CLOSED: Dinner at Matsugen
Tuesday, July 7, 2009 at 6:17PM
The Lady Who Lunches in RIP: NYC restaurant cemetary, Restaurant reviews

  

*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).

Article originally appeared on The Lunch Belle (http://www.thelunchbelle.com/).
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