Monday, January 2, 2012

MAS (La Grillade)

The hardest restaurant to write about it one that should stun, but does not.  Or any place that doesn't even approximate its expectations... but then isn't really a train wreck, either.  Thus, was Mas (La Grillade).  Mas (The Farmhouse) is its exquisite predecessor, still going strong as far as I know and splendid when I was there upon its opening.  I remember low-slung ceilings, plates full of miracles by Galen Zamarra, and a convivial warmth- the latter of which is the only attribute shared by its sibling.  And even that might be a stretch, for while the full menu is on offer at the bar, the bartender seemed annoyed to have to serve us, and our awkward server brought our "welcome" amuse-bouche wordlessly, his mouth opening only as he turned on his heel to inform us not of what was on the plate, but that it was his first day on the job.  Left to our own devices, we deduced a tiny square of tuna seared smoky atop agrodolce confit onion.  Tasty enough, to be fair, and when our first courses arrived soon thereafter, I thought we were off and running.  Six oysters of impeccable quality sat above a tangle of kelp and nothing else, relying on the intrinsic glory of the oyster rather than as a vehicle for anything else.

  But my artichokes "a la chapa" were the real winners, cooked lightly enough to retain a substantially earthy chew, but fried rich and salty on the outsides, mingling with a saute of golden chanterelles and a tangle of arugula, all nestled into a smear of nutty hazelnut aioli.  This splendid dish turned out to be somewhat of a teaser, though, and anomalous to the stark  mains to follow.   La Grillade relies solely on hardwood-fired ovens to cook its seasonal and locally sourced flora and fauna: an admirable attribute.  Squab arrived two nuggets of bird, jointed out in a pool of jus, and a whole daurade was just that: a fish on a plate.  The fowl was fine, but the fish started out foul, its fatty belly spongey and fishy and rife with sharp, tenacious bones.  The backmeat proved worth extricating, though, flaking off in tender chunks, and making for simpler work as well.  The fish was large, to be sure, but the inedible belly reduced the portion size 50%.  And so, sides are a necessary investment, and if I were to find myself back here, I would fabricate a repast solely from them.  But while coal-roasted beets were sweet and smoky, they could have used a chiffonade of herbs or allium or spritz of vinegar, and brussels sprouts ached for a moment more on the stove.  I'm continuously surprised how chefs keep leaving their sprouts undercooked, especially when they are so ethereal roasted through.  Sauteed with lamb bacon, the raw fought the cooked, sort of like topping a vegan raw pizza with real pepperoni.

Desserts rebounded forcefully, however, somewhat assuaging the rest of the lackluster meal.  A rich, caramelized pear-pecan upside down cake was buttery-rich and burnt-sugar sweet, smothered in a jammy huckleberry compote aside a scoop of honey ice cream.  Maple cheesecake brulee was more mousse than cake, but absolutely luscious atop a thin graham crust, with a smattering of roasted, cubed persimmons, addictively sweet and smoky, crumbly-crunchy walnuts and a refreshing, perfectly pear sorbet.

Mas, in a French dialect means "farmhouse", but La Grillade nudged me towards its Spanish translation... wanting mas.  With glimmers of excellence too few and far between, I wouldn't totally put the kibosh on it, but it takes some skilled ordering with zero staff assistance, a bit of luck, and a preternatural knowledge of the severe a la carte format.   For your sake, I've imparted what I can.  Tamp your expectations slightly, select carefully some of the choicer dishes for a meal in a lovely room... and keep remembering: dessert will arrive shortly.

28 Seventh Avenue South
Telephone: 212-255-1795

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