I did not experience Manka's back then but I do believe ownership of the lodge changed hands quite some time ago.
In any event, I dined at Masa's last evening. The six of us had early reservations (6 p.m.) so that we could make it to the theater. Despite the time pressure, the staff did an admirable job of coordinating the six course tasting menu. For example, when we did not have time for post dessert candies and petit fours, they packed them for us in deep blue chinese carry out boxes so that we could enjoy them during intermission. Overall, the service was excellent and it seemed that at least four people waited on our table throughout the evening. Special accolades should go to the bartender. He is one of the best in the City and provides virtually perfect seamless service every time.
The 2001 redesign of Masa's has done wonders for the space. The wine cellar seats 12 while the main dining room seats 65 (the main dining room can be taken over for private parties). Chocolate brown walls are adorned with subdued modern art. Royal Doulton china, Christofle flatware, and for our table at least Riedel stemware. Overall, the interior of the restaurant comes off as "classically modern".
Wines of the evening were 1997 Leroy Montagny Premier Cru (by the glass $18), 2000 Flower Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($85), 1997 Fonsalette Cuvee Syrah ($78), and a sparkling muscat dessert wine from Italy (gratis). My only complaint about the wine service was the assistant sommelier pouring himself a small glass of every wine ordered prior to presenting it for tasting. I hate this practice.
Three of the six of us opted for the six course tasting menu (not enough time for the nine course although from past experience that is the best thing to order while at Masa's). The other three ordered the three course tasting menu (i.e. a la carte). Two separate amuse bouches were served to all of us. The members of the party who did not order the six course menu ended up getting one anyway. The chef sent out different courses for the three so that they would have something in front of them while the rest of us were enjoying the additional courses. The six course was $79. As a result, dinner ended up consisting of eight courses plus the afore mentioned take out containers for intermission at the theater.
The first amuse bouche was a perfectly clear essence of asparagus. The peppery aspects of this grass was highlighted by this presentation. The second amuse bouche was a single Santa Barbara dayboat prawn served on top of pepper confit and chive oil - the perfect expression of summer. The first course on the tasting menu was raw wild line caught Copper River salmon with avocado and white truffle oil. Ron Siegel, the chef at Masa's (and one of the few to win the Iron Chef competition in Japan) shows his affinity for asian techiniques with this dish. The salmon showed pure clean flavors that can only come from the most fresh fish. A spectacular yet restrained first course.
The second course was the now almost cliche poached lobster (but it is so good I don't really care that it can be found on many menus) served with corn pudding and english peas. A beautifully rendered dish that recalls Siegel's stints at the French Laundry and Daniel. It matched perfectly with the Flowers. Third course was a breast of squab served with squab liver mousse and bacon jerky. Slightly whimisical but the depth of flavor was surprising. At this time I also tried an asian inspired dish of slightly steamed tuna belly (the plate actually incorporated a small steamer - another nod to the orient) with huge (at least three inches long) slices of black truffle. Another freebie dish was a cold octopus and chanterelle salad that was an amusing play on traditional "surf and turf".
The fourth course coupled a new york steak that had been cut very thick to appear like filet. The meat was topped with an entire roasted bone marrow that ran the length of the steak. The bone marrow was divine even though I knew that every bite meant another 15 minutes on the treadmill. At this time, I also sampled one of the best duck dishes I have had in a long time. Duck breast was shredded to resemble confetti along with cepes and a reduced duck stock. The plate looked so much better than the typical fanning of thin duck slices. The fifth course was blueberry sorbet and mascarpone cream - this worked well as a palate cleanser. The final course was an ethereal chocolate cake. The cheese cart was well stocked with some unusual cheeses including a natural blue cheese from France that came from a small producer who only owns six cows. The tatse of naturally occuring blue versus the more typical artificially induced was quite surprising.
Overall, the experience was very fine. Masa's has again rejoined its place as one of the best restaurants in the country. Siegel (34 years old) does not get the credit he is due - I would love for him to produce a cookbook. 95 points.
[ 06-26-2002, 12:31 PM: Message edited by: JonesWineNo1 ]