Entries in Mas (4)


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: **


The Payoff: Mas

Yesterday, Frank Bruni upgraded Mas to two stars, omitting to mention that this is the rating it deserved in the first place:

In growing older Mas has indeed grown wiser. Its talented chef, Galen Zamarra, is making better decisions and his kitchen operates with more discipline than in 2004, when I gave the restaurant one star.

Frank is amazed that restaurants that start out good can actually stay good:

Too many restaurants start off like gangbusters, only to sag into a sour, cynical middle age while they’re still young. Once they’ve made their first impression, they focus mainly on making money. In lumbering lock step, the Champagne flutes and the servers lose their sparkle.

They even polish the silver: “The exquisite place settings, with gleaming silverware propped in flawlessly parallel lines on carved slate wedges: wasn’t this the jittery perfectionism seen in enterprises still awaiting judgment?”

Eater and New York Journal both win $3 on our hypothetical one-dollar bets.

          Eater        NYJ
Bankroll $78.50   $84.67
Gain/Loss +3.00   +3.00
Total $81.50   $87.67
 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 35–14   34–15

Rolling the Dice: Mas

Every week, we take our turn with Lady Luck on the BruniBetting odds as posted by Eater. Just for kicks, we track Eater’s bet too, and see who is better at guessing what the unpredictable Bruni will do. We track our sins with an imaginary $1 bet every week.

The Line: Tomorrow, Frank Bruni re-reviews the West Village farmhouse gem, Mas. The Eater oddsmakers have set the action as follows (√√ denotes the Eater bet):

Zero Stars: 8-1
One Star: 5-1
Two Stars: 3-1 √√
Three Stars: 6-1
Four Stars: 7,500-1

The Skinny: Frank Bruni’s first review of Mas came early in his tenure: it was something like his fifth or sixth review. He awarded just one star, which even then felt too low. When I finally got around to visiting, albeit a couple of years later, the restaurant felt like a clear two stars, with the potential for three.

Despite Eater odds that suggest a real horserace, two stars is the only realistic outcome here. Two-step promotions are extraordinarily rare in the NYT star system, and Mas isn’t an important enough restaurant for Bruni to bother re-reviewing just to re-affirm its original one-star rating. Actually, Mas isn’t a restaurant I would have expected Bruni to keep on his radar screen at all, so I’m glad to see him rectifying one of his earlier mistakes.

The Bet: We agree with Eater that Frank Bruni will award two stars to Mas.


Mas (farmhouse)

Note: Click here for a more recent review of Mas (farmhouse).

mas.jpgI’ve had Mas on my mind since it opened in 2004. Although Frank Bruni in the Times was lukewarm, awarding just one star, Adam Platt raved in New York. I was more inclined to trust Platt. But I tend to make most of my bookings just a few days in advance, and it seemed Mas was always full. Anyhow,  I finally got my act together, and scored a 6:45 p.m. table on Friday night.

The restaurant’s name means “farmhouse” in Provençal. Indeed, the décor announces its rusticity beginning with the enormous wooden door. However, it is also one of the more elegant restaurants in Greenwich Village, with its white tablecloths, bone china, and polished service.

The farmhouse reference also suggests Galen Zamarra’s zeal for seasonal ingredients. The menu changes daily, with only about six or seven appetizers, and a similar number of entrees. Each one comes with a long list of accompaniments, such as “Roasted beets baked with Westfield Farm goat cheese, baby greens, almonds & cucumbers”; or, “Roasted wild sea trout, thumbelina carrot stew, beans & white asparagus.”

Alas, there is no online version of what we had. The amuse bouche was a small square of butternut squash quiche—naturally, with three or four other ingredients that the server dutifully recited. My friend and I both started with the Trout Piscator ($16). She said, “There’s no way you’ll be able to describe everything that’s in here.” Even Frank Bruni was stumped, simply referring to “the delicious trout appetizer.”

The chicken entree ($34) was more straightforward: it came with wild mushrooms and mashed potatoes. The skin was crisp, the flesh tender. My friend ordered turkey ($36), which we both found slightly dry and a bit less flavorful. It did strike me that even the better of the two dishes, the chicken, was a tad over-priced at $34.

Only a restaurant like Mas would offer a butternut squash cake ($10) for dessert and get away with it, but the accompanying raspberry sorbet was an odd bedfellow.

The wine list is excellent, but expensive. I noted only one red under $50. We were delighted with a Herman Story Grenache, but at $70 it was more than we usually pay for wine.

Service was polished and attentive. Mas is one of those restaurants that does not leave the open wine bottle on your table. I usually prefer to control the bottle myself, but I didn’t mind at Mas, as they were always diligent about refilling our glasses. The one glitch was the bread service, which came with butter that was still frozen.

Mas always makes the list of the city’s most romantic restaurants. The room is  charming, the service excellent, and the food first-class.

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

Food: **
Service: **½
Ambiance: ***
Overall: **½