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Free Food: Masa, Most Expensive U.S. Sushi Spot, Slashes Starting Lunch Price to $495
The sushi special ends in mid-September. Plus, reviews by Helen Rosner, Tammie Teclemariam, and an Eater interview with Alicia Kennedy
Free Food is a weekly LO Times column that reports on some of the biggest (and smallest) stories in food from across the country, with a focus on features, op-eds, and restaurant reviews from your favorite authors.
Is there softness in the billionaire sushi market right now?
Kat Odell, writing for Bloomberg, wonders whether New York “might have reached saturation on…high-end omakase.” It’s a reasonable question given that the city is now home to at least nine sushi spots where dinner will run $500 before wine or sake. And that’s for a solo diner.
Indeed, the upper-end of the sushi scene is showing some signs of slowing down, Odell suggests. She cites the closure of Ginza Onodera ($450) and Kotaru ($375), alongside conversations with Noz’s Joshua Foulquier, who sees “some dilution” in the market.
And now, Masa at the Deutsche Bank Center, the country’s most expensive sushi spot, is running a summer discount, The LO Times has learned. The plutocratic establishment is charging $495 for a lunchtime special of 18-courses of “expertly prepared sushi.” You also get caviar-laced toro and two hand rolls. That might seem like a lot of money — because it cussin’ is — but it’s still nearly half the cost of the full $950 menu. Service is included.
There’s definitely some slack in demand happening across the high-end sushi scene. Masa’s hinoki bar was often a tough reservation in the pre-pandemic era, yet it’s not hard at all to book a seat there now. The same can be said for the new Ichimura ($425, plus service), and most other omakase venues that aren’t Yoshino (good luck getting in). Even on the more affordable-ish front, the Michelin-starred handroll spot Mari is now offering a $145 tasting, a cheaper alternative to the $185 menu (previously the only option).
So…should you hit up Masa for its “Groupon” banker lunch, which is available until 15 September? Absolutely not! It’s a good omakase, but you’re essentially paying for the exclusivity — for the privilege of knowing that folks who attempt to photograph their meal (or your shiny celebrity face) will be subject to ejection, as the reservation site states. Go to Noz 17, Shuko, or the Korean-leaning Mari instead.
The Chef’s Powder Keg at Brooklyn Fare
The Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, where a French-Japanese tasting commanded $430 before tip, shuttered in July amid competing claims of theft and embezzlement. Insider filed a long report last week, detailing the conflict between owner Moe Issa and former chef César Ramirez. Issa closed the restaurant earlier this summer and fired Ramirez, who had already planned on opening a new venture in Hudson Square.
Brooklyn Fare will reopen in October with two new chefs at the helm, Max Natmessnig and Marco Prins. Natmessnig told the NYT that the new team plans to create a “more positive” environment. That brings up a key line from the Insider investigation: “But while some of the recent staff members Insider spoke with said they had mostly positive experiences with Ramirez, others said he was a nightmare.” The article recounts detailed instances of bad behavior and verbal abuse by Ramirez — reports that are sadly not uncommon as the industry’s reckoning with abusive kitchen culture continues.
Ramirez did not respond to Insider’s request for comment. Nonetheless, now feels like a good time to reread Tejal Rao’s seminal Twilight of the Imperial Chef (2020). It’s a vital missive on a variety of overlapping issues, including the notion of a chef as a troubled-genius (with a propensity for outbursts), and the question of who gets credit for a restaurant’s success (the marquee chef) and who doesn’t (everyone else). I think about that NYT column whenever I consider visiting or reviewing a fine-dining establishment.
I awarded Brooklyn Fare four stars as an Eater critic in 2016.
Le Bernardin also tweaks up prices!!!
New York’s top sushi spots are among the country’s priciest restaurants, but Le Bernardin, Maguy Le Coze and Eric Ripert’s Gallic temple to fish, remains significantly less exorbitant. That said, prices are going up here too. Again.
Before the pandemic — and an era of rampant inflation — Le Bernardin commanded $168 for its four-course menu, and $228 for an eight-course menu. But its prices gradually crept up over the years. And now, as of this month, the four-course prix-fixe runs $208 (a $10 jump), while the tasting will set you back $310 (a $12 increase). That’s still a reasonable deal by fine-dining standards.
Okay, here’s some non-news stuff:
Time Out on the Golden Swan, where The Spotted Pig once lived
Matt Abramcyk purchased and gutted the space that long housed the disgraced Spotted Pig…before turning it into another, er, animal-titled restaurant, and a gilded one at that: The Golden Swan. Amber Sutherland-Namako has nice things to say about the food, but here’s my favorite line, concerning a host who “stands guard outside.”
It’s dated, alienating and impractical, creating a truly goofy pseudo exclusively reminiscent of comical red velvet ropes rather than what I imagine is a stab at the gatekeeping of proprietor Matt Abramcyk’s early-aughts Beatrice Inn.
Will I try it myself? To borrow a classic door person phrase: Sorry guys, not tonight (TONY).
Get this paragraph about fish and chips tattooed onto your chest
Let me tease you with the first few lines of Jonathan Nunn’s Vittles column on the dying art of frying fish and chips in tallow.
There’s nothing like the smell of a fish and chip shop that fries in beef dripping. The way it seems to be undetectable from the road until you’re right up close, and then – bam! – it floods your nostrils; sharp, barnyard, overripe, like tropical fruit left out in a bowl in the heat. The afterlife of beef dripping is long: it subsists in the back of your throat, not as an organ chord that slowly fades away, but in waves, like grief or acid reflux, through cups of tea, cigarettes, second meals, brushing your teeth and a night’s sleep.
Bon Appétit on the new “Indulgent” Impossible burger
Ali Francis test drives the latest effort in Silicon Valley fake meat: Impossible’s new “Indulgent” burgers. They’re bigger than the regular Impossible patty (the vegetarian burger that “bleeds”), with more than twice the fat. How does it taste? Here’s Francis, with a beautiful yet frightening description:
I sliced my burger in half, revealing its layers: a brown, seared crust and a pink, fleshy middle — what one expects to see when they bisect a burger. Taking a bite, the tug and tear of the patty felt uncannily like ripping into muscle fibers. Salty juice sputtered out with every bite, soaking my bread. It’s definitely…meaty, I thought. Flavor-wise, it tasted much like the brand’s standard burger, only bigger, oozier, and richer; a touch more like beef.
Related: I had my first Beyond Burger at a backyard cookout in New England recently. It was tasty in a generically meaty, convenient, and forgettable way, just like most supermarket beef burgers (BonApp).
Who cares about seasonality. Let’s eat chocolate cake: The New Yorker
Summertime food writing can be oppressive with its stone fruit paeans, its tomato-centric exhortations, its supreme reverence of all that is fleeting and hyper-seasonal.
So here’s Helen Rosner, writing about chocolate cake. “A chocolate cake transcends time and trend and season,” she writes, adding that a “chocolate cake is a chocolate cake is a chocolate cake, especially at the end of an otherwise excellent meal.” I’d personally tweak that last line: Chocolate cake is a meal: breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Rosner has particularly nice things to say about the dessert at Claud, a white hot wine bar more famous for its ephemeral tomato mille-feuille, but let me end on this visual image of a cook cutting the cake. “Watching the slice fall and hit the plate was like witnessing a glacier calve: a slow separation intensifying toward collapse—a visual thunk.” (New Yorker).
A few words on Coney Dogs and authenticity: SF Chronicle
Caleb Pershan, assistant food and wine editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, writes about what happens when a Midwestern staple like Coney dogs — hot dogs topped with chile, mustard, and raw onions — are adapted by a Bay area chef who wants to use grass-fed beef and Tilamook cheddar. Things get particularly interesting when Pershan uses the affair to think about authenticity (without specifically mentioning authenticity) with Eater Detroit Editor Serena Maria Daniels. Observe:
I suggested to Daniels that I thought regional American foods like Coney dogs were delicious, but that sometimes I found their strict rules a little silly, lost in the narcissism of small differences. Aren’t these foods continuously transformed in endless translation?
She heard me out, but didn’t bite. “It’s a source of pride in diaspora or immigrant communities to kind of know, and have an ownership of, a certain aspect of American culture,” she said.
Eater’s Bettina Makalintal on Alicia Kennedy’s ‘No Meat Required’
Alicia Kennedy’s first book, “No Meat Required,” is out, and I downloaded my own copy yesterday. Actually, let me talk about that for a second. I almost exclusively purchase books on my MacBook because I like to reference them on the fly when writing — with the benefit of “control-F” for fact check searches. I also enjoy flipping through a random book that pops into my head if I’m bored on a flight to Denver or a train to Long Island.
I haven’t read No Meat Required yet, but Eater’s Bettina Makalintal has, and she pens a nice one-liner that precedes a very good interview: “Where some might see vegetarianism and veganism through only the lens of loss — “cutting out” or “giving up” meat — Kennedy argues a different case: that meat is unnecessary for understanding abundance or pleasurable culinary experiences.” Click through for the full article, which includes thoughts on how the book evolved from its initial proposal, and the question of allyship with conscientious omnivores (Eater).
WNYC on Bronx dining
ET Rodriguez has a leisurely conversation with WNYC’s Arun Venugopal about dining in the Bronx, including at venues like Kingsbridge Social Club (for the pizza!), Xime (a Mexican spot on 138th), and Johnny’s Reef on City Island (for the frog’s legs and piña coladas). Rodriguez grew up in the Bronx and regularly writes about arts and culture for the Bronx Times (WNYC).
Grub Street on a delicious bread called Dutch crunch
To continue our convo about regional American foods, Underground Gourmet columnist Tammie Teclemariam dedicates a few words to the pleasures of Dutch crunch. The bread, quite popular in the Bay Area (but not widely available in New York), gets topped with a mixture of rice flour, sugar, and yeast before baking. Result? The loaf, when it comes out of the oven, flaunts a craggy exterior with a crunchy texture and a touch of sweetness.
Dutch crunch is very good; I’m particular fond of the one I sampled at Alex Stupak’s Mischa in Midtown; it recalls a pretzel roll of sorts. This brings up one of my favorite observations from Teclemariam’s column, where she talks to Mischa’s pastry chef, Justin Binnie: “A lot of people do sourdough, baguettes, all that stuff,” Binnie says, before adding: “The idea was not to get involved in that conversation,” and instead focus on, in Teclemariam’s own words “more humble hoagie and deli rolls.” I am very much into that sentiment. Sourdough is fantastic, but let’s have more overlooked breads like Dutch crunch (Grub).
Okay, that’s our debut Free Food column! The Lo Times is off next week (unless we change our minds) to get some rest after a busy first two months — and to prepare for a bustling fall season of reviews, best of lists, and features!
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