Masa’s Restaurant, SF

I am so glad that I chose Masa’s Restaurant to have my last meal of 2012.

Conveniently located in downtown SF, Masa’s specializes in French-Californian cuisine.

What does that mean? Coming from one of the city’s most consistently amazing kitchens, that means only the highest-quality ingredients, prepared so that their flavors are intact if not concentrated, beautiful balance of flavors, and thoughtful composition of the ingredients that will deliver the most interest and delight.

My companion and I were met with an overwhelming smell of a fish market at the end of a hot afternoon. No one else remarked on it and the staff said they didn’t smell it… which really annoyed me because I have the nose of a bloodhound.

For the very special occasion, Masa’s transformed its unremarkable hotel restaurant interior into a par-tay palace.

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You can’t smell it from here

Okay, so par-tay palace is kind of a stretch. But the red was a sexy touch.

Y’know what’s sexier? Cheesy gougères.

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Guess who took the bigger one? (Hint: It wasn’t not me.)

Not a bad way to start the meal.

The arrangement of the set menu was as follows: There were six courses and all but one of them consisted of two dishes.

On being told that the dishes would be “on rotation,” my companion and I assumed that we would get both during the course of the meal for a grand total of eleven dishes.

Maybe it was our fault for not clarifying this. As the plates were set down, I pined for my companion’s puréed cauliflower soup, which he said was amazing. He also pined for a taste of this:

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There’s an oyster under there, I promise!

Poached Fanny Bay Oyster with caramelized shallot cream and Osetra caviar for that extra-special touch. (It was also paired with champagne. Oh là là!)

The caramelized shallot cream astounded me. How could the delicate shallot flavor still be so strong in the presence of cream?

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I can go for spuma, can you?

The chestnut filling in the agnolotti was so mild and fluffy, like a cloud of ricotta. Sweet cippolini onion and a slice of parmigiano reggiano cheese provided a nice contrast of sweet and salty, while the chanterelle mushroom added an earthy flavor. It’s not the most obvious compilation of ingredients, but what a success!

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Lovely lobster

Now, I’ve been to many coastal cities and towns around the world, but NO ONE does lobster better than Masa’s: a chunk of Maine lobster poached in butter to fork-tender perfection and served with Brussels sprouts and celeriac seems a simple arrangement – definitely a lesson in doing things simply but very well.

The completely unnecessary act of emerging from the kitchen to show my companion and me the filet of turbot in the pan made me chuckle. So silly…

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Turbot

…because it looked nothing like this. The combination of fresh, firm, flawless piece of fish, bits of maiitake mushrooms, teeny-tiny marble potatoes roasted to a gorgeous golden-brown on all sides, and a hollandaise mousseline that didn’t taste as sinful as it sounds, made for a stunning and well balanced dish.

I’m running out of positive adjectives for this post.

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Maple Leaf Farms duck breast and leg confit

Have you ever been able to cut a piece of duck breast with your fork?

Come to Masa’s and try it.

That is all.

Remember the story of me bumping into Phinian, the former pastry chef of Masa’s, in the restroom? You should read it and then you’ll know why I was so glad I stayed in the restroom unnecessarily longer.

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It’s missing, like eight pieces of cake.

Cubes of Hachiya persimmon pudding were the highlights of dessert. Moist, comforting, autumn-y cake was great on its own. The “compressed persimmon” was a relative misstep for not having a punched-up persimmon flavor, but added an chewy texture resembling dried fruit (without being rubbery).

The ginger ice cream deserves an honorable mention for having most of the spice and heat of fresh ginger without losing that edge to the cream. Bravo!

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Oh, Masa’s. You spoil us.

It wouldn’t have been a fine-dining experience without some goodies to send us off. I preferred the pistachio macaroon over the mocha one (note: I almost always prefer the pistachio one, whatever it is) and both the milk and dark chocolate truffles were fine… though probably not the specialty of the house.

It’s unfortunate that such wonderful food is served in such an unremarkable atmosphere (and an even worse smell), but the food and wine pairings at Masa’s was phenomenal. If you’re into food that’s a little more… say, creative and artistic, then this might not be up your alley, but here, you can taste the chef’s respect for the ingredients and methods of preparation.

THE VERDICT:

I feel like the overall dining experience wasn’t especially romantic or better for couples versus groups, but the food here is downright delicious. I would urge anyone new to California cuisine to get the right introduction at Masa’s Restaurant!

(Now you can read my review on oomea.com!)

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