It’s time to play Name that Restaurant. We’re looking for a crowded Japanese spot in Tribeca with a four-letter name and high-priced offerings, which recently opened a midtown offshoot. If you’re thinking Nobu and Nobu 57, well, that would work, but we’re focusing on Megu, which took over the ground floor of the Trump World Tower to spin off Megu Midtown.
Think of it as Megu lite: The 130-seat space, divided into three rooms on two floors, is less than half the size of the original. But it’s still extravagant: Huge 27-foot lanterns lord over the main dining room and open sushi bar (the decor is markedly less spectacular on the building’s southern side). More important, the new Megu offers a relative bargain: $70 for six courses. Even better, you choose five of the six dishes—appetizer, veggie, soup, entrée and dessert—and let the kitchen pick the fish in the sushi sampler (plus a few amuse-bouches).
The menu shows other changes as well: There were way too many options and far too many pages at the original Megu. In midtown, they’ve brought it down to a more manageable four pages that feature many crowd-pleasers, plus seven new starters. Of the recent additions, I liked a light re-creation of clam chowder using miso and a greaseless head-on shrimp tempura, but the salmon sashimi mixed into malted rice was strangely sour, and the exotic vegetables sautéed in sesame oil were as dull as they sound. Kobe beef appears four times on the do-it-yourself omakase menu (in carpaccio and tartare forms, and in two kinds of filet mignons) and then again on a separate bincho tan menu, which focuses on items cooked over high-end charcoal. The meat was consistently buttery and clean (and costs a lot more if you order a la carte).
Owner Koji Imai—who’s notorious about sourcing only the finest ingredients—loves outrageous presentation. Dinnerware is customized for specific items: The bracing maitake mushroom broth was served in a coffee cup, the grilled smelt was speared whole and looked more like a minitrophy than an appetizer, the delicate 23-layer green-tea wafer cake arrived on a plate with built-in compartments for dipping sauces, and the homemade tofu came with a test tube and eyedropper holding various sauces—a culinary chemistry set. In some cases, supergourmet items cost extra: The “premium” kobe filet mignon gets a showy tableside Hennessy flambé, but the show adds $20 to the bill. Order enough supplements and the bargain concept quickly fades.
The only downside to the $70 menu is that it seems to slow down the kitchen. I waited an hour to see my first course during one visit and then twiddled my thumbs for another 45 minutes before the next dish arrived. The servers made an effort to smooth things over with free dessert wine and frequent status reports when things went awry, but diners should be prepared for either long waits in between courses or erratic pacing. This, of course, may change over time. You might avoid delays if you order a la carte, but prices skyrocket as soon as you abandon the prix fixe.