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CLOSED: Dinner at Matsugen


  • Cuisine: Japanese/Sushi
  • Atmosphere: tranquil, modern, minimalist, spacious
  • Attire: business-casual
  • Ideal for: business dining, prix-fixe menu, 1x1, small group dining
  • Must try: Tempura, homemade soba noodles
  • Price: I had the $38 6-course prix-fixe menu
  • Reservations: Via phone or opentable.com
  • Phone: (212) 925-0202
  • Website: http://www.jean-georges.com
  • Location: 241 Church St., (btwn Worth and Leonard St.)

*All of my photos from this meal can be viewed on Flickr

Having had sushi for dinner the previous night, I nearly gasped when my visiting sorority sister requested that we meet for Japanese. “Ya’ll’s sushi is just so much better here than it is in Houston,” Shelby said. And though I didn’t know first hand, I could only assume that she was correct. Knowing that I didn’t want to restrict dinner to a restaurant solely serving sushi/rolls, I made a reservation for an early meal at Matsugen, Jean-Georges’ haute Japanese/noodle-house.

I arrived nearly 15-minutes early for our reservation and was seated immediately (shock!), sans Shelby. After ordering myself a fruity cocktail, I studied the restaurant’s ultra modern/Zen surroundings (tall ceilings, hardwood floors, onyx-colored woods, glass partitions), taking particular interest in the massive salt water tank stocked with a colorful kaleidoscope of tropical fish.

Before I knew it, the girl who I had not seen in three years arrived, carrying an aura of warmth and comfort only a Texan was capable of. After playing the “Guess who’s pregnant/engaged/divorced/successful” game for nearly 20 minutes, Shelby and I were finally ready to order. While Matsugen’s menu was expansive and appealing, we decided to opt for the $38 6-course prix-fixe “summer promotion.”

Dressed in a light vinaigrette, a plate of field greens arrived topped with fresh, ample chunks of lobster meat. I was pleased and surprised that a salad containing only two main ingredients could hit all of the right sensory notes (flavor, contrasting textures, sweet vs. tangy vs. salty).

The next course to arrive was a warm bowl of miso soup topped with slices of tempura-fried tofu. While I’m generally not a fan, I did take a couple of slurps of my soup, as I knew that Matsugen’s version was probably as good as it got. The scallion-laced broth was silky, smoky and salty, and the tempura-fried tofu added a subtle crunch.

The next two dishes to arrive: A small wooden box filled with a mountain of ice chips and topped with an assortment of sliced sashimi; and a plate of perfectly fried shrimp and vegetable tempura. What appeared to be an exotic white vegetable accompanying the sashimi turned out to be a julienned slice of eel (I loathe eel). It took every ounce of will power to maintain a calm poker face and not puke while simultaneously chewing the slimy white creature. Luckily, I was able to “chase” it with a fresh wedge of ruby-red tuna sashimi, followed by some of the best tempura (greaseless, golden, and crispy) I’ve ever had.

Finally, it was the moment that Shelby and I were waiting for; our entrée bowls of homemade soba noodles arrived. While Shelby opted for the hot, soupy version, I chose to make my meal out of the cold Seiro noodles with Goma-Dare sesame sauce. The portion was of the perfect size, not too large and not too small. Paired with the flavorful sesame-soy concoction, the chilly noodles took a few bites to get used to, but I ultimately enjoyed what I had ordered. I know that this will make all of you “soba enthusiasts” cringe, but I’d take a bowl of chicken-flavored Top Ramen over Matsugen’s any day.

Our meal ended on a sweet note with Vanilla Caramel Pudding. The “pudding” tasted and had similar consistency of the custard of a crème brulee (I’m not complaining at all), and I found the caramel to have an overpowering burnt aftertaste.

Looking back, I find it strange that what I enjoyed the most about Matsugen was not its “homemade soba noodle claim to fame,” as I am a self-proclaimed carboholic. The items that I felt truly shined were: Cocktails, field greens with lobster meat, tempura shrimp and vegetables and the sashimi (sans eel). Matsugen’s service was wonderful and the atmosphere was bustling, yet tranquil (strange as that may sound).

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