As diners in pursuit of coveted seats at hot new restaurants, we tolerate an awful lot. We queue up at places that don't take reservations---unless, of course, you're a friend of the house. We squeeze in with the bar scrum, cheek to jowl, racking up double-digit tabs as the night wears on and gritting our teeth at impenetrable hostesses.
It can seem sometimes that these restaurants have no interest at all in our business---and yet we keep coming back. When we finally claim our seats at the table, they win us over with a warm welcome, good food and a buzzy scene.
Or at least that's the usual drill.
Mas (la grillade) must have missed that memo. The whole place seems infected with a bad-attitude bug that goes well beyond the usual gatekeeper nonsense. The restaurant isn't a hot ticket yet---the crowd of men in blue blazers and women in conservative suits seems chauffeured in from some affluent suburb---but it certainly behaves like one. Reservationists are terse and unaccommodating, offering only off-peak tables ("6:30 or 10" is a common refrain) even though the place was half empty when we dropped in during prime time.
The space itself is too formal and stuffy to merit such hipster theatrics: The French-country backdrop is out of Greenwich, Connecticut, with porcelain chargers, toile pillows and green leather banquettes. There are white tablecloths in a neighborhood---the West Village---where they've become mostly extinct, and the sort of big silver serving trays you might recognize from special-occasion dinners at Jean Georges or Bouley.
The proprietor-chef, Galen Zamarra, worked at the latter back in 2001 and he seems to have taken its lessons a bit too much to heart. His dining-room staff engages in an old-fashioned dance, aloof in a corner, if present at all, then swooping en masse to deposit dishes in sync. While they go through the motions looking like serious pros, they flub their lines and steps. A sommelier suggests a bottle of wine and then fails to reappear and present it, leaving a waitress to stammer through its bungled description. Another server, awaiting his synchronized partner, almost tips a plate in our laps.
You might dismiss the whole enterprise as a misguided throwback to more prosperous times, if not for the food, so out of step with the mise en scne. Zamarra, who serves serious French-American cooking at the original restaurant, Mas (farmhouse) a few blocks away, has shifted gears here to focus on grilling, which even at its most elevated, ought to be fun.
Proteins and sides cooked over smoldering wood come unadorned. The minimalist plating might remind you for a moment of the family-style food at Tom Colicchio's Craft, if not for the portions---so small you'll be reluctant to share.
There are oysters to start, grilled in their shells---delicate, smoky and just three to an order. Baby artichokes and plump chanterelles are also kissed by the grill, in a prosaic salad with wild arugula and hazelnut mayo. These are top-notch ingredients expertly handled. If only there were more of them.
The miniature proteins that follow, all alone on their plates, don't add up to much more of a meal, even with la carte sides of grilled shredded fennel and cinder-cooked beets. There's very sweet meat from a very small lobster for $32, a single grilled sweetbread for $26, a tiny singed squab. They're all prepared beautifully, cooked simply and well, but still hard to swallow---in this place, at these prices.
The plated desserts make a little more sense in this stifling context: conventional portions of high-end sweets like an haute cuisine spin on pumpkin pie with grilled pumpkin mousse and burnt marshmallow topping piped like meringue.
Still, Mas (la grillade) is built almost entirely on miscalculations---on poor service, high prices, an off-kilter concept and an uncomfortable space. The unwritten pact between restaurant and diner these days seems to be that if we dance for our dinner, survive the reservations wringer and actually make it to the promised land, we'll be rewarded at the table. Mas, thus far, isn't holding up its end of the bargain.
Eat this: Grilled oysters, artichoke-and-chanterelle salad, sweetbread, squab
Drink this: There are finely wrought cocktails by Shiraz Noor, formerly of the bar at Eleven Madison Park, including the tart and juicy Remember the Sun, with Americano, bourbon and apricot liqueur ($12). The exorbitant wine list features few bottles under $50. Try the minervois from Domaine Aim, a gutsy red blend from the Languedoc ($44).
Sit here: This soaring space features an intimate dining room upstairs on a balcony and more sceney tables down below on the ground floor. A small bar attracts drop-in diners in less formal attire.
Conversation piece: The kitchen here revolves around a custom-made bank of grills, spits and pits, upon which everything on the menu is cooked. A variety of woods---from apple, quince and oak trees, among others---impart different smoky flavors.