August 9, 2010

Matsugen: Summer Special

Matsugen Table

My sorority big sis, a rising jetsetter powerhouse, comes to New York City every so often for business and pleasure. This time, she had a huge craving for black cod with miso, so we decided to convene at Matsugen in Tribeca—the (nearly identical-in-appearance) successor of Jean-George's 66—for dinner. Their summer promotion was an elegant and indulgent five-course meal, tagged with a Restaurant Week price. More pics and meal details on the next page!

Kumamoto Oyster w/ Ponzu Dipping Sauce

Bowls of fried soba and peppered edamame appeared at the table, signaling the start of the summer promotion. Meanwhile, my side order of a single Kumamoto oyster with ponzu and yuzu dipping sauce also came out on an elevated bed of crushed ice. The oyster was predictably creamy and sweet, with a hint of melon. But what really made this Kumo stand out from the dozens of others was the ponzu-yuzu sauce. "I never thought about using ponzu or yuzu before," my big remarked. Neither did I, but it makes complete sense. So look out for that at Matsugen or at other fine Japanese restaurants.

Appetizer Assortment

The appetizer sampler was a feast for the eyes and palette. It consisted of four different elements: yuba (tofu skin) sashimi, uni (sea urchin) with yuzu gelee, spinach gomae (sesame paste), and crispy shrimp with shishito pepper. Everything was amazing, but I particularly enjoyed the yuba sashimi and uni with yuzu sauce. I'm not a tofu lover, but I could have ravaged a bucket of those tofu squares if given the opportunity. The sea urchin, a delicacy that B tried to hunt for in the tidepools of Acadia, was pungent and creamy. Its alien texture throw most people off, but it's about the same as steamed egg or super soft tofu.

Two Amazing Pieces of Sushi

Next came two pieces of bright pink tuna zuke sushi. The tuna had already been marinated, so they required no additional soy sauce. A dab of wasabi was offered for those who prefer their pieces a little bit spicier. I never understood why the ginger slices—used as a palette cleanser and NOT as a topping—is placed so closely to the wasabi. Naturally, this would cause some confusion among casual sushi eaters. I noticed my big place a piece of ginger on top of the tuna and discreetly alerted her to the faux pas; I figured it would be useful information to have when she visits Japan next month.

Black Cod w/ Miso, Assorted Grilled Veggies

After the sushi was devoured, the staff brought out large plates of black cod with miso and assorted vegetables. Each restaurant has their own interpretation of this dish. At Nobu, the miso sauce is sweeter and the cod is slightly more succulent. At En, there isn't as much sauce on the fish. Matsugen's interpretation was pretty good, but slightly too salty at certain points. The meat was flaky, but everyone had trouble consuming it along with the skin. The selected vegetables were unique and delicious: asparagus, lotus root, okra, squash, and... was that eggplant? That was shockingly good, if it was.

Chicken Nanban Soba

Just when we thought it was over, large bowls of steaming soba arrived in front of everyone. B was stunned at the proportion, "This course is like a full meal by itself!" The chicken nanban soba noodle soup was enhanced by the crispy leeks and green onion. Unlike American chicken noodle soups, this dish used dark meat that was rich in flavor and extra juicy. The savory, hot broth and chewy noodles had an overall sleepy affect on the crew. When the bowls were swept away, we all fell silent with food coma. (Before that happened, I was able to take a few shots of my other friend Lc below enjoying her noodles).


Lastly for dessert, a relatively large porcelain trapezoidal container of vanilla caramel pudding were placed down in front of each diner. The surface of the bowl was a semi-liquidy layer of caramel-colored syrup. The top layer by itself was almost bitter, but without an acrid aftertaste. However, when you scooped up a spoonful of the glaze along with the pudding (and a dash of whipped cream), the combination was sinfully delicious. Bittersweet, cool, and refreshing. I scraped my bowl clean. It was an understated, yet elegant way to finish a great meal.

General consensus about Matsugen? Thumbs up. I'd come back again to try more of their small appetizers... or just to get this summer promotion again! The cool and airy atmosphere can set the stage for an impressive date night or relaxing get together dinner. While the long communal table was cool to sit at, the "shopping cart" wire-frame chairs proved to be a bit of a pain when endured for long periods of time (our meal took about 3 hours).


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