Mas (la grillade): The Will to Grill
Restaurants focusing on a sole foodstuff have taken New York by storm. The Meatball Shop and Meatball Factory offer orbs to packed houses. Queens Kickshaw, Melt Shop, and Little Muenster perfect the art of the gooey cheese sandwich. And Tommy Lasagna sells its namesake in eight versions. But Mas (la grillade), a new offshoot of Mas (farmhouse), poses the question of whether a restaurant can successfully champion a single cooking style.
In this case, grilling. True, Williamsburg's St. Anselm and a host of K-Town joints specialize in the age-old art of cooking food over fire. Yet this new, bi-level West Village restaurant is unique in being decidedly upscale. And unlike at barbecue spots, where smoke is front and center, chef Galen Zamarra uses oak, apple, and other hardwoods for every single dish to add rich, subtle complexities. Restraint is certainly the culinary leitmotif, but it works by challenging the notion that simple equals boring.
The decor, too, is understated but impressive. A large staircase ushers guests up to a skylit balcony where they can spy on the crowds below. White-clothed tables and a handsome bar in the main dining area play host to the well-heeled tippling on drinks, like an excellent rum-based English milk punch accented with warming spices and pineapple ($12).
Snacks such as spiced walnuts ($4) or ricotta-and-anchovy-topped tartines ($7) could start off your meal, but better to dive right into the appetizers. Grilled artichokes with chanterelles and hazelnut mayonnaise ($18) recall an autumn afternoon in a forest, earthy with a hint of smoke. Should you prefer treats from the ocean, try the squid stuffed with bay leaves ($10), gently musky and delicate. That, or the wood-fired oysters, their brininess slightly overshadowing the thyme-and-shallot butter ($9). Nix the romaine salad with lamb bacon and bleu cheese dressing ($14); the flavors don't mesh as well as you'd hope.
As much as a restaurant critic hates to order roast chicken, a/k/a Tuesday-night dinner at home, the smoke-roasted Violet Hill Farm chicken entrée ($28) ranks as one of the best birds I've had all year. Its succulent, dark, crispy skin tastes as if it went on summer vacation to the fire pit. Chicken dinner, winner winner!
The rack of lamb chops ($32) with red-wine-shallot butter and the meaty, juicy sweetbreads with maple-parsley glaze ($24) are also blue-ribbon-worthy. These proved better bets than the blandish striped bass with parsley and walnut gremolata ($31) and the Delmonico steak ($49). The beef isn't bad, but it veers toward the chewy. (It is grass-fed, after all.)
Note that entrées consist exclusively of the protein and nary a sprig of parsley more. Any vegetable or starch must be ordered separately, adding another $6 to $8 to the cost of your main—sneaky chefs! Still, try the hen-of-the-woods mushrooms ($8) and the baby fennel and pears ($7). Vegetarians would be wise to make their meal out of two or three sides, since the only meat-free main is the pit-roasted acorn squash with chestnuts and butternuts ($26), little more than a cornucopia of brown, mushy textures.
Even sweets can't escape the hot metal grates. An apple filled with walnuts ($14) reinterprets familiar fall flavors. Ditto a chocolate-pumpkin tart ($14). Both are good and not overly sugary. A composed dessert coming off the grill might seem incongruous, but then again, this is campfire cooking for the 1 percent.
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