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Mas (farmhouse)

Mas was a restaurant we instantly liked when we first visited, a shade under three years ago. Despite our enthusiasm, I had no particular eagerness to return. The food is good, but not in a specific way that you can’t get anywhere else. And Mas is hard to book, partly because it is not on OpenTable.

Of course, its absence from OpenTable is for a reason: Mas is habitually full, even with an extra back room added in late 2007, which increased the size of the dining room from 40 to 55 seats. Last year, Mas got a rare gift: a second review from Frank Bruni, who upgraded it to the two stars it deserved in the first place. (His earlier one-star review was one of the more egregious errors of his first year on the job, though it doesn’t seem to have hurt the restaurant.)

Mas is still as lovely as we found it in December 2006. The seats and tables are comfortable, the warm faux farmhouse décor is inviting, the service is polished. If you notice such things, the china and stemware are some of the most elegant of any New York restaurant, including the four-stars.

There’s a recession going on, but you wouldn’t know it at Mas. If ordered à la carte, the appetizers are $14–23, and the entrées $32–36. Those high prices apply to the wine list too, where you’ll struggle to find a red under $60.

The menu is awfully confusing. The front page offers a $68 four-course prix fixe with specific dishes listed. The server goes on to explain that those dishes are available à la carte as well, and anything on the carte can be substituted into the prix fixe at no extra charge.

If that’s the case, then why is the menu structured that way? As I heard the same lengthy explanation repeated at multiple tables, I wondered why they don’t just do the obvious thing: print everything à la carte, with a note at the bottom: any four courses, $68. (A six-course tasting menu, with the courses not named, is $95.)

We started with an amuse-bouche of smoked duck (above, right) that was more interesting to look at than taste.

A White Asparagus Soup (above left) was just fine, but my girlfriend reported that a Roasted Beet and Goat Cheese salad was too salty. All three of us ordered the Long Island Duck Breast (above right). It was one of the more tender duck preparations I’ve had in a while, with a beautiful layer of fat below the skin. But accompaniments of sweet potato, bacon & leek gratin, with savoy cabbage in a bacon cream and beet sauce, sounded a lot more interesting than they were.

My sense of Mas now is that it is a terrific place for a romantic dinner or a special occasion, and I would happily go there again with the right guests. The cuisine and wine list are solid, but arguably over-priced. For the food alone, Mas isn’t quite exciting enough to win a place in the regular rotation.

Mas (39 Downing St. between Bedford St. and Seventh Ave. South, West Village)

Food: **
Service: **
Ambiance: ***
Overall: **

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