valet parking only $15 and it’s added to your check at the end of the meal). We made our 5:30pm reservation with two minutes to spare.
The staff and Masa’s was friendly, welcoming, and dare I say it, quite attractive (score three more points for Masa’s). When we entered the dining area, I was impressed. Not at all pretentious, in fact the atmosphere, like the staff, was very warm and welcoming (another 2 points for Masa’s). Great jazz music over the speakers (at just the right volume), beautifully covered chairs, warm lighting and this gorgeous sculpture easily about eight feet tall of three people that seemed to be dancing — wonderful! Not long after we were seated, my wife and I were given menus and decided we would make this a true dining experience and go for the nine-course “Love and Decadence Menu,” substituting the Hamachi “Tartare” portion for a Compressed Pear and Baby Beet Salad due to my aversion to raw fish and my wife being pregnant.
The first part of the meal came to us compliments of the chef, when we were served Frothed Lobster Soup in a little espresso-like cup with a Gruyere Cheese Puff. My friends, I was done, I could have walked out right there and been satisfied; that soup was amazing! The wall I had prejudicially built since logging on to Masa’s website was quickly being rocked like the walls of Jericho. Then comes the Black River Farms Siberian Osetra Caviar with an Oyster Soufflé. Caviar! Who was I, Frasier Crane? One little spoonful of this caviar and I understood what all the fuss was about. I am very into oysters and seafood actually tasting like seafood and this caviar was excellent, the perfect texture of soft and just firm enough to get the point across; it was seafood at its best. Because of the extensive menu I will give you the highlights; know now that this will be difficult as every single thing that came out was amazing. Of the Sautéed New England Diver Scallop and the Butter Poached Main Lobster, I will have to go with the scallop; perfect texture, fresh complementing tastes along with the trumpet mushrooms and Perigord truffles. And then there was the Seared Sonoma Artisan Foie Gras with amazing crispness on the outside with the delicious burst of the soft and moist inside. The wild huckleberries were an excellent sweet to the foie gras savory.
And let’s just get right to the point with the Grilled Japanese Kobe Beef “Calotte” with daikon radish, shiitake caps, baby leeks, and aged sherry vinegar sauce. As an avid meat lover, this is the part I couldn’t wait for. I have been waiting my whole life to get a taste of this “Cattlemen’s Legend.” When the plates were brought to our table, the smell was beautiful! The site of the beef was already perfect. I immediately began to eat around the beef. The shiitake mushroom caps were exquisite, the baby leeks had just the right snap, even the daikon radish had a delicious part when coupled with the aged sherry vinegar sauce. Mind you, my wife had already bitten into her portion of beef and raved about it, but I’m pretty sure I was zoned out as I focused on my portion of perfection. I put fork and knife to beef, put the beef to my lips and it was everything I thought beef should be and more. First I noticed the tenderness as I bit down, then came the insane, savory, slightly sweet beef flavor. The marbling was unlike any cut of beef I have ever had. I really couldn’t imagine what in the world I had been doing eating other kinds of beef when there are cows being pampered and massaged for my enjoyment over there in the Far East. I am sorry for any other restaurant that tries to serve me their “best cut” after this because I will know the real truth, and the truth is at Masa’s.
As you can imagine, this story ends with delicious sorbets that taste more like actual tangerines and pears, a warm truffle cake that my wife nearly left me for, and an apricot custard paquet that I devoured before it hit the table. Oh, and let’s not forget the house-made candies that my wife and I thought we would only try and ended up eating all but two and finishing those before going to bed that night.
Masa’s did it, they shut me up. They not only demolished the wall I had built, they cleaned up the mess and did it with a smile. This is not one of these upscale restaurants that makes you feel bad for not knowing anything; they take you along for the ride. They educate you with every dish, smile at every door and do it all without smothering you. I felt like I belonged there from the moment I stepped out of the car – something I was not expecting. Although the price is very high (the price of a baby crib, which my wife and I still have to get after this), I deeply suggest that you and the one you love find an excuse to dine there at least once. You will not regret it.