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A tasting meal at chef Masayoshi Takayama’s eponymous sushi mecca, Masa, is designed to explode your palate with excessive pleasures—all for the low, low price of $595 a head. But at Tetsu, the Michelin master’s more-relaxed Japanese grill, you won’t find those mind-blowing dishes anywhere on the menu.
The alluringly dark restaurant, which has the feel of an industrial lounge, is brimming with good-looking people having a great-looking time: the modelesque couple clad in black sharing stellar cocktails and sultry stares on a catwalk mezzanine (how appropriate); the chipper out-of-towners at a communal table, so enthralled by the mere existence of tempura-fried chrysanthemum leaves (shungiku) as to render moot the dish’s disheartening greasiness; the businessmen at the bar, knocking back silky foie-gras nigiri as they bop to throwback hip-hop (“It takes two to make a thing go right,” indeed).
Yet for all the things that do go right at Tetsu, its many small plates of Japanese comfort food (for less than $20) are never, consistently, “outta sight.” Take the raw bar: The cubes of tai (sea bream) splash happily in a tart ponzu, but the yellowfin tuna dish under wasabi-spiked guacamole is too bland. As for the meat dishes, the soy-garlic skirt steak is charred to a perfect pink, but not much can be said for the dry, deep-fried quail. The slaws are similarly uneven: Order the kale and crispy burdock with lemongrass, but skip the Chinese cabbage with sake-soaked raisins and a whimper of roasted duck— it flounders in an orangey mayo dressing that tastes like something my grandma could (and would) have made.
And while granny’s meals were superb, we have higher expectations from a genius like Masa. The thin slices of “sizzling” garlicky octopus never actually sizzle, literally or figuratively, and the sushi at meal’s end is less a triumphant victory lap than a winded cooldown. After a surprisingly satisfying spoonful of grilled olive-oil cake, flecked with thyme and sea salt and flanked by fluffy yuzu mascarpone, I ask our table: “Of all the things we just ate, is it strange that my favorite bite of the night is dessert?”
BY: DANIEL MEYER